The Collegian
Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Impressive leading scorers

When I heard something on "SportsCenter" last Wednesday about 54 points being scored during a basketball game, I assumed the anchor was talking about a final score.

But actually, the final score was the University of Kentucky 90, the University of Tennessee 72. It was Kentucky's junior guard Jodie Meeks who scored 54 points last Tuesday night in Knoxville, Tenn.

To put that into perspective, he set a school record for number of points scored in one game. Dan Issel set the previous record of 53 points 39 years ago.

The last time someone in the Southeastern Conference scored that many points in one game was 20 years ago, when Louisiana State University's Chris Jackson scored 55 points in an overtime loss against the University of Mississippi, whose Gerald Glass scored 53.

But Meeks didn't need overtime, playing 39 of the game's 40 minutes. He made 15 field goals out of 22 attempts, including 10 of 15 3-point shots, and all 14 of his free throws. As if that weren't enough, he also had eight rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Entering the game, his 24.2 points-per-game average was fourth in the country. After the game, he was still fourth, but his average had increased to 25.9 points per game.

He was the only one of his teammates to score in double figures, and his scoring record is the one that stands out most, but his 10 3-point field goals also set a school record.

Many people were talking at the beginning of this basketball season about the change to the three-point line in the men's college game. Instead of being 19 feet, 9 inches away from the basket, the three-point line was moved back to 20 feet, 9 inches away.

The National Basketball Association line is 23 feet, 9 inches away, and I didn't think that the one-foot change in the college game would make a big difference. There are some forwards who have trained based on the 19 feet, 9 inches length and probably can't make it from one foot back, but they don't take the majority of three-point attempts.

The best shooting guards can score from beyond NBA range, and Meeks proved that the extra foot didn't affect him. He has made 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts this year, compared with 36.4 percent as a freshman and 32.0 percent as a sophomore, when he missed more games than he played because of injuries.

Meeks is the only one of the nation's top five scorers whose three-point percentage didn't decrease from last season, but he isn't the only guard. This is actually one of the most guard-heavy groups of scoring leaders during the past five years.

Leading the nation is Davidson College's Stephen Curry, followed by the University of Tennessee-Martin's Lester Hudson, Chicago State University's David Holston, Meeks and the University of Notre Dame's Luke Harangody.

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A guard hasn't led the country in scoring since Keydren "KeeKee" Clark did so during the 2004-2005 season, but Harangody is the only forward among this season's current top five. If Curry maintains his scoring average, he'll have the highest points-per-game average of any player during the past five years.

Gonzaga University's Adam Morrison led the country during the 2005-2006 season, his junior year, with 28.4 points per game. Curry, also a junior, is currently averaging 29.1 points per game.

The day after Meeks set his record, Curry scored 39 points for Davidson against Elon University. It was his sixth 30-point game of the season, and he's also scored 44 points twice.

But if Meeks has some more nights like he did last Tuesday, he could make the scoring race interesting, particularly in March. Though neither Davidson nor Kentucky is ranked in the top 25, both are predicted to make the NCAA tournament.

I can still remember sitting in my room in Lora Robins Court freshman year watching Curry play in his first NCAA tournament game. Davidson lost to the University of Maryland, but Curry scored 30 points.

And Curry was largely responsible for Davidson's run in the tournament last year, scoring 40, 30 and 33 points during first-round, second-round and Sweet-16 victories. Even when Davidson lost to Kansas University, the eventual national champion, Curry still scored 25 points.

Kentucky lost during the first round of the 2008 tournament, but Meeks was injured and didn't play that game. This year, he could be the difference-maker for Kentucky.

The best news about these two players is that they're only juniors, and the two players currently standing between Meeks and Curry are seniors. Curry and Meeks have increased their scoring averages each season, and if they come back next year -- never a guarantee in college basketball -- things could get even more exciting.

And when they graduate, there will still be another Curry. Seth Curry, Stephen's younger brother, is a freshman at Liberty University whose 35 points against the Virginia Military Institute on Saturday night put him at 20.8 points per game, good for 20th place on the list of scoring leaders.

It's not the 21.2 points per game -- 10th in the country -- his older brother averaged as a freshman, but it's a start. Unranked teams such as Davidson, Liberty and Kentucky don't get much air time during the regular season, but you can always hope to see a repeat of Curry's March Madness magic.

If all else fails, search for "Jodie Meeks Tennessee" on YouTube. Even if he never matches that point total again, last Tuesday night will still be the one of the best single-game performances you'll ever see.

Contact reporter Barrett Neale at barrett.neale@richmond.edu

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