It was in 2012 that the late Clarence “Bevo” Francis’s record of 113 points against Hillsdale (Mich.) College in February 1954 at Jackson (Ohio) High School was broken by Division III star Jack Taylor of Grinnell when he put up 138 points in a game against Faith Baptist.
But Bevo’s 113-point game wasn’t even his best effort. That came against Ashland Junior College on January 9, 1953 when he scored 116 at Community Hall on the Rio Grande campus. That remains on the record books as the NAIA record. It was once the NCAA record too but the organization later decided it would only recognize games against institutions that granted four-year degrees, which AJC did not.
Bevo’s game against AJC brought his scoring mark to 50.7 points per game. He made 47 field goals and 22 free throws. Remember, of course, there was no 3-point shot. Here’s an amazing fact from that game: Bevo scored 55 points in the last 10 minutes after putting only “only” 61 through the first 30 minutes. No other Rio Grande player scored more than a dozen.
Two teammates of Bevo, both who have died, were local players Jack Gossett (Holy Family) and Jim McKenzie (Boyd County). They made sure Bevo got as many touches as possible.
Jeanette McKenzie, widow of Jim, once told me the former teammates always reunited at the Bevo Francis Classic in Rio Grande. Her husband is in the college’s Hall of Fame. “The team is reuniting in heaven,” she said.
Rio Grande went 39-0 in the 1952-53 season, Bevo’s freshman year, while averaging 50.1 points per game. Francis arrived as an unknown but soon took the team to national prominence.
They went on the road for 17 consecutive games after Bevo’s outburst against AJC, playing in several large arenas throughout the eastern United States.
The night after the big game with AJC, Rio Grande played Mayo State Vocational at Paintsville High School. Bevo scored 63 points in a 119-91 victory to set the scoring record at the Paintsville High gym that still stands today. J.R. VanHoose, a sports historian in the Big Sandy area, reported that in a story he wrote for The Daily Independent five years ago.
Rio Grande had a rematch with Ashland later in the season and the Redmen won the game although Bevo didn’t come close to the century mark. AJC “recruited” former Russell High School star “Long” John Thomas to defend him. They enrolled Thomas in classes and immediately got him working with the team.
Rio Grande broke the 100-point mark in 23 games and averaged 101.1 points per game while holding foes to 68.2. They won 39 consecutive games in that 1952-53 season.
Bevo, who died five years ago at the age of 82, was an AP All-American and he established NAIA records for field goals (708), free throws (538), points (1,953) and average (50.1).
Bevo came with coach Newt Oliver to Rio Grande after only one season of high school varsity basketball at Wellsville, Ohio. He averaged 32 points per game. Oliver had played at Rio Grande and was offered the job so he could bring Bevo to the school with him.
Bevo left after two years at Rio Grande to play professionally. He scored 3,272 points and the Redmen were 60-7 in his remarkable two seasons. Bevo outscored entire teams nine times in his career and never fouled out of a game; Oliver had told him to lay back on defense.
Oliver and Bevo signed a package deal with the Boston Whirlwinds, the touring team that played the Harlem Globetrotters.
“Bevo was a great individual scorer, but he never failed to say that he couldn’t have scored a point if it weren’t for the fact that he had great teammates. He was always concerned about how Rio was doing and was a fantastic supporter for 60-plus years,” said Jeff Lanham, the AD at the University of Rio Grande.
In his second season with the then-Redmen, Bevo was enough of a celebrity that his coach took the Rio Grande program on a barnstorming tour that included trips to Villanova, Providence, Miami (Fla.), North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Creighton. Rio Grande also played in both Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden. The money that the program received for those games helped keep the college out of financial ruin.
Here’s how big Bevo Francis was. Creighton actually postponed its game against Rio Grande after he was injured, giving the star scorer a chance to get healthy. He scored 41 points in a loss to the Bluejays.
Everybody came to watch Bevo score the ball, which he did like nobody else.