The Post Harding Era 1937-1946
James "Buck" Freeman became the new basketball coach in September 1937. He left his position as director of athletics and head basketball coach at St. John's College Brooklyn. He took the position in Scranton after accumulating a record of 187 victories and 31 losses. Although hired in late September, the team was not formed until late November and would have only slightly more than two weeks of practice before the opening game on December 16. And even those two weeks of practice would not occur, the new coach wound up confined to his home with a "severe case of the grippe" and the team practiced on its own for two weeks using the plays from last year. Nonetheless, the Tommies, now also being called the Imperials, defeated the "Fighting Lutherans" of Wittenberg College of Ohio in its first game. The team lost the next game away in Philadelphia to Lasalle. But then the Tommies defeated their first three rivals at home. Unfortunately, the team had bad luck on the road and lost five games including a loss in their first appearance at Madison Square Garden to Manhattan College. In the meantime, Buck Freeman's bad luck continued when he fell in a campus building and broke his leg. He continued coaching from his hospital bed, but on court practice was conducted by Tom Kelly, the freshman basketball coach. The team rebounded by defeating a professional New York City team, the Crescent A. C., and winning their last home game. The team ended the season 12-9 being unbeaten at home but also unable to win any away games. The team ended the season averaging more than 40 points a game, with a high of 54 against Catholic University and 839 total points. The post game dances were continued and "girls [were] admitted free."
The beginning of the 1938 school year brought a significant change for the institution. No longer St. Thomas College, the institution would now be known as the University of Scranton. But the old nickname stuck, at least for a time, and the basketball team continued to be referred to as the Tommies. It also brought change to the basketball program. Buck Freeman resigned in order to take a position as director of athletics at Iona Prep school in New York. He was succeeded by Red Coleman who had just graduated from St. Thomas where he had been a basketball star. Freeman stated "every time Red went on the basketball floor I learned something about the game. He is the greatest basketball player I have ever seen." Finally, the University bought new baskets and glass backboards for the basketball court at the Watres Armory were the Tommies played their home games. But all these changes were less important than the fact that the Tommies had lost most of the varsity squad to graduation and were practically starting over with inexperienced players. The team started the season with an impressive victory over St. Francis of Loretto in Front of a crowd of 2500, the largest ever for an opening game, but unfortunately followed with their first home loss in nearly three seasons to the Fighting Lutherans of Wittenberg 43-41 in overtime. The uneven season continued with the team winning a game during the holiday season but then dropping two consecutive games to New York City teams. The team continued to lose more than they won for the rest of the season, ending with a 9-10 record. The team scored 833 points against their opponents 803. The team also surpassed the previous record high single game point total of 54 by scoring 57 against Westminster and 56 against the Crescents.
The ambitions of the basketball squad continued to expand as they faced a 24 game schedule during the 1939-1940 season, although 18 of the games were played at home. The football season had ended with the Tommies undefeated and a tremendous amount of school spirit remained on campus. The Aquinas complained, however, that the school spirit never carried over into the basketball games and that the people responsible for pep rallies during the football season should at least attempt to invigorate the student body for the basketball season. The season started on a negative note with the Tommies losing 41-23 to Lasalle, but the team rebounded with a victory over Millersville State at home before, heading into the holiday games. The team emerged with three victories and one defeat from the holiday games but then lost to Ohio at the beginning of January. The Tommies then began to win regularly, often in the final quarter. Near the end of the season the team managed a six game winning streak before dropping two consecutive road games to City College of New York and Seton Hall. The team rebounded with a couple victories at the end of the season and finished with 16 victories and eight defeats. The Tommies averaged 42 points per game, a new record for the basketball team and scored a total of 965 points during the season.
The 1940-1941 season featured 20 games with 16 scheduled for the home court. The schedule also featured a number of newcomers to the Scranton schedule including the University of Detroit, Loyola University of Chicago, Morris-Harvey, and the University of Mexico. The season started with a convincing victory over Morris-Harvey which was followed by three more victories against Millersville, Lehigh, and Wittenberg. Unfortunately, the season did not continue in such a positive fashion as the Tommies then dropped the next four before winning the three after that. The team continued with short winning and losing streaks essentially through the end of the season and wound up with a record of 11 victories and nine losses. In games with the newcomers on the schedule, the Tommies defeated Morris-Harvey, Loyola and the University of Mexico, but lost to the University of Detroit. The team totaled 970 points while their opponents scored 834 points. Mike "Red" Wallace was the first Tommy to score more than 300 points in the season with a total of 327 points surpassing the old Tommy record by 127 points.
