In 1954, Bevo Francis scored 113 points in a single college basketball game, setting an N.C.A.A. record that stood for nearly six decades. But he may be remembered as much for a game that was wiped from the books, when he piled up 116.
Francis, who died on Wednesday at 82, was a 6-foot-9 star center for the University of Rio Grande in Ohio, with a deadeye jump shot at a time when most players relied on two-handed set shots. When he arrived as a freshman in 1952, Rio Grande had only 92 full-time students and a basketball court made of worn tile under a leaky roof.
The season before, the Rio Grande Redmen (now the RedStorm) compiled a 4-19 record against middling competition. But with Francis averaging about 50 points a game, the Redmen won their first 10 games of the new season, and the team became a national sensation.
Francis scored 116 points in January 1953 during a home game against Ashland Junior College from Kentucky. He was helped by his teammates, who gave up free shots to feed him the ball, leading to a 150-85 victory. His outpouring came without the benefit of the 3-point line or the shot clock of today’s game.
“With today’s rules, I probably could have scored 135 in a game,” he said in an ESPN biography.
Rio Grande finished the season 39-0, with Francis scoring 1,954 points for a record single-season scoring average of 50.1. But other colleges began to question the legitimacy of his records, saying they had been set against unduly weak opponents, some of them unaccredited two-year institutions.
After the season, the N.C.A.A. refused to count his statistics from many of those games — including the one in which he set the single-game scoring record — because the opponents were not institutions that granted four-year degrees.
Rio Grande did not go undefeated the next season, but Francis stayed true to form. He set N.C.A.A. records for season average (46.5) and again for most points in a game — 113 in a 134-91 victory over Hillsdale College in Michigan. He also set records for most free throws (37) and field goals (38) during that game.
“It was one of those nights that I could have probably drop-kicked one and it would have gone in,” he told The Boston Globe in 2002.
Francis died at his home in Highlandtown, Ohio. The cause was complications of esophageal cancer, a Rio Grande spokesman, Randy Payton, said.
The 1953-54 season was Francis’ last. He said he was leaving Rio Grande to support his wife and son. The university said he had been expelled for absences and academic reasons.
Even though his career was only two seasons long, he still holds the N.C.A.A. Division II record for most games with 50 points or more in a career (14) and a season (eight).
Shortly afterward, Francis signed a $12,000 contract to barnstorm with the Harlem Globetrotters on a team called the Boston Whirlwinds. Losing to the Globetrotters twice a day while being separated from his family did not agree with him.
“We’d play two quarters and then be the clowns,” he said. “It was a dog’s life.”
Drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956, he was asked to play for less money but refused. He then played in the Eastern Professional League and the American Basketball League before becoming a shipper for a steel mill in the early 1960s.
“Everything worked out good,” he said. “You can always get another job; you can’t always get another family.”
Clarence Francis was born on Sept. 4, 1932, in Hammondsville, Ohio. His nickname, Bevo, came from his father’s favorite brand of near beer.
Francis married Jean Chrislip while they attended Wellsville High School. He played only one year of varsity basketball under Coach Newt Oliver, scoring 776 points in 25 games, before departing for Rio Grande with Oliver, who had accepted the head coaching job there.
The steel mill where Francis worked closed in 1982, six months before he would have earned a pension.
His survivors include his wife; a son, Frank; a daughter, Marge Grimm; a sister, Norma Williams; and three grandchildren.
Francis’ 113-point record endured until 2012, when Jack Taylor of Grinnell College scored 138 points in a game against Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary. Contacted by The New York Times, Francis had one question: “Is that a four-year school?”