Ernie McCray was listed as a center in 1960 although he was only 6’5″. On the night, he set the Arizona record with 46 points in a 104-84 win over Cal State Los Angeles 61 years ago today, McCray said in a 2014 interview that he made “four or five shots” from beyond what is the three-point line today. No three-point line or shot clock existed back then, making the feat that much more impressive (Tucson Citizen front page screen shot)
For 61 years, Arizona’s scoring record has stood. Ernie McCray’s 46 points at the old Bear Down Gym against Cal State Los Angeles seems more untouchable by the year.
The record has withstood the likes of Damon Stoudamire (45 points at Washington State in 1995), Joe Skaisgir (44 points in 1962) and Coniel Norman (also 44 points in 1974).
Jerryd Bayless was the last to come close on Feb. 10, 2008, with 39 points against ASU after he made his first seven shots, including four from three-point range.
“What the record really means to me is that I’m still mentioned as part of the basketball family at the University of Arizona,” McCray said in an interview I had with him in recent years.
“I like having my name mentioned with these guys to have come along. It’s an honor to be mentioned with some of these guys. I mean, they’ve had some guys who can play.”
McCray also wrote the following about his record-breaking night in a blog for AllSportsTucson.com in 2015:
“At the end of the game there was a mob of autograph seekers, mostly kids, a lot of smiles and hand slapping and congratulations and all that goes with a memorable athletic accomplishment. I thought that in a few days my little visit in the ‘zone’ would be old news, long gone. And by the time the track and baseball seasons began I was right. It was no longer the buzz in town and life went on. And it never was a concern of mine that the record might be broken. Records are, they say, meant to be broken. And mine has come close to falling.
“Damon Stoudamire came within one point one year and just a few years ago Jerryd Bayless caught fire in the first half of a game on national television and I thought that was it. I knew it was it. I wanted it to be it because I thought it would be a lot of fun to hear my name mentioned on TV. But such was not to be. I just continued enjoying a wonderful life.
“But here it is (58 years) since that night. And it still is talked about in a few circles. That’s so gratifying to this 78 year old wildcat round-baller they use to call ‘Easy Ernie,’ considering that I’ve been a fan of Arizona sports, in general, and basketball, in particular, since the 40’s when I was growing up in the Old Pueblo and considering that my name today is mentioned alongside the great athletes my alma mater has produced.
“The 46 points has had a lot to do with that, not to mention that I averaged about 18 points and over 10 rebounds per game over my college career. But to be recognized like that is a bonus in my life that I couldn’t have imagined while I was growing up yelling ‘Bear Down!’ and when I was knocking shots down in old Bear Down Gym.”
A remarkable stat for McCray: He is ranked No. 22 in career scoring at Arizona in only 76 games played in three years (freshmen were ineligible back then). Among Arizona’s top 10 scorers, the lowest amount of games played was 114 by Bob Elliott and Al Fleming. Sean Elliott, the career scoring leader with 2,555 points, played 133 games, an incredible 57 more games than McCray.
McCray’s 46-point performance 60 years ago topped the previous record of 38 points scored by Ted Lazovich against ASU in the 1954-55 season.
A crowd of 2,055 filled Bear Down Gym on the night of McCray’s record performance, which also contributed to Arizona’s school-record 104 points at the time. Many of the fans remained afterward to get his autograph and share in his moment. Little did they know then that McCray’s name would still be on top of the record charts more than a half-century later.
McCray is a Tucson High School and Arizona graduate who has become an upstanding citizen in San Diego as an educator and community activist.
His former teammate John Conner, a veteran guard on that 1959-60 team, told Tucson Citizen reporter Don Porter the night of McCray’s record scoring performance:
“Say, he’s one guy who really deserves this. Let me tell you, there’s not another guy who deserves it any more.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.