The opening two Tommy victories of the 1941-1942 season were overshadowed by the entry of the United States into World War II. Nonetheless, the 23 game schedule continued and included a game with newcomer Tulane University. Seven of the 23 games would be played away. The Aquinas was cautious in predictions for the season. Although the first two games were won handily, the Tommies had very tough opposition and would have a difficult season. Nonetheless, the team defeated the impressive, and very tall, Morris-Harvey team in its third game before losing to Tulane. The team won one-half of its holiday schedule before starting starting a downhill trend for the rest of the season. To make matters worse, coach Edward "Red" Coleman resigned unexpectedly in the middle of the season because his coaching duties conflicted with his position as deputy sheriff of Lackawanna County. Joe Zinder was appointed head coach but was unable to improve Tommy prospects. The situation was made worse for the Tommies, although certainly not unique to them, by the fact that a number of starting players were leaving school to join the military. The Aquinas blamed officiating for some of the defeats. "Once again the University of Scranton basketball squad has gone down to defeat because of incompetent officials judging the game. The referees used in many of the home contests have been of a caliber suitable only for a kindergarten league." But it is doubtful that poor officiating could be solely responsible for the continuing Tommy losing streak. The team did rebound with three consecutive victories near the end of the season but finished with a final record of nine victories and 14 defeats.
The 1942-1943 season featured a number of changes. Football coach, Robert "Pop" Jones took over coaching duties for the basketball team. The team was no longer playing at the Watres Armory but had moved to the South Scranton Junior High School gym. Finally, the first military teams, the Manhattan Coast Guard squad and the New Cumberland Reception Center team, appeared on the 18 game schedule, which featured six away games. One thing that did not change from the previous year was the Tommies' downward spiral. The team lost its first three games before winning 2 in a row, including a victory over New Cumberland a military team that featured one former professional basketball player and a couple former pro baseball players. But the good luck did not continue and the Tomcats lost three consecutive road games. The team continued to lose most of the games through the end of the season with a few victories. Because of the overwhelming attention being paid to the war effort, attendance at the games was also very poor. The team finished with four victories and 14 defeats. The team totaled 776 points for the season.
Due to the manpower shortage in 1943-1944 season was essentially canceled. The junior varsity squad played a number of local high schools. Furthermore, the Aquinas ceased publication after the Dec. 1943 issue and did not begin publishing again until September 1945. Pete Carlesimo was appointed athletic director and coach of both the football and basketball teams in 1943.
The 1944-1945 season started with Marine veteran Leo Kelly being appointed as Captain. Unfortunately, the team started by losing to the Sampson Naval Training Station quintet 51-27 followed by losses to Marshall College and LaSalle at home. Scranton entered the winning column by defeating Princeton, and following that with consecutive wins against Kutztown, Cornell, Bucknell, and the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard before seeing the streak ended by Bloomsburg, 66-65. After a couple defeats, the Tommies had their most impressive ictory of the season convincingly defeating the unbeaten New York Athletic Club in Manhattan, 57-38. Scranton followed this triumph with a victory over Stroudsburg but could not maintain the momentum and fell to Bucknell. The Tommies then entered a win one-lose one phase for the next four games before finishing the season with consecutive victories giving the team a 12 victories and eight defeats. During the season, The Tommies had the misfortune of losing their home court, the Watres Armory, because the Armory was leased by Fleet Wings, Inc. to produce shell boosters. Scranton used the South Scranton Junior High School gym for the latter part of the season.
With World War II finally over, campus life began to return to normal. The Aquinas began to publish again, and sports returned to its traditional role as the center of extracurricular entertainment at the University. The only things unusual in the 20 game 1945-1946 schedule were that the Tommies were still playing four military teams, as well as the typical college lineup, and that they were playing half of the schedule away. Previously, the Tommies had played the overwhelming majority of their games at home. The season started well with a victory over Georgetown followed by a loss to Manhattan but then victories over City College and Loyola. Unfortunately, the season went downhill from there and the Tommies lost nine straight before defeating Stroudsburg, LaSalle, and Ithaca near the end of the season. The team ended with six victories and 14 losses. Besides the upset of City College, the only other highlight of the season was the naming of the Bill Griglock to the Associated Press All Pennsylvania basketball team.