Bailey, Buss fought through pain to set records

Wayne Bailey

Special to the Herald

Dealing with pain was the common theme for Wayne Bailey and Tyra Buss when they set the single game scoring records for a boy and girl at the now 80-year-old Cabby O’Neill Gym in Jasper.

For Bailey, his 46-point effort for victorious Jasper against Vincennes Lincoln in 1971 came after two stinging losses in 1969 and 1970 to the rival Alices. For Buss of Mount Carmel, her 48-point barrage in beating the Lady Wildcats in 2013 came despite a sprained ankle.

The six-foot-six Bailey is still frustrated by the memory of pulling a thigh muscle as a sophomore in a 72-60 loss to Vincennes at Jasper in 1969. Vincennes, as the defending semistate champion, was the top gun in southern Indiana, and on its way to an undefeated regular season and another Final Four appearance in 1969.

“I pulled my muscle in the second quarter,” recalls Bailey. “It really limited me. I was really angry because Jerry Memering got 23 rebounds on me. I couldn’t move very fast, and I was so mad because I couldn’t get in front of him to block him out.”

The memories became even more painful for Bailey in Jasper’s 70-68 loss at Vincennes in 1970. “I blew a free throw toward the end of the game,” he said. “If I would have made the free throw, we would have won.” Still, Bailey was the leading scorer with 21 points, including 5-of-6 free throws. Jasper was ranked ninth in the state at the time, and went on to win the prestigious SIAC conference championship.

So, going into the Vincennes game at Jasper as a senior, Bailey still “had that chip on my shoulder” lingering from the previous two losses to the Alices. Adding fuel to the already-heated rivalry was the presence of Vincennes coach Orlando “Gunner” Wyman, who later had the inscription “I had rather be here than in Jasper, Ind.,” carved on his tombstone.

Dave “Slick” Webber, a Jasper starting guard, remembers that the Wildcats were probably ranked in the state’s top 15 at the time, and that Wyman had remarked Jasper wasn’t deserving of the ranking.

“Before the game, he said he thought we were overrated,” said Webber. Vincennes’ six-foot-five Gary Burdsall, who guarded Bailey in the 1971 game, said Wyman “would make statements like that.” Jasper assistant coach Rex May agreed, saying, “Gunner always thought Jasper was overrated.”

“I was up for the game anyway,” said Bailey, “then some of the Vincennes players smirked during warm-ups. I thought, we’ll see what’s going to happen now, guys. But my first quarter was terrible.”

He hit only two of nine shots, and one free throw, for five points. Vincennes led 16-11 and Wyman appeared to be right. But then Bailey caught fire, hitting 17 of 22 shots the rest of the game, and all seven free throws.

Asked in a recent phone interview if he remembered that game, Burdsall, laughing, said, “Unfortunately, I do. I was guarding Mr. Bailey, well, attempting to guard him. He could throw anything in that night. I could have knocked him down, he couldn’t miss, he could have kicked it in. That didn’t go over real well with Gunner. At halftime, he said I wouldn’t make a good pimple on a good ballplayer’s (rear). He definitely didn’t like Jasper.”

Visitors often think referees on the road are biased, but Burdsall said, “I thought (the officiating) was fair.” Then he noted, with a laugh, “They probably should have fouled me out, it would have been better.”

Recalling the game, Webber said, “Bailey just hit everything. He was hitting those 12-to-15-footers like it was going out of style. It’s not like we were feeding him, it was done within the process of our offense. It was a pleasure to watch. He was just a force. It was fun to throw the ball to him, thinking, here, go get another one, big guy. He was on a roll; man, he was tough.”

After the Wildcats won 81-70, as Webber was going through the post-game hand-shaking line, he remembers: “I shook (Wyman’s) hand, I was a little 16-year-old kid, and I said, ‘What do you think of that ranking now?’”

Bailey, now retired and living in Evansville, calls that victory the most satisfying of his career. But when asked what was his most memorable basket, he laughed and said, “That free throw I missed against Vincennes.”

Bailey’s 46-point spree was finally topped in December 2013, but it took the National Girls Basketball Player of the Year, as named by the National High School Coaches Association, to do it. Tyra Buss also finished second on the all-time national prep scoring list.

As a senior that year, Buss’s Mount Carmel team beat Jasper, 73-52. Her 48 points came on 19 of 31 shooting, ironically the same line as Bailey’s record-setting game. Buss hit 4-of-7 three-pointers, and 6-of-8 free throws.

Her father, Mount Carmel Athletic Director Tim Buss, noted that Tyra, at five-foot-six and with a slight frame, also led the Golden Aces with nine rebounds, and “only shot eight free throws, and that was way below her game average of attempts.” He remembered it being a “physical game, (like) every game we played against Jasper.”

Former Jasper player Shelby Merder said, “Tyra was a phenomenal player. We tried to box-and-one her and force the ball out of her hand, but she would pass and then get the ball right back. She was good at creating her own shot and using her basketball knowledge to outsmart other players. She only shot (8) free throws and the refs didn’t help her out at all. She earned all her points. And she tweaked her ankle — she still was able to do it all.”

Ryan Erny, former Jasper head coach, recalled the game as “a nightmare.”

“Tyra was just one of those special players, a special talent. You try to take away the three-point shot, and she would drive and get to the free throw line. If you give her some space, she would shoot it from the volleyball line without batting an eye. There wasn’t a defense that she didn’t see, and she still scored plenty of points. She was one of those players that’s fun to play against, but you’re glad to see them graduate.”

Tyra also played at the Cabby O’Neill Gym as a sophomore, scoring 41 points but losing a three-point game to Jasper. She went on to become Indiana University’s career scoring leader with 2,364 points, and helped lead IU to the 2018 WNIT Championship, where she was named Most Valuable Player.

She is now playing professionally in Greece. Her father recently shared her comments about playing in the Cabby O’Neill Gym: “It was a shooter’s gym. We played during the day so the sun would shine through the windows. I liked how the stands were above the court. I loved playing against Jasper.”

More on