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Loyola tops Mississippi State in ‘Game of Change’ rematch

Loyola’s Christian Thomas goes up for shot over Mississippi State’s TysCunningham Saturday Gentile Arena. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Loyola’s Christian Thomas goes up for a shot over Mississippi State’s Tyson Cunningham on Saturday at Gentile Arena. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 17, 2013 6:49AM

There was no three-point shot 50 years ago, when Loyola and Mississippi State squared off in a historic NCAA tournament game during the Ramblers’ run to the 1963 national championship.

Still, Loyola freshman Devon Turk might have flourished then, as he did Saturday. He scored a career-high 21 points off the bench, including five three-pointers, to lead the Ramblers to a 59-51 victory at Gentile Arena.

Loyola (7-3) trailed 17-14 before using a 20-0 run to take control. Turk scored 13 points in the burst and assisted on two other baskets.

‘‘There’s no better feeling than being in a rhythm,’’ Turk said.

The final score was only two points off the 61-51 result of nearly 50 years ago, when the schools played in what became a groundbreaking game in college history.

The teams made history on March 15, 1963, in a game that became a landmark for college sports and the civil-rights movement. Mississippi State had to sneak out of its state to avoid an injunction that tried to enforce a segregationist policy that prohibited Mississippi teams from playing against integrated teams.

‘‘This was a great learning experience for our players,’’ said Bulldogs coach Rick Ray, the first African-American basketball coach at the school. ‘‘I’m so appreciative to be a part of this, and the way Loyola handled this was first-class.’’

Loyola coach Porter Moser credited Ray with helping to get the anniversary game scheduled.

‘‘The world of basketball scheduling can be ugly,’’ Moser said. ‘‘I called Rick and said, ‘We have to play this game.’ ’’

‘‘We want to spread the word about what was going on in 1963,’’ Ray said. ‘‘I didn’t know about it before, and to find out we were on the right side of race relations — especially in Mississippi — really makes you proud.’’

In 1963, Mississippi State came to East Lansing, Mich., to face the Ramblers, who featured four African-American starters, in what became known as ‘‘The Game of Change.’’ The game helped signal an end to the Jim Crow policy of the South.

Last week, the Sporting News ranked that game as the most significant event in the 75-year history of the NCAA tournament.

Players from the 1963 teams took part in an emotional halftime ceremony before a crowd of 3,321. Gov. Pat Quinn joined them, bringing an official proclamation declaring Saturday ‘‘The Game of Change Day’’ in Illinois. Last week, the City Council adoped a proclamation honoring the game.

‘‘ ‘The Game of Change’ changed our country,’’ Quinn said. ‘‘The Loyola team and the Mississippi State team sent a message to people all over our country.’’

Also Saturday, a plaque commemorating the game was dedicated at Jenison Fieldhouse on the Michigan State campus, where the game was played.

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