Thirteen days before Spencer Liddic was born on February 27, 1990, a great rivalry was born.
On Valentine’s Day 1990, the Muhlenberg men’s basketball team upset top-ranked Franklin & Marshall, 78-74, for the first of its six home wins against nationally ranked Diplomat teams. The latest came Saturday when Liddic, now the Mule captain, tied two Centennial Conference records in a 60-58 victory against eighth-ranked F&M.
“It didn’t take very long for F&M to become a great rival. It started on our end because they were a program that was where we were trying to get to,” said Muhlenberg head coach Scott McClary, who has been on the coaching staff for five of the six upsets.
“However, no rivalry is truly a rivalry unless both sides are winning games. Our consistent success against F&M here at Memorial Hall (10 of the last 15) has made this one of the best rivalries around!”
Here’s a closer look at the six wins:
February 14, 1990 – Muhlenberg 78, Franklin & Marshall 74
Franklin & Marshall came in with a record of 22-1, a 19-game winning streak and a No. 1 ranking in Division III. Muhlenberg was 10-13 and desperately in need of a win to stay alive in the MAC Southwest playoff hunt with just two games left in the regular season. Led by 21 points from Tom Lutz, the Mules made a 37-29 halftime lead stand up.
F&M went on to finish with a record of 24-4, and although the Mules beat Moravian in the finale, they did not make the playoffs.
February 19, 1992 – Muhlenberg 74, Franklin & Marshall 66
Franklin & Marshall came in with a record of 21-2 and a No. 8 ranking in Division III. Muhlenberg was 14-9 and in a three-way tie for second in the MAC Southwest. The Mules trailed 41-33 at halftime, but went 21-of-22 from the foul line in the second half to pull out the win. Muhlenberg was 6-of-7 from three-point range in the game, with Ernie Koschineg going 4-for-4.
F&M went on to finish with a record of 26-4. Muhlenberg did qualify for the MAC South playoffs but lost to Johns Hopkins in the first round to end up 16-10.
The gold standard for Muhlenberg upset wins came in the Centennial Conference championship game at a packed Memorial Hall. Franklin & Marshall came in 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in Division III. Muhlenberg was 17-8 and was on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Mules shot an insane 62.7 percent from the field, and Koschineg scored 26 points – again going 4-for-4 from behind the arc. Muhlenberg led 43-32 at halftime and by 10 with about four minutes left before the Diplomats made a frantic late charge that fell just short.
Muhlenberg won its first conference championship since 1970, but the euphoria was short-lived when the Mules found they had to go to F&M for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Diplomats won the rematch, 69-54, and went on to finish with a record of 27-2.
February 7, 1996 – Muhlenberg 66, Franklin & Marshall 49
The rather one-sided score suggests this was not one of F&M’s vintage teams. Not so – the Diplomats came into this game 19-0 and ranked No. 2 in Division III. They had won 50 consecutive regular-season games, were 35-0 all-time in Centennial regular-season contests, and they would go on to reach the NCAA “Final Four.”
Muhlenberg, which entered the game at 10-10 and clinging to a half-game lead for second place in CC East, took the lead on a dunk by Chris Bedell 6:39 into the first half and never looked back.
The Mules finished with the second seed in the CC East and had to travel to the West top seed – F&M. Their season ended at 13-12 with a 72-59 loss to the Diplomats.
January 13, 2011 – Muhlenberg 71, Franklin & Marshall 67
Franklin & Marshall was 10-3 and ranked 19th in Division III, and Muhlenberg was 7-6 and had recently lost five in a row. After trailing by eight points in the first half, the Mules took their first lead with 12:53 left in the second on a layup by Liddic. Coincidentally, that basket also put him over 1,000 points in his career.
F&M took its final lead at 59-58 with 5:39 left, but Muhlenberg responded with an 8-0 run that included a three-pointer by Austin Curry, who was 5-for-8 on threes and finished with a game-high 22 points.
The Diplomats went on to win the CC championship, while the Mules finished 13-12 and did not make the playoffs.
Franklin & Marshall came in with a record of 19-1 and ranked No. 8 in Division III. Muhlenberg was 13-7. A tight second half that featured six lead changes and four ties came down to a battle of free throws. The Diplomats hit four straight to take a 56-55 lead with 1:51 left, but the Mules hit the next five, including four by Curry.
Liddic finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, tying the CC all-time records for career rebounds (947) and double-doubles (41).
“Saturday reminded me so much of 1995, and we had over half of the team [back for Alumni Day] in the building,” said McClary.
So there you are – six nationally ranked Franklin & Marshall teams that had combined for seven losses before traveling to Allentown returned home with another loss. And as the students showed in 1995, when they lifted Koschineg on their shoulders, and Saturday, when they stormed the court, there’s nothing quite like beating your rival.
“Everyone who has been a part of the Muhlenberg men’s basketball program has a lot of good memories,” said McClary. “And I guarantee you that four out of the top five on everyone’s list is beating the Diplomats!”