In its own way, 50 or more points is incredibly impressive. Given that college basketball games have around ~70% of the possessions of an NBA game and a significantly lower portion of usage-rate stars, it’s probably no surprise that a 50+ point game happens just over once a season. Only 14 times since 2010 has a Division I player dropped 50 or more against another Division I team; no player has scored more than Cameron Young’s 55 for Quinnipiac against Siena in 2019 in that time span.
Young’s game is worth breaking down, because it’s one of the more realistic paths to a lot of points. Hot night from three? Check (9 for 13). Lots of free throws? Check (16 for 20). Aided by the fact the game went to triple overtime? Oh yeah. Young played 54 of a possible 55 minutes. Only one 50+ point scorer – Ray Lee for Eastern Michigan in 2017 – played less than 32 minutes. Unsurprisingly, you gotta be on the court for most of the game to get close.
What’s perhaps most surprising, though, is realizing that Young’s 55 points is the most anyone has scored in a game in 12 years. Then you Google “most points scored by a player in Division I game” and you are reminded of this.
Those are the last five times anyone has scored 60 or more points in a Division I basketball game. It’s a fascinating list: one NBA player in Eddie House; a cup-of-coffee guy in Askia Jones; three players that only fans of the school (yes, U.S. International was a Division I school) or Kansas fans (in Ben Woodside’s case) would immediately recognize. But the most important thing you’ll see are those dates. The last 60-point games happened within two months of each other in the 2008-09 season. No one has come within five points since.
It’s also interesting to note the obvious: the last three guys to do this all needed multiple overtimes to get there. No one has scored 60 or more in regulation since Bill Clinton’s first term. From 1961 (AKA, when integration really began to take hold in NCAA men’s basketball thanks to Loyola Chicago) to 1994, a 34-year span, a player cracked 60+ points roughly once every two years. It happened 19 times total in that 34-year span. It’s happened three times since.
Why is this? Fourteen players have at least come within shouting distance of it since Ryan Toolson’s 63-point game in 2009, but no one has actually cracked the barrier. It’s not for a lack of triple-overtime or further games, either; there were 15 of those in the 2021-22 season alone. No one has managed to have the combination of high-volume shooting, an unusually efficient night, and the boost of extra time needed because of a lack of help from the rest of the team to drag them over the top.
How do we get there? As best as I can tell, I’ve found a few key commonalities between the best of the best – those who’ve scored 52 or more points – along with notes from the Toolson/Woodside games that stand out. Also, I went on a Facebook adventure to get in touch with a former 60-point scorer to hear their thoughts, so you have that now, too.
THE FIVE* PILLARS OF A 60-POINT GAME
1. You’re gonna need 50+ minutes
The average amount of on-court time among the seven players who’ve scored 52+ points since 2010-11 against Division 1 competition: 45 minutes. That might even be too few. Toolson played all 60 minutes in Utah Valley’s four-overtime win; Woodside played 51 of a possible 55 in a triple-overtime loss. (By the way, scoring 60 and still losing has to be a horrific feeling.) Plus, thanks to that list above, you can see that the only three 60+ point scorers in the last 25 years required multiple overtimes to get there.
The seven players that got to 52 or better were averaging around 1.17 points per minute; if you sustain that same rate to get to 60, you need at least 51.3 on-court minutes to do it, or triple overtime. Ryan Toolson, the Utah Valley 63-point scorer, knows very well how long this can take. “My coach always jokes that the most impressive thing of that game wasn’t my scoring but that I stayed in the entire 60 minutes, which also might be some other kind of record,” Toolson told me via Facebook Messenger.
If this happens again – and given basketball’s general move in an offense-friendly direction, it probably will soon – it is likely going to come from a game that required two or more overtimes to decide the winner. “I was lucky that I had a perfect storm where I was scoring well and then was given an entire extra 20 minutes to continue to do so,” said Toolson.
2. No less than 25 field goal attempts, with 15+ makes…
Cameron Young ended his game with 24, but he’s the only player among those who dropped 52+ to take fewer than 26. Young also got 20 free throw attempts, which is certainly plausible on the right night, but college basketball just posted its lowest-ever Free Throw Rate, so who knows. Anyway, Young could get away with 24 shots because he went 15-for-24 from the field and 9-for-13 from deep.
The next guy to do this will almost certainly have to hoist a lot of shots, which he should be, because we’re trying to score 60 points here. Every player who scored 52+ points made at least 15 shots and posted no worse than a 53.3% FG%. The worst two-point outing of any of them was Markus Howard’s 5-for-12; everyone else was at 50% or better from two. You likely can’t just get there on twos, though; not if you want to make your job easier.
