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Gerard Gilberto | | February 2, 2015

The Maravich Tragedy

  Maravich broke the career scoring mark on Jan. 31, 1970, then the single-game mark with 69 points on Feb. 7.

JANUARY 31, 1970

When this day started, people knew how it was going to end. This would be the day that Pete Maravich broke Oscar Robertson’s NCAA scoring record. “Big O” had scored 2,973 points during his time at the University of Cincinnati and the man they called “Pistol” sat just 39 points beh-

Wait …

Thirty-nine? Really?

1967-68 26 432 1,022 .422 105 1,138 43.8
1968-69 26 433 976 .444 128 1,148 44.2
1969-70 31 522 1,168 .447 192 1,381 44.5
TOTALS 83 1,387 3,166 .438 425 3,667 44.2
There wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that this was the day the record would be shattered. LSU was playing Mississippi at the John M. Parker Agricultural Center, known as the Cow Palace because -- until Pistol Pete arrived to town -- the main event was the rodeo or a horse show.

In Baton Rouge, the greatest show on earth was the Maravich family circus, as his father, Press Maravich, coached the Tigers. For this game, people who had come to see the show -- even though they already knew how it was going to end -- overcrowded the Cow Palace.

Inevitability aside, Maravich was the type of guy you’d pay to watch play H.O.R.S.E. “Showman” is a good place to start if you were to attempt to describe the man’s style of play. His flash matched his ability to deceive with the ball in his hands, earning him John Wooden’s endorsement as the greatest ball-handler of all time.

Although he is literally the most prolific scorer in NCAA history, he’s still credited for 425 assists at the collegiate level -- unfortunately, no amount of research will tell how many of those assists came on passes behind his back, through his and/or a defenders legs, over his shoulder and so on.

A few minutes into the second half of the Ole Miss game, the ball fell through the basket for Maravich’s 39th point and the Cow Palace began to swell with excitement as the restless crowd drew nearer to the action, ready to storm the court the second his next point was scored.

That second took six more possessions. Some people (particularly those who have never actually seen Maravich go six possessions without scoring) haven’t ruled out that the delay was all just part of the show.

“I had 15 ball games, to break it right there or 14 ball games. I think my Dad told me ‘I wanted you to average about three points for the rest of the season and get about 20 assists a game and keep the fans in more suspense,’ ” Maravich told local radio reporter Dan Borne of WAFB after the game.

With less than five minutes left in the game, Maravich dribbled to the free-throw line, crossed over, found his favorite spot just outside the top of the key and drained an 18-footer. The palace erupted. Fans, players and reporters stormed the court and Maravich was hoisted onto a teammate’s shoulders in celebration.

It was actually Maravich himself who noticed that there was still 4:41 remaining in the contest, because after all, the show must go on.

In that 4:41, Maravich scored another 13 points, giving him 53 for the night. All just part of the show.

The Tigers won the game 109-86. Obviously, right? Who has a guy score 53 and lose?

Well, as much as Jan. 31, 1970, was a celebration, the fact is that the real Maravich Show wasn’t quite Barnum & Bailey’s as much as it was a Greek Tragedy.

FEBRUARY 7, 1970

Eight days removed from breaking Robertson’s record, Maravich went to Tuscaloosa and broke another scoring record. It wasn’t like the last time; this was much more ... human. Nobody saw this one coming. Sure, nobody was surprised when it happened, but it’s still not something anyone could have predicted -- especially at halftime.

Maravich had just 22 points after the first half, status quo for a guy averaging 44.5 per game that season. He needed 47 more points to break Calvin Murphy’s single-game record of 68 that was set just 14 months earlier -- a record that broke Maravich’s mark of 66, also set in 1969.

Pistol Pete stole his record back when he scored exactly 47 second-half points to give him 69 for the night. This record stood for 21 years until Kevin Bradshaw of U.S. International scored 72 points against Loyola Marymount on Jan. 5, 1991.

For Maravich, the show kept rolling. But the longer it rolled on, the more it proved to be a tragedy.

He had set another record, but LSU lost to Alabama 106-104. In fact, 1969-70 saw the Tigers hold the best record of Maravich's college career, going just 22-10, including five SEC losses.

In his three years playing varsity ball for his father, Maravich had made a name for himself with his personal scoring records -- 3,667 career points with an average of 44.2 per game are both standing records for anyone who has played in the NCAA -- although LSU was never really better than mediocre.

Maravich was easily the best player playing the game at the time -- so good actually that nobody really noticed his team wasn’t winning. It was a great show but very often, they wouldn’t end well.

FEBRUARY 21, 1970

Being an SEC school, LSU has had the good fortune of having Kentucky -- a powerhouse basketball program -- on its schedule. Obviously 1970 was no different.

Kentucky has always been good and, like every program in the country, there will usually be one player that stands out among the rest. Throughout the entire college basketball landscape that season, Maravich played the role of ultimate warrior.

But of course, Adolph Rupp was not without his own true warrior. Enter Dan Issel.

Issel saw his Wildcats take down Pistol Pete’s LSU squad all five times the two teams squared off. Issel and Maravich actually joined forces in the NABC All-Star game after the end of that season.

But because of the national attention, the flash Maravich played with and all those scoring records, Kentucky-LSU was must-watch basketball.

Maravich vs. Issel was Hector vs. Achilles, and -- given the overarching theme here --it’s obvious who played which role.

Kentucky won the game and it was obvious that Issel vs. Maravich was the marquee matchup of the night. Maravich scored 64 points (ho hum) but he took 42 shots from the floor and 22 free throws. The other six players who saw time in that game, combined for 35 field-goal attempts.

Issel – who averaged 33.8 points per game in 1969-70 -- was outdueled by Maravich, scoring only 51 points. It was the team high in a 121-105 blowout.

That was the way things went for Maravich and LSU. It was a one-man extravaganza. His senior season was the only year LSU was invited to play in the postseason NIT, and even then the headlines were about the "Maravich Show" coming to the big city because nobody saw LSU as a threat to actually win anything. To them, the best thing about LSU winning in the postseason was that it gave people another chance to see Maravich play.

And that’s all anybody ever wanted -- more Pistol Pete.

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