PEORIA, Ill. — It was the perfect formula for a record night: The top scorer in the nation vs. UC Irvine's defense. So, it came as no surprise that Bradley All-American Hersey Hawkins scored a school-record 51 points Saturday night.
Still, Bradley officials probably didn't count on their entire basketball record book being rendered obsolete in one night. By the time the final buzzer sounded on the Braves' 139-119 victory over Irvine, four Bradley records, two Irvine records, eight Carver Arena records and four personal career highs had been established.
The 139 points was the most ever for Bradley, the 258 combined points was the most by the Braves and an opponent and the Braves' "other" guard, Anthony Manuel, had a school-record 21 assists.
But Hawkins' mark was by far the most notable, especially when you consider the fact that he played only three-quarters of the game. Hawkins picked up his third foul with 9:45 left in the first half and didn't play again until the second half.
When Hawkins left the game, he was on a pace that would have worked out to 92 points had he played all 40 minutes.
"We love to get records for everybody," said Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan, whose team set a pair of more dubious records--most points allowed and combined points. "Maybe we should change the way we play, but we're not going to because we like to play like that. It's fun."
The majority of 8,911 in Carver Arena would have certainly agreed. In the early going, fans were screaming at Hawkins to score 75 . . . even 100.
Forward Wayne Engelstad, who scored a career-high 41 points, might have had a shot at Kevin Magee's Irvine scoring record of 46, but Mulligan pulled him out of the game with 2:05 remaining.
"I didn't know he was that close," Mulligan said, "and I've got three assistants who didn't know either."
Would he have let a player he constantly ridicules (Engelstad) in long enough to break the record of a player (Magee) he admittedly reveres if he had known?
"I don't have to answer that now, do I?" Mulligan asked, smiling.
Bradley Coach Stan Albeck was certainly aware of Hawkins' point total down the stretch and he shouted out a couple of special plays to help his star get over the hump. Irvine's Jeff Herdman and Chris Creswell made Hawkins work for those final points, though. Hawkins made both ends of three one-and-one situations in the final two minutes and broke Chet Walker's 1960 record of 50 with a pair of free throws with four seconds left.
"Considering the blistering start he got off to (16 points in the first six minutes), Hersey would have put the record way out of sight if he hadn't gotten in foul trouble," Albeck said. "If someone is near a record, I always leave them in, but he really deserves that record. He's been our main man for two years."
It only takes about 30 seconds of watching the Braves' offense to figure that out. The other four players spend most of their time either picking for, or passing the ball to, Hawkins.
Bradley (4-1) led, 38-26, when Hawkins went to the bench. Irvine (5-4) cut the deficit to five, 68-63, at the half and grabbed a fleeting one-point lead when Justin Anderson sank a couple of three-pointers in the first minute of the second half. But Hawkins was back in the game and the Braves reeled off a 21-2 spurt. After that, the only suspense left was how many records would fall.
"I don't know how many I would have gotten if I hadn't missed those 10 minutes," said Hawkins, who made 15 of 25 from the field (including 7 of 10 from three-point range) and 14 of 15 free throws. "Sixty I guess. I should have gotten at least 10 more, especially in this game. It was an entertaining game to watch. I know 'cause I watched too much of it."
Engelstad, who played most of the game, saw enough of Hawkins to be duly impressed.
"He's incredible," Engelstad said. "He needs about one inch to get off his shot. We had guys right in his face, and then you'd see the ball come over the top of their hands and into the basket."
Engelstad and Hawkins may have been the top scorers, but they weren't the only ones having big nights. Bradley reserve forward Jerry Thomas, a senior who had a career-high 13 points and had scored only 16 points so far this season, pumped in 33 in this one. And Irvine senior Frank Woods also had a career-best 25 points.
Generally speaking, it was a fun night all around. Everyone went home with a smile. Even the Anteaters didn't seem to mind losing this one.
Irvine isn't one of the best teams in the country, but they're fast becoming one of the best-loved . . . by opponents and their fans, anyway.