Canisius announced that McCarthy died Saturday of natural causes in the Buffalo suburbs, where he grew up and lived most of his life.
McCarthy spent six seasons in the NBA, playing guard from 1956 to 1964. He closed his career by playing 28 games with the Red Auerbach-coached Celtics, who were in the midst of winning eight consecutive titles.
In 1960, while with the St. Louis Hawks, McCarthy scored 13 points and had 11 rebounds and 11 assists to become the NBA's first player to post a triple-double in his first career playoff game. Only three other players -- Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Nikola Jokic -- have since matched that feat.
Overall, McCarthy averaged 7.8 points, 3.7 assists and nearly 28 minutes of playing time in 316 career NBA games.
McCarthy was best known in Buffalo for being the leading scorer on a Canisius team that won a combined four games -- including a 79-78, four-overtime victory over NC State -- over consecutive NCAA tournament appearances in 1955 and 1956.
His 1,160 career points rank 24th in school history.
"It is always dangerous territory in athletics to talk about the best, but John McCarthy was clearly one of the best, if not the best basketball players to come through Canisius College," school president John Hurley said in a statement. "He was a key part of a golden era of Canisius basketball, and he will be missed."
McCarthy was selected by the Rochester Royals in the fourth round of the 1956 NBA draft and followed the team when it relocated to Cincinnati. He also spent a season with the American Basketball League's Pittsburgh Rens.
Following retirement, McCarthy turned to scouting and coaching and went 22-59 upon taking over as coach of the Buffalo Braves in 1971-72 after Dolph Schayes was fired one game into his second season.
McCarthy then returned to Canisius, where he went 28-49 in three seasons coaching the men's basketball team.