The lowest scoring NCAA Tournament game occurred March 21, 1941.
Pittsburgh and North Carolina faced off at Wisconsin Field House in Madison, Wisconsin, in the East Regional Semifinal. That makes it sound like the Sweet 16, but really it was the Elite Eight. That makes it sound like these teams were on deep runs, but really it was the first round of the 1941 NCAA Tournament.
Only eight teams were invited to the not-so-Big Dance that year – Wisconsin, Dartmouth, Arkansas, Wyoming, Washington State and Creighton filled out the rest of the field.
It was Pittsburgh that came out on top, 26-20, in what still stands as the lowest scoring NCAA Tournament game ever at 46 points.
The Panthers had to come back from a 12-8 scoreline at the break, a minor deficit in the modern game but a massive mountain to climb in this 1941 slugfest. The second half was a role reversal, with Pittsburgh outscoring North Carolina, 18-8, to secure a Final Four bid.
North Carolina big man George Glamack led all scorers with nine but shot 4-of-18 from the field. His teammate, Jimmy Howard, had a very tough day offensively, chucking 16 shots and only connecting once, ending the day with two points. As a team, the Tar Heels shot 13.8 percent (9-of-65) from the field.
Pittsburgh had three players break the six-point mark, with Tay Malarkey posting seven and George Kocheran and Eddie Straloski notching six each. As a whole, the Panthers went 13 percent (9-of-69) from the field, even worse than North Carolina. But the difference was at the charity stripe – Pittsburgh shot 8-of-13 from the free throw line, while UNC was just 2-of-8.
Lowest Scoring NCAA Tournament Game Notes
North Carolina is now one of the most storied programs in basketball, but in 1941, it was making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in the third year of the event’s existence.
Head coach Bill Lange originally came to Chapel Hill in 1936 as an assistant football coach. But he was given the basketball head coaching gig in 1939, and his reshaping of the team aided in turning around what was a ho hum 10-10 team.
Lange was instrumental in revitalizing the program into its first March Madness berth, and on top of the defeat to Pittsburgh in the lowest scoring NCAA Tournament game, his Tar Heels made more history in the postseason. Back then, Regional Semifinal losers played in a third place game for the region, so North Carolina was given a second game, this time against Dartmouth.
The Tar Heels lost again, this time in a much higher scoring affair, 60-59. But Glamack made up for his poor shooting performance against Pittsburgh, putting up 31 points, setting a record for the most points scored by an individual in an NCAA Tournament game.
Pittsburgh carried on into the Final Four to meet Wisconsin in the penultimate round. In the first game of the regular season, these teams met in Madison, too, and Pitt came out on top, 36-34. But one day after winning the lowest scoring NCAA Tournament game, the Panthers lost to the Badgers, 36-30, in the rematch to end their bid for a national championship.
The 1941 Pittsburgh team is the only one in program history to reach the Final Four. The team is often forgotten in the history of Pitt basketball, its accomplishments under head coach Doc Carlson were an invaluable beginning, and their sacrifices continued when every single member of the squad served in World War II.
“I’m very much aware that it’s not something that’s well known,” Ed Raymond, a key figure off the bench for the 1941 team, told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2006. “But there has to be a beginning for everything. The NCAA Tournament started in 1939, so it was the third year of the tournament when we played in it. From time to time, I’ll turn to my wife and say to her, ‘Look at all the publicity the NCAA is getting today compared to what we received.’ It’s overlooked, but it’s listed in the NCAA record books as a Final Four.”
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