After Ronald Ramon made his game-winning 3-pointer as time expired against West Virginia, I wrote a story about some of the most famous buzzer-beaters in Pitt history.
This time, Tom Richards didn’t beat the clock. He missed my call while in North Carolina to watch his son, Jason, a senior point guard at Davidson. But Richards returned the call today and shared his memories of his last-second heroics against Ohio on Dec. 13, 1975.
First, an aside: Richards ran into former Pitt teammates Larry Harris and Pete Strickland, both North Carolina State assistants, when the Wolfpack played Davidson on Dec. 21. “I see Larry before the game. His job was to scout Davidson,” Richards said. “He says, ‘Oh, we’re worried about your kid.’ It was the most bizarre thing. Jason said he’s never had an opposing coach come up and shake his hand before the game.” Jason Richards had 14 points in a 66-65 loss.
Back to the Ohio game where Richards made a 45-foot half-court heave as time expired for a 72-71 victory at Fitzgerald Field House that extended the Panthers’ home-winning streak to 27 games.
“It’s like the one-handed runner you see kids take when they shoot for a thousand bucks,” said Richards, now an executive vice president for Quest Communications. “Sometimes you concentrate. Mine you’d have to put on a scale of some skill but more luck. Clearly with Ronald, that was I think a tougher shot, actually, because it was a regular shot, and people would expect that from him.”
Even though it was a big play in his career, it isn’t one that Richards is best remembered for. In fact, he said it rarely comes up when discussing his Pitt playing days from 1972-76. Then again, he was the starting point guard when the Panthers reached the Sweet 16 for the first time during the magical ’73-74 season.
“Most of the time, people talk about the team that made it to the Sweet 16,” Richards said. “I wouldn’t even say it was a highlight. It was a fun thing. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s something I don’t remember. When you consider all the games I played, it was the only time anything that bizarre happened, and it was really good for me as a kid.”
That sophomore season was the highlight of Richards’ career. A Moon graduate, he was one of five starters with Pittsburgh roots, joined by Billy Knight, Mickey Martin, Lew Hill and Kirk Bruce, that was featured in Sports Illustrated. The Panthers won 22 consecutive games and finished 25-4, losing to N.C. State.
“I’ve told both of my children this before they were college basketball players: The better the team you play on, the better recognition you get,” said Richards, whose daughter, Lindsay, was a McDonald’s All-American who played at Iowa. “I was certainly an example of that. I benefited by playing on a great team at Pitt.”
What was gratifying for Richards is that his game-winner against Ohio came during a senior season where he played with a broken shooting hand, which forced him to wear a splint except for games.
“It was ironic,” Richards said. “I’m going into my senior year, and some of NBA teams are writing Grg (Tim Grgurich) about me and then you break your shooting hand. As the year went on and my hand healed, then I started to feel good and play like I had before.”
It’s interesting what players recall from such a memorable moment. Someday, Ramon might talk about how injured Levance Fields ran across the court to join the celebration. For Richards, he clearly remembers taking the inbounds pass from Wayne Williams, launching the shot and then the mayhem that ensued.
“A couple of things stick out: One, Dominic Berardinelli, who was the best man in my wedding, was one of the first guys to run onto the floor and kept yelling, ‘Just like Jerry West, just like Jerry West,’” Richards said. “The other was that we had a team manager who was in a wheelchair, and people were falling into the wheelchair.”
Richards watched Ramon hit the 3 against West Virginia. Unlike Larry Harris, who said his mind flashed to his last-second shot against Cincinnati in ’77, Richards got a kick out of a good friend joining the fun.
“I was sitting at home watching the game, and I have a buddy (Sam D’Agostino) who sits on the floor,” Richards said. “I called him afterwards because he ran onto the floor, and I gave him a hard time.
“I was just laughing at Sammy, truthfully.”
Richards also was happy for Ramon.
“Ron’s had a really productive career at Pitt,” Richards said. “I don’t know him, but he strikes me as being a steady kid who does what he’s asked to do and delivers. It’s nice to have a kid like that. You love to see a kid like that step up and make a shot like that.”