Stopping Bevo prompted suicidal game plan

G. Sam Piatt - PDT Columnist

Just after Bevo Francis scored 116 points in a college basketball game, he and his Rio Grande Redmen rolled up on the schedule of the Cedarville Yellow Jackets, where I was a freshman guard.

The 20-year-old, 6-ft.8-in. scoring machine had become a national celebrity. Rio Grande was 22-0 and Bevo, a farm boy from just outside Rio Grande, was averaging more than 50 points per game.

This in the season of 1952-53, when there was no 30-second time clock and slam-dunks had never been thought of. Chief in Bevo’s arsenal was a jump shot fired with deadly accuracy from any angle within 12 feet of the basket.

A game with Bevo in it meant big money to small schools. Since our gymnasium would seat only about 500, promoters got hold of the game and moved it to the Hobart Arena in Troy, Ohio.

In the days leading up to the game our coach, Floyd Rees, fresh out of The Ohio State University, drilled us in the tactics we would employ in an effort to win the game.

We walked into an arena with an overflow crowd of 7,451 paid admissions. Press row included writers and photographers from Life Magazine and the New York Times.

The fans had been handed score cards that would make it easier to keep up with Bevo’s point production. All they had to do was circle the numbers each time he scored. The numbers ran all the way up to 117.

I remember being awe-stricken as I watched Bevo warming up on the other end of the court. As I looked around at that vast crowd, and thought of Coach Rees’ game plan, the butterflies in the pit of my stomach were trying to commit suicide.

The Redmen took the opening tip. Their third pass was a zipper to Bevo. He nailed a 12-foot jumper. The crowd roared and collectively circled the “2” on its scorecards.

Earl Alexander brought the ball up court and passed it to me. I passed it back to Earl. He passed it back to me. This went on for three minutes. An uneasy stir emanated from the crowd.

Bevo and his teammates, including Jack Gossett and Bob McKenzie, who had played their high school basketball at Ashland Holy Family and Boyd County, respectively, dropped back, declining to guard any of us.

I spotted our center, the 6-4 John Green, wide open under the basket. He took my pass and looked up at the basket, then over at Coach Rees on the bench.

Rees did not scratch his head.

Yes, that was our strategy for victory. We would shoot the ball only after Rees scratched his head.

Green threw the ball back out to me. I sat down on it near the center of the court.

The noise from the crowd sounded like a tornado was ripping off the roof of the arena. Pennies and paper wads rained down on the floor.

As the clock ticked away, an enterprising radio announcer came on to the court to interview Bevo, who was also signing autographs for fans. His teammates had broken out a deck of cards on the bench.

Rio Grande Coach Newt Oliver was glaring at Rees as though he would like to have his throat in his hands. He had competition from the manager of the Troy Arena, who had come down to the Cedarville bench and was right up in Rees’ face, shouting.

I dribbled over to within hearing distance.

“You order your boys to play ball or you’ll never coach again in the state of Ohio,” the manager threatened.

“This is the only chance we have to win,” Rees sputtered. “If Rio Grande wants to play, let them come out after the ball.”

Ten minutes had ticked off the clock and the score was Rio Grande 2, Cedarville 0. Security officers ringed the court to restrain the crowd. Some fans were demanding their money back.

Finally, under tremendous pressure, even from Cedarville Athletics Director Byron Hollinger, Rees was forced to abandon his game plan, call off the stall, but still play slowdown. I passed the ball to Alexander and he dribbled in for a wide-open layup. The Rio Grande players returned to the floor.

We certainly didn’t try to run with them, even though during the course of the season we would score over 100 points once and hit the 90s three times. The plan to freeze the ball was only for this one particular game.

The half-time score was 19-11, favor of Rio Grande. Bevo had 11.

We Cedarville players, dastardly villains that we were, required a police escort as we left the arena for the locker room.

Rio Grande outscored us 47-18 in the second half for a final score of 66-29. Bevo finished 12 below his average with 38.

Check out a late 1952 or early 1953 edition of Life Magazine and you can read all about the game that was dubbed The Great Stall.

Some members of the press crucified Cedarville and maligned Rees, while others pointed out that it was Rio Grande that refused to play. One writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer defended Rees’ right to play the style of game he thought it would take for his team to win.

In the cars headed home after the game, the mood of the losers was not too downcast.

We were too happy to get back to Cedarville with our hides intact.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.

G. Sam Piatt

PDT Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.