Barnum vs. Pistol Pete

LSU superstar Pete Maravich averaged 44.2 points per game during his college basketball career, an NCAA record that may never be approached, much less broken. Stopping him was an incredible challenge.

No one relished that challenge more than former Tennessee coach Ray Mears, who was buried yesterday following 80 unforgettable years of life. So, whenever the Vols and Tigers met, Mears' intensity level soared off the charts.

Since LSU was coached by Press Maravich, his talented son had the green light to shoot whenever he chose … and "Pistol Pete" chose to shoot a lot. That was understandable, though, because his supporting cast was nothing special.

"LSU wasn't a real good team," ex-Vol Bill Justus recalled this week. "And I think our fans would've liked to see Pete get 50. But that wasn't Mears. He was very dedicated, very determined and very competitive. Not only were we going to try to win; we were going to try to hold Pete to half his average."

Mears, the so-called "Barnum of Basketball," was not going to be upstaged by some long-haired, floppy-socked ball hog. Rather than concede Maravich his 40-plus points – as most opposing coaches did – the Vol boss decided to disarm The Pistol. Junior point guard Bill Hann would shadow Pete as he brought the ball up the floor. Once Maravich crossed midcourt, Hann would steer him to the right or left wing, where junior shooting guard Justus would be waiting to apply double-team pressure.

"Billy trailed Pete everywhere he went," Justus recalled, "and I doubled him every time he got the ball, made him give it up."

Flustered by the constant pressure, Maravich took a bunch of bad shots, missing most of them. He recorded four of the worst games of his career against UT as a sophomore in 1968 and as a junior in '69.

With Hann and Justus out of eligibility, Tennessee needed to come up with a new plan to disrupt Maravich in 1970. Shortly before the Vols were to face LSU, Mears summoned Hann (then a Vol graduate assistant) into his office and informed him he'd be joining the team on its upcoming trip to Baton Rouge.

Mears said he wanted Hann to wear an orange blazer and stand at the end of the court nearest LSU's locker room. When The Pistol came out for pre-game warm-ups, Hann was to stare him down with his most menacing glare.

Being a low-key guy, Hann said he couldn't possibly pull off such a feat. Mears assured him he could … and WOULD.

Sure enough, on the appointed evening, Hann donned his orange blazer and gave his most tenacious snarl just as Maravich came dribbling out onto the floor.

"Pete took two dribbles and stopped," Hann recalls. "He took a couple of deep breaths, started to go by, then turned and looked back at me."

His performance complete, Hann strode to the Vol bench and asked, "What was that all about?" Mears enthusiastically replied, "You did the right thing."

Hann still laughs at the recollection.

"If you knew Coach Mears, you know that he always tried to get in the mind of other people and tried to take away the best part of his game," the ex-Vol said. "That's what he did that night."

Bottom line: The Pistol fired mostly blanks against the Big Orange. Maravich averaged just 23 points in six games against Tennessee, losing five of them.


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