As soon as I heard about Jack Taylor's NCAA-record 138 point scoring performance for the Grinnell College basketball team, I thought about Bevo Francis.
And after Francis' two epic years at tiny Rio Grande College (now the University of Rio Grande), he pretty much went back to nowhere. He spent a couple of years playing for a team that barnstormed with the Harlem Globetrotters, turned down a chance to play with the Warriors in the NBA, and wound up back home working in a steel mill.
I grew up fascinated by the notion of a guy scoring that many points in a basketball game--more than Frank Selvy's 100 for Furman (adjudged the NCAA Division 1 record); more than Wilt Chamberlain's 100 for the Warriors (the NBA mark). I loved the guy's nickname: "Bevo", the name of a "near-beer" sold during Prohibition (and apparently, a favorite beverage of Clarence Francis' father). And I thought I had some special inside knowledge because I knew how to pronounce the name of his alma mater: "RYE-oh Grand".
What I didn't really grasp as a kid was that Bevo Francis was more than just an oddity. He burst upon the scene as college basketball was stumbling out of the terrible point-shaving scandal of the early 50's. Rio Grande College had fewer than 100 students when Francis arrived in 1952. He actually had a 116-point game in the '52-'53 season but it came against a junior college. His 50.1 points per game average that season was ignored by the NCAA because Rio Grande played so many two-year schools.
So the next year, Rio Grande upped the ante, and America paid attention. The Redmen played all of their games on the road--places like Madison Square Garden (they drew almost 14,000) and the Boston Garden, opponents like Wake Forest, Villanova, Providence, and North Carolina State. They won their share; Francis averaged 46.5 a game, and capped it with the 113-point night against Michigan's Hillsdale College.
That night, Francis was 38-of-70 (54.3%) from the floor and 37-of-45 (82.2%) from the line, stats that compare favorably with the 52-of-108 (48.1%) floor and 7-of-10 (70%) line numbers put up by Taylor. It's worth noting that Francis didn't have the 3-point shot at his disposal while Taylor hit 27 treys on the way to his 138 points.
Jack Taylor, of course, set his record in the instant-communication era. Tweets were flying even as he was jacking up jumpers en route to the record; Facebook lit up with posts as soon as the game ended. Francis, playing in the pre-Telstar world of 58 years ago, was always a sort of gauzy figure, almost more myth than reality.
No offense to Jack Taylor or to Grinnell College, which plays an exciting brand of press-and-fire basketball that has turned the Pioneers into a reliable 100-plus-per-game scoring machine. But I still like the Legend of Bevo Francis, and that will always be the scoring record I treasure.