Louisiana State University guard Pete Maravich entered the Tigers’ home game against Mississippi on January 31, 1970, needing 40 points to break Oscar Robertson’s college basketball scoring record. With 14 games remaining in the regular season and Maravich averaging 47.6 points per game, it was a question of when, not if, Pistol Pete would top the Big O mark.
Before the game, LSU Coach Press Maravich joked that his son should “average three points the rest of the way” and break the record in the final game of the regular season.
“He told me he didn’t want to disappoint the fans,” Press Maravich said after Pete scored 53 points against the Rebels to pass Robertson, who scored 2,973 points in 88 games at Cincinnati from 1958-1960 .
Maravich started his senior season in 14th place on the all-time goalscoring list. He scored 55 points in a loss to Kentucky on Jan. 24 to pass Elvin Hayes for second place. Two days later, he was limited to 29 points in a win over Tennessee, leaving him 39 points behind Robertson.
Maravich tied Robertson’s mark with eight minutes left in the second half. As the overflowing crowd at the John M. Parker Agricultural Coliseum, affectionately known as the “Cow Palace,” chanted “One more! One more! One more!” Maravich missed his next five shots. He eventually broke the record with a right wing one-handed jumper with 4:41 left.
“I wasn’t really aware of it, but maybe I was,” Maravich told reporters afterwards, when asked if he insisted. “I actually thought I had broken the tying basket record because of how the crowd was roaring, but when they kept going I knew I had to hit another one. They’re the biggest fans in the world.
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Crowd members, police, reporters, photographers and cheerleaders ran onto the pitch after Maravich’s shot went through the net. LSU’s Al Sanders and Bob Lang lifted Maravich onto their shoulders and carried him to half court, where he received the game ball and received congratulations from his teammates as the fans who stayed in their seats gave a standing ovation.
“Listen, we still have to finish the game,” Maravich shouted over the chants of the crowd. “Peter! Peter! Peter! Pete!” according to the Associated Press.
“Pete, what was the move that did this?” a reporter asked Maravich during the ensuing stoppage, which lasted more than five minutes.
“That last shot did it,” Maravich said evenly. “It happened, didn’t it? »
With more than 1,000 students unable to participate in the game while watching closed-circuit television in the student union, LSU secured a 109-86 victory after the field was cleared and play resumed.
“I really don’t think I can put it into words,” Maravich said afterwards. “Right now, I’m a bit shaken. It’s the greatest honor to come to me, to break the record for someone of Oscar Robertson’s stature. I think he’s probably the greatest basketball player of all time and I think I’m lucky to break him.
“I never imagined this would happen,” Maravich told Press. “I never thought he would break the record tonight. The pressure on Pete this week has been huge. I couldn’t see how he could help but give in with all this buildup. He’s been getting calls from all over in the country this week. People from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, some Midwestern states, everywhere have been calling all week, wanting to know more about the record. I’ve never seen such heavy pressure on an athlete of my entire career.
Among those not surprised by Maravich’s performance was legendary St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca.
“You’re talking about Jerry West or Oscar Robertson or one of those greats who scored and did so well. Maravich is better,” Carnesecca told The New York Times two weeks earlier. “It’s a show. Pistol Pete put on the greatest performance for a limited time I’ve ever seen when we played him.
Maravich scored 40 of his 53 points in the second half of LSU’s 80-70 win over St. John’s at the Rainbow Classic in late December.
“The more men we put on him, the better he got,” Carnesecca recalled. “He has a whole bag of tricks. He goes under his legs at full speed, brings the ball in from 25 feet and even passes while hitting the ball with his wrist. Have you seen this before? »
Maravich scored 53 points on 21 shooting for 46 against Mississippi and also had 12 assists.
“I’ve played and worked at this game every day of my life since I can remember and I had the best father and coach anyone could want to help me out,” Maravich said after beating the record. “I’m just glad it was all worth it.”
Maravich finished his college career with 3,667 points in 83 games, a remarkable 44.2 point average that would never be touched. He accomplished the feat before freshmen were eligible and without the benefit of the three-point line, which the NCAA did not universally adopt until 1986. (The absence of a three-point line on the ground as a point of reference might help explain why different newspaper accounts describe the distance of Maravich’s record shot as between 15 and 23 feet.)
Shortly after his son passed Robertson, Press Maravich was asked if he thought the new brand would ever be eclipsed.
“Yes, I do,” he replied. “First of all, records are made to be broken. I think someday—I don’t know how soon—some of these young kids will come in and score points. But Pete’s name will be in the record books for the next 30 to 40 years. I won’t be there to see it, but someone will break it.
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Press Maravich died at age 71 in 1987. Pete, who averaged 24.2 points per game over 10 NBA seasons, died less than a year later after collapsing during a pickup game. An autopsy revealed that Maravich, 40, had a rare and undiagnosed congenital heart defect.
Until this season, Portland State’s Freeman Williams, who scored 3,249 points in 106 games from 1975-78, was the closest challenger to Maravich’s Division I record. Robertson, who scored 2,973 points in 88 games at Cincinnati, now ranks 12th on the all-time list.
Davis, the nation’s top scorer, was limited to 7 of 26 shots against Youngstown State and missed a three-pointer in the final seconds that would have tied Maravich’s mark. Unless Detroit Mercy receives an invite to the College Basketball Invitational or the tournament formerly known as the CollegeInsider.com tournament, Thursday marked the 143rd and final game of Davis’ college career.