University of Rio Grande athletic director Jeff Lanham was driving back from a basketball game late Tuesday night when the barrage of calls and texts from friends and co-workers began.
They all wanted to make sure he'd heard that the single-game scoring record Rio Grande legend Clarence "Bevo" Francis set in 1954 had finally fallen Tuesday night after 58 years.
Still not fully convinced another player could possibly have scored more than 113 points in a game, Lanham drove home, opened his computer and searched for further information. Only after he saw the stories and YouTube clips validating that Grinnell College's Jack Taylor scored 138 points against Division III Faith Baptist Bible on Tuesday night did Lanham finally come to grips with the fact Francis' record had fallen.
"Bevo always said somebody would get that record one day, but I always thought there was no way another team would allow that to happen," Lanham said. "I was very surprised. In fact, I probably waited until I got home and saw it on the news to really believe it wasn't some kind of spoof. Because the first thing that went through my head was there's no way somebody scored 138 points."
Seeing Francis' record fall was bittersweet for Lanham and others at Rio Grande because it's easily the most noteworthy feat any athlete at the Ohio NAIA school has accomplished.
On the one hand, Lanham acknowledges it's a "phenomenal accomplishment" for Taylor, who made 52 of 108 shots and sank a staggering 27 3-pointers despite frequent double and triple teams. On the other hand, Lanham hopes it doesn't detract from the legacy of Francis, one of the most prolific scorers any level of college basketball has ever produced.
Francis, now 80 years old and still living close to where he grew up in Eastern Ohio, is expected to release a statement through Rio Grande later Wednesday. The school declined to make him available by phone since he is battling esophageal cancer and received a deluge of calls Wednesday, but Lanham says he believes Francis would be thrilled for Taylor.
"Bevo is a very sincere person," Lanham said. "He appreciates someone doing a good job, and I don't think his reaction will be negative in any way. I think he will congratulate the young man for the feat he has accomplished."
Francis may not be well-known outside the Rio Grande campus these days, but there was a time every sports fan knew his name.
In the early '50s, Francis became a national sensation when he arrived at Rio Grande and began scoring at a pace seldom witnessed before or since. Coach Newt Oliver figured his best chance to boost attendance was to have a high-scoring player emerge as an attraction, so he built his entire program around showcasing Francis.
In his first season at Rio Grande, Francis averaged a stunning 50.1 points, drawing large crowds wherever he played. When the NCAA ruled that a 116-point game against Ashland (Ky.) Junior College didn't count in the record books because it wasn't against a four-year school, Francis simply followed it up a few weeks later by hitting triple digits again, lighting up Hillsdale College (Mich.) for 113 points on 38-of-70 shooting.
In some ways, Francis' second season was more impressive than his first. His average dipped to 46.2 points per game, but 27 of the 28 schools Rio Grande played that year were four-year schools including the likes of NC State, Wake Forest, Villanova and Providence.
Word of Francis' accomplishments traveled fast even though there were no YouTube clips or social media to spread them. Lanham said his father first heard of Francis and Rio Grande when he picked up a newspaper with a story about the 116-point game while stationed in the South Pacific on a Naval ship.
"That was the kind of publicity he got, and for that time period that was phenomenal," Lanham said. "Now if we fly somewhere and I have a Rio Grande sweater on, almost every time someone will walk up, point and say, 'There was a guy who scored all those points. What was that guy's name?' That itself is something you can't buy as an institution. He wasn't a phenomenon just in Ohio or on the East Coast. It was world-wide."
Some have questioned the validity of Taylor's performance Tuesday night because Grinnell had him take 108 of its 136 shots in an effort to set the record. Lanham finds that unfair, noting that most players given that opportunity at any level wouldn't have come close to tallying 138 points.
"I don't think it's tainted at all," Lanham said. "In baseball, when a pitcher is close to a no-hitter or perfect game, you leave him in for all nine innings. In football, when a halfback is close to setting a record, you don't throw the ball. You're going to give it to him. I have no issue with that at all. I don't think it diminishes from the feat. If you're in a gym by yourself trying to shoot, that's a lot of points."