3. …and likely at least six made threes
Only one player among the seven at 52+ points didn’t make a three: Darius Lee of Houston Baptist. (Sadly, Lee passed away in a shooting in his hometown of Harlem just a few weeks back.) The other six nailed at least six threes and attempted at least ten. The average production of the crew from deep: 7-for-12. Toolson went 7-for-11 from deep; Woodside went 2-for-6, but he also attempted 35 FREE THROWS. That is in ALL CAPS because it is something you desperately need to know. 35 free throws. (I reached out to Woodside for this article; if I can get in touch with him in the next few days, his comments will be edited in.)
Anyway, you may need to boost this number even further. The final statline of a 60-point game in this day and age is probably requiring something around 8-11 made threes, depending on how much you can produce inside the perimeter and how well you get to the free throw line. Speaking of that:
4. Hope you’ve got a favorable officiating crew
The seven players to score 52 or more averaged 13 free throw attempts, and that average is brought down immensely by a total outlier: Jimmer Fredette, the shooting wunderkind who had one (1) attempt in a 52-point affair. Five of seven players hit double-digit attempts. In their 60-point efforts, Toolson got to the line for 21 attempts and made 20. Woodside got 35 attempts (!) and made 30. The message is relatively clear: gotta get fouled, gotta get lucky.
5. Also, probably be a guard
Toolson and Woodside were both 6’4″ or shorter. All seven 52+ point scorers were guards. This is more about “can shoot really well from deep” than “is small,” but it cannot hurt. Like, sure, Zach Edey can probably take 26 field goal attempts and get to the line 14 times if he wants, but considering he will not be shooting a three, your best-case scenario is, like, 46 points. You need threes, and you need guys that can chuck it from deep.
6 (BONUS). Also also, don’t give up too early
This is not actually something to look for, just a thing to keep in mind. Woodside had SEVEN POINTS at halftime of his 60-point game. Did the three overtimes help? Obviously. But the point stands that he went from being on pace for a 14-point night to merely the second-greatest scoring night of the last 22 years. Toolson had 19 in the first half and had four overtimes to aid his work, but still, that’s just a 38-point pace. He also didn’t understand how well he was scoring. Per Toolson: “I had no idea that I broke the 60-point threshold until after the game when our team trainer asked what I thought I had. My guess was high 40s or low 50s.”
Even Cameron Young, the owner of the highest-scoring game since the Woodside/Toolson run, had all of 24 points 27 minutes into a triple-overtime game. Does it help if you have a monster first or second half? Obviously. The last guy to score 53 or more in regulation – Nate Wolters of South Dakota State in 2013 – got there because he dropped 38 POINTS after the break.
All I’m saying is this: it’s very much okay to get excited about our dumb, hopeful hypothetical if a player enters the halftime break with 25+ points. It’s just not that predictive. In fact, the #1 candidate for our 60+ point game this year dropped 26 in a first half this past season, then proceeded to score all of four points the rest of the way.
WHO ARE THE CANDIDATES?
Everyone in the sample above used no less than 29% of their team’s possessions over the course of the season. Toolson and Woodside were their respective teams’ main creators and scorers. Fredette was Fredette. Markus Howard was Marquette’s only creator. It’s going to have to be a guard that takes a lot of shots on a nightly basis and simply gets really hot in a game where, more or less, no one else from his team does.
Bart Torvik’s projection tools gives each player for this 2022-23 season a statistical baseline. Whether or not it ends up true is genuine guesswork, but it’s at least something to work with. Could a freshman come through and wreck our analysis? Sure, but considering the highest scorers have overwhelmingly been juniors and seniors, that seems most likely.
So: we’re looking for 1) A guard 2) That is expected to use 29% or more of their team’s possessions 3) And is an upperclassman 4) Who is at least somewhat efficient. Based on that, and on our above research, these are my seven best guesses for a 60-point scorer this season, if it happens at all.
Darius McGhee, Liberty. The list has to begin with the second-leading scorer in all of college basketball last year. McGhee’s career high is 48 points, set last year in a tight three-point win against Florida Gulf Coast. At 5’9″, McGhee may be a little too small for what we’re ideally looking for, but what is college basketball if not a home for misfits? The biggest drawback against McGhee is that he doesn’t get to the line that much; aside from one 18 FTA game against Kennesaw State, his career high in single-game free throw attempts is eight. If he finds a way to hit 16 shots, with 10 of them being threes, and gets to the line 18 times and hits them all, then we’re cooking. I do think he represents the best shot, as he had the highest usage rate in the sport last year.
Antoine Davis, Detroit. The other main contender is Davis, who has never ranked lower than 17th in usage rate nationally in any of his four seasons and decided to come back for a fifth year because he had little better to do. Davis may have the better shot simply because his supporting cast is worse. Liberty has made multiple NCAA Tournaments during McGhee’s time there; Detroit Mercy has not once come close. Anyway, Davis’s career high is also 48, but he gets to the line more frequently than McGhee and has hit 10+ threes three times. It just takes one game where Davis hits 10 threes, gets to the line 13 times (making all 13) and hits eight other shots somewhere. Simple enough! Worth noting that Davis dropped 39 points in 31 minutes this past season in a blowout win.
