Prior to 1958, the Cincinnati Bearcats program was a mere footnote in the world of college basketball. Despite the productive years and All-American status of Jack Twyman in the 1950’s, it wasn’t until one night on the world’s greatest stage that the national media had a major story to tell about Cincy basketball. It came in the form of a 19-year old college sophomore from Charlotte, Tennessee. Enter Oscar Palmer Robertson, affectionately known as the Big O.
In the 50’s players were not allowed to participate as freshman, and had to sit out a year until their sophomore season. For Oscar, he dominated from the moment he stepped onto a college basketball court. His 1957-58 season statistics more than tell the story of his superiority, averaging an incredible 35 points per game and equally impressive 15 rebounds (assists were not tracked until the following season). This was coming off of two state titles, including an undefeated season as a senior at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Oscar was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and the 1956 national high school player of the year.
Even with all of the fanfare and accolades, nothing compared to what happened on January 9, 1958. Robertson’s 8-2 Bearcats took on subpar Seton Hall squad at MSG for what was supposed to be just another routine regular season college basketball game. The building was near empty hosting an approximate 4,500 spectators (MSG seating capacity was more than 19,000), however that did nothing to deter what the Big O set out to do. Upon making 22 of 32 field goal attempts, Oscar Robertson set a Garden record of 56 points, the most by any player, college or pro. And while this is without question and amazing feat, the even more impressive aspect of what he did is that Seton Hall only scored 54 as a team (Cincinnati dismantled the Pirates by a final score of 118-54).
Many will always remember Oscar for his famed triple-double season in 1961-62 while playing for the Cincinnati Royals in the NBA, but his college career was equally as spectacular. In each of his three years, he won the national scoring title, was named an All-American, and chosen College Player of the Year, while setting 14 NCAA and 19 school records. Robertson's stellar play led the Bearcats to a 79–9 overall record during his three varsity seasons, including two Final Four appearances. But with all of that said, Oscar himself will tell you that it all started 56 years ago today.