THEY EVENTUALLY measured the shot at 29 feet. When he came out of the locker room that Sunday afternoon, Steve Donches was hoisted on the shoulders of the Saint Joseph's fans who still crowded the Palestra court. He was carried to the basket, where he unlooped the net strand by strand. That net and the ball he used to make that shot remain in his Bethlehem home.
"It's amazing how long that has lasted," Donches said from his home. "It's all attributed to the rivalry."
It has been nearly 43 years since that shot at the buzzer beat Villanova, 71-69. The Hawks were acclaimed No. 1 by Sports Illustrated before the 1965-66 season. The Wildcats were 5-7 going into that season's Holy War, the first Sunday game at the Palestra. The Hawks were 11-2.
Unlike the modern-day Holy War, in which the favorite almost always wins and usually by a big margin, an upset was always possible in the game. That day, Villanova outplayed St. Joe's for long stretches and really looked as if it might find a way.
Then, Billy Oakes fouled out in the final minute. Dr. Jack Ramsay, coaching the final season of his legendary career on Hawk Hill, looked down his bench and motioned for Donches, a junior from Bethlehem Catholic, the same school that produced St. Joe's scoring machine Jack Egan in the late 1950s.
"Dr. Ramsay put me in because of defense, said I had the fastest hands of the reserves," Donches said.
The coach was prescient. Hardly anybody remembers this, but Donches stole the ball to set up the winning shot.
St. Joe's called timeout, and Ramsay set up a play to get Matt Guokas the ball at the high post, where he was supposed to pass the ball inside. The ball got tipped out to the right wing. It was loose, and Donches picked it up, knowing only a few seconds remained.
"I turned and got the shot off," Donches said. "I knew it was on line, but I thought it was low, since that was outside normal distance."
The line drive went straight through the net Donches has in his house.
"I turned right away to the bench and heard Ramsay screaming," Donches said. "Then, the crowd came pouring out on the floor."
Donches averaged 2.5 points for that St. Joe's team, which had five double-figure scorers and finished 24-5, losing, 76-74, to Duke in the Sweet 16, the same Duke team that lost to Kentucky in the Final Four, the night before Kentucky lost to Texas Western in the "Brown v. Board of Education" national championship game.
Guokas and Cliff Anderson were the stars, but it was Donches who hit the one shot from that season that everybody remembers.
A few years ago, Donches was in the Palestra with his daughter, Cara. A little boy and his father were standing next to an enlarged photo of the shot going through the net. Donches, who shot it from the right wing and ended up in front of the Hawks' bench, is cropped out of that photo.
"Everything's there, except I'm cut off," Donches said. "It didn't fit in that panel."
The boy's father was telling his son about the shot when Cara said, "That's my daddy."
In the background of that famous photo, on press row, are Bob Vetrone, who wrote the story for the Bulletin, and Ernie Accorsi, then the St. Joe's sports information director.
That Hawks team averaged a school-record 91.1 points. The 71 that day were the fewest of the regular season.
Villanova star Billy Melchionni, wearing No. 25 and appearing to stand just inside the foul line with a wistful look, can be seen in the photo staring up at the ball as it finishes going through the net.
The Wildcats finished that season 18-11 and played into the NIT semifinals as Melchionni, who averaged a Villanova record 27.6 points, went off game after game.
Anderson averaged 26.5 points the next season for St. Joe's. Little remembered is that the third-leading scorer, at 10.9 points per game, was Steve Donches. In Hawks lore, he is the deep sub who made the winning shot against Villanova. In reality, he was a good player on a team with a lot of really good players. When he got his chance that season, he delivered. When he got a lot of chances the next season, he kept delivering.
In 2002, Donches, now 63, retired as vice president of public affairs from Bethlehem Steel, where he worked for 30 years. In "retirement," Donches became president of the National Museum of Industrial History, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution that eventually will open in his hometown at a former Bethlehem Steel plant site.
Donches was at the St. Joe's-Lehigh game in Bethlehem last week and the Hawks-Creighton game Saturday at the Palestra. He would be at Villanova tonight for this season's Holy War, but "has a board meeting of the museum."