Fifty-one years ago today the then-named Redmen poured in a school-record 123 points in swamping Milton by 39 points in a non-conference game in Kenosha.
That’s 123 points without the benefit of the 3-point basket, which was still 17 years from adoption at the college level.
The only league using the bonus stripe at the time was the American Basketball Association, which instituted the rule in 1967.
Even with the rule, the ABA only had three games in 1970-71 that eclipsed Carthage’s 123-point explosion.
Future Carthage Hall of Famer Denny Kessel ignited the point flurry with a huge first half.
The junior from Franklin Grove, Ill., took advantage of an inattentive Milton defense in scoring 26 of his game-high 32 points in the opening 20 minutes.
Described as a “jaunty dimple-chinned Carthage junior” by Sports Editor Jim Kornkven in the next day’s Kenosha News, Kessel drained 12 of his first 15 field-goal attempts in the first half.
Outstanding performances were nothing new for Kessel, who lettered four times in baseball and three times in basketball at Carthage.
Baseball was the future teacher and coach at Mundelein (Ill.) High School’s best sport. He was named a first-team All-CCIW pitcher in 1971. On May 18, 1970, Kessel fired a five-hit shutout over North Park in the first game of Carthage’s quadrupleheader sweep, which also included Illinois Wesleyan. Three weeks earlier, Kessel tossed the school’s lone perfect game in a 1-0 win over North Central.
Kessel’s hot hand helped the Redmen cruise to a 64-38 lead at halftime. Gary Kassner’s tip-in with 7 minutes, 30 seconds left put Carthage over the century mark for the first time since a 129-102 loss at Millikin the previous Feb. 20. Carthage’s lead peaked at 40 points at 103-63 with 6 minutes to go. A few minutes later, Craig Songer scored the basket that enabled Carthage to break the school record of 118 set Dec. 5, 1969 against Concordia of St. Paul, Minn., on Dec. 5, 1969 in Kenosha.
Kessel got help from Johnie Butler who had 20 points and 12 rebounds and Rich Anderson who added 20 points and 10 rebounds.
This was the first of four 100-point efforts for coach Jay Burris’ team that season. On Dec. 22, Carthage won at Monmouth (Ill.), 104-87, before bowing to Millikin, 121-115, in Decatur, Ill., on Jan. 15. In the rematch with Big Blue, Carthage prevailed, 121-92, in Kenosha on Jan. 30.
Carthage finished 16-8 overall and 11-5 in the CCIW. The Redmen fell to Lakeland 103-93 in the first round of the NAIA District 14 playoffs on March 1 to end their season.
Carthage established a new single-game scoring record this season in a 138-125 victory over Greenville University on Nov. 23. That broke the previous record of 135 points against Grinnell on Jan. 4, 2006. The 135-point outburst broke the long-standing record from 1970.
Sources: Carthage 2021-22 Men’s Basketball Record/History Book; Kenosha News, Dec. 18, 1970; Carthage Athletic Hall of Fame website; Steve Marovich
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