Campbell sophomore guard Chris Clemons started March Madness off with a bang Thursday, scoring a conference-record 51 points in an 81-79 upset win over UNC-Asheville in quarterfinals of the Big South tournament in Rock Hill, S.C.
A former standout at Millbrook, Clemons, who is 5-9 and 185 pounds, shot 18-of-32 from the floor, 8-for-14 from behind the 3-point line and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line Thursday. The rest of the team scored 30 points.
He broke the Big South record of 46 points set by Towson State’s Devin Boyd in 1993. His output bested the 46 points set in the junior college era by George Lehmann in 1960 and later matched in 1967 by Johnny Marshbanks in the NAIA era. The previous high of 39 points in the Division I era was set by Clarence Grier in 1987.
Clemons gave credit to his teammates for his performance.
Clemons’ stat line quickly went viral on social media.
“It’s cool being able to get your name out there and get your school’s name out there,” Clemons said. “Being at a small school, just to show you don’t have to be at the Dukes or UNCs to get the recognition.”
UNC-Asheville (23-9) was the regular-season co-champion in the Big South and the No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Fighting Camels (16-16), the No. 7 seed, will face sixth-seeded Radford (14-17) at 6 p.m. Friday in a semifinal game.
“He had a really good flow and rhythm from the start of the game,” Campbell head coach Kevin McGeehan said of Clemons. “We see it all the time in practice. So I’m not surprised. Well, 51 is a lot.”
McGeehan said what makes Clemons a great player is that he works hard, and is a great teammate.
“Not many kids that would put up 50 points and talk about how his teammates put him in position,” he said.
Despite his height, Clemons won multiple conference player of year awards at Millbrook. He said he’s never looked at his height as a disadvantage, but rather as an advantage. He said he looks up to Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, who is also a 5-9 guard.
“I don’t see height out there,” Clemons said. “I’m just trying to play within the team aspects. Just playing hard and doing whatever I can to help this team win.
“It’s about the heart and the passion you bring.”
Scott McInnes, who stepped down as Millbrook’s basketball coach after 17 years last week, said he wasn’t surprised Clemons scored 51 points in a game either.
“I’ve seen it,” McInnes said. “When he gets hot, you can’t stop him.”
McInnes said Clemons has NBA 3-point range, and when defenders start to guard him tight, he can drive right past them and leave them in place with his quick hesitation move.
At Campbell this season, Clemons averages 24.1 points per game, and 4.5 rebounds. His 24.1 points per game is fourth-best in the country.
Clemons said he’ll enjoy the moment now, but plans to get his mind right for the next game. As he hung up the phone, someone in the background could be heard yelling, “hurry up man, you’re on TV. They’re showing your highlights.”