Max Abmas, Oral Roberts. Pretty easy to guess that a guy who’s averaged nearly 24 PPG the last two seasons will be a contender to score a lot of points on one given night. Abmas has a wider-known case for stardom than almost anyone on this list; the reason why he doesn’t rank higher is two-fold. First, Abmas has yet to top 42 points in a college game, which he did back in February 2021. Secondly, Abmas really doesn’t take as many shots as one would guess; his usage rate only ranked 5th-highest in the Summit last year and he’s touched our 25-attempt threshold just three times in three years. Still: this is a guy who’s played almost 95% of all possible minutes the last two seasons and never fouls, meaning he would be a strong candidate to simply be on the floor in a multiple-overtime game.
Jelly Walker, UAB. Walker became a minor star this March thanks to his terrific name and to a particularly thrilling style of play. Walker almost matches what we’re looking for perfectly: efficient shooter (40% from three), high usage rate (33.3% USG%, 17th-highest), and ended his most recent season by dropping 40 in a triple-overtime conference tournament win. The problem: that game is one of only three times Walker has scored more than 27 points. The good news is that his scoring jumped immensely in conference play, and for whatever reason, his only two 40+ point games are both against Middle Tennessee. Maybe the third time’s the charm.
Jordan Dingle, Penn. A ridiculous name, but also a ridiculous player. Dingle took 36% of Penn’s shots while on the court last winter and averaged over 17 field goal attempts a night. Dingle is capable of a lot. He’s made 7+ threes in a game twice, hit our 25+ attempt threshold twice in a week last season, and scored 30+ points five times in a nine-game stretch. He’s never scored more than 33, and I don’t love getting my hopes up for a guy playing for 1) Penn; 2) A Penn team with precisely zero top-150 offensive rankings since 2012. At the same time, Dingle had as many 30+ point games in 2021-22 as every Penn player did combined from 2015 to 2021. Worth a shot.
As a bonus, here’s two wild cards that are interesting. I didn’t feel their cases were as strong as the main five, but each is capable of a super-spectacular night if everything were to break perfectly.
Daylen Kountz, Northern Colorado. I just don’t think Kountz shoots enough, which is both a blessing (he’s very efficient) and a curse (career high of 21 field goal attempts). The upside here is real, though. Kountz averaged 21.2 PPG last year on 54/42/82 shooting splits and was the Big Sky’s best player. His career high is 36, but in a tight game and on a night he’s really hot, I think someone with those splits can reasonably put up 45-50. The question is if he’s capable of the next step up.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana. Despite just being in college for three years, TJD is coming up on Perry Ellis territory, where you assume he’s been in college since 2015. The problem with making TJD a real contender here is that he has three career three-point attempts, all misses, and he didn’t even average 12 field goal attempts a game last year. The reason why he’s on this list: he’s extremely efficient (career ORtg of 119) and I have some sort of a proof of concept of how this works. TJD put up 43 in a win over Marshall last November, a game that required zero overtimes and just 37 on-court minutes. That’s 1.16 points per minute, which is above what Toolson did (1.05 points per minute) and almost exactly Woodside’s production (1.17). Plus, he enters as the clear and obvious go-to guy on a team that is presumably aiming to score points. If he learns how to shoot, the case gets stronger.
One day, a Division I college basketball player will score 60 in a game again. Considering that team-wide scoring is up 3% versus where it was in the 2008-09 season, and considering the previous longest gap between 60-point games was nine years (currently 13 going on 14), we’re overdue for a scoring explosion. Except: what if we aren’t?
Over the last two seasons, the scoring leaders in Division I men’s hoops have scored 24.6 (Max Abmas) and 25.2 (Peter Kiss) points per game. Those are fine numbers, sure. The problem is that even the 25.2 figure would’ve ranked second-lowest in the 20-year span from 2001 to 2020. Team-wide scoring is up, but individual scoring explosions are down.
“I was actually very surprised [to hear] that it hadn’t happened again,” says Toolson, the now 13-season owner of the last 60-point outing. “I feel like the basketball world, with Stephen Curry leading the way, has changed drastically allowing players to have more opportunities to score.” It’s been true at the NBA level, where scoring is up 11% in that same 13-year timeframe and 13 60+ point games have happened in the last five seasons alone. (From 2000 to 2009: nine.)
If college basketball can find one guy to get hot on one night, anything is possible. Toolson knows it very well, and knows just the type of game that could do it. “I remember the Jodie Meeks 54-point game during my senior year,” said Toolson. “If you gave that guy on that night four overtimes, he might’ve scored 100.” All it takes is one legendary night – and preferably, one very close game – to make it happen.
The foremost expert on the subject seems to agree. “I feel like a 60-point game will come soon,” Toolson told me, “whether that’s from a one-and-done freshmen phenom or a senior with the ultimate green light and 4 overtimes.” Hopefully for us – though perhaps for him, maybe not hopefully? – that day will come soon.