After Ryan Kelly’s impression of JJ Redick pulling a Willis Reed, Duke now has had five players who this season have scored 27 or more points in a game during ACC play. Of course, Kelly’s 36 against Miami tops the list. Mason Plumlee has topped 30 points twice, including his season-high 32 against Wake Forest, and Seth Curry poured in 28 against Virginia (he also had 31 against Santa Clara). Quinn Cook scored 27 against Clemson and Rasheed Sulaimon did likewise versus BC. So how unusual is it for five Duke players to have games of 27 or more against ACC competition? Or any competition, for that matter? Let’s take a look and find out.
Well, first of all, I’d note that fourteen Duke teams under Coach K have had five players who scored 20 or more in a game, including 2013, 2012, 2011, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1993, 1992, 1991, 1990, 1989, and 1987. Of those, seven Duke teams had five players who scored 20 or more in ACC games: 2013, 2012, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1992 (Bobby Hurley scored 26 in a Final Four game, rather than in the ACC season, but for our purposes we’re going to count it), and 1991. So, five guys with games of 20+ doesn’t happen every season, but isn’t all that unusual either. How about 25+?
Before we get too far, I’d note that Kelly’s 36 point explosion also gave Duke three players who scored 30 or more in game during the season (albeit not all in ACC games). The only other Duke teams under Coach K to achieve that were in 2011 (Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving, & Kyle Singler), and in 2002 (Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, & Mike Dunleavy). Now back to our main question.
In 2011, Duke had five players score 25 or more in a game, although three of the five did so against non-ACC competition. The players and their ACC (and season) highs were as follows:
Nolan Smith, 34 vs. UNC;
Kyrie Irving, 31 vs. Michigan State;
Kyle Singler, 29 vs. Maryland (30 vs. Oregon);
