Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs Bradley (12/30/1998)
Before Doug McDermott made it a regular occurrence, a Bluejay scoring 40+ in a game was a very big deal because it didn’t happen very often — once or twice a decade, not once or twice a season. Eddie Cole was the first, hanging 47 on Morningside in November of 1954. 12 years passed before it happened again, when Tim Powers scored 45 at Idaho State in 1966. Bob Portman did it four times over the next two seasons (including the school record of 51 in 1967), but it would be 20 years before another Bluejay scored 40 or more. Benoit Benjamin did it twice in 1985 — in back-to-back games, no less — and then Chad Gallagher scored an even 40 against Wichita State in 1990. Rodney Buford equalled the feat in 1998 against Bradley, and ten years later Cavel Witter inexplicably had the game of his career against those same Braves, scoring 42. Pre-McDermott, that was it — those seven men were the only players to score 40 or more points in a single game for the Bluejays; even including McDermott, just eight players have accomplished the feat, and it’s only been done a total of 14 times.
Buford’s 40-point performance came in a critical game for the Bluejays. Bradley had gone 10-2 over the previous 12 games against the Jays, handing them one crushing defeat after another — none moreso than in the 1997 MVC Tournament, when the #2 seeded Jays were knocked out of the MVC Tournament in the quarterfinals by the seventh-seeded Braves. This was the first matchup between the schools since the loss that cost the Bluejays a chance at an NCAA Tournament berth and sent them to the NIT, which would have been plenty of motivation by itself. But there was more. Buford never saw the court in the second half of the previous matchup in Omaha against the Braves after suffering an ankle injury, and was challenged by Coach Dana Altman to step up to the challenge of leading his team to victory.
Did he ever. Buford scored those career-high 40 points, but also played terrific defense, grabbed eight rebounds, and was generally a menace everywhere he went on the court for all 35 minutes he played. “Rodney was really focused tonight, not only on the offensive end but defensively,” Altman said after the game. “He tried to guard, had those knees bent and really put in an effort. Definitely an outstanding night. All around it was probably one of his better performances – maybe his best.”
The offensive show from Buford, in which he went 13-17 from the floor, 6-7 from three-point range and 8-8 from the line, overshadowed one of the best team defensive efforts of the season. Creighton held Bradley to just 16 made baskets, and the Braves were outscored by Buford 21-19 in the first half. In the second half, Bradley tried to claw back into the game, and cut a 10-point halftime deficit to three after just 90 seconds. CU answered with a 9-0 run, capped off by a thunderous fastbreak dunk from Buford.
The Braves never seriously threatened again, and the Jays went on to win handily 65-44. Buford had settled a score with the Braves, noting afterward that “I just wanted to come out and work hard tonight. Coach was telling me to be aggressive and move without the ball. I was probably doing that, and guys found me. I’m grateful for that.”
Just over 3,000 people were in attendance for the game, and the light turnout was attributed at least in part to Nebraska playing in the Holiday Bowl at the same time as the Jays game. While subsequent conflicts have proven that the Jays’ attendance no longer takes a backseat to football on TV, in 1998 that wasn’t yet the case. To wit: the morning of the game, Coach Dana Altman was quoted in the World-Herald as saying, “I’m not naive enough to think that people aren’t going to stay home and watch their TV. But I hope we have somebody show up.”
Those who did show up chose wisely, witnessing history as a Bluejay scored 40 or more points in a game for just the tenth time in school history. Those who didn’t probably second-guessed their choice, as the Huskers lost that bowl game. In any event, given that not too many people saw it the first time around, and that no one has seen it since, we’re really thrilled to be able to share these highlights with you. As with other un-televised games we’ve featured in this series over the years, remember that since this is straight off of the coaches’ game film there’s no announcers, just arena noise and occasional P.A. announcements. Enjoy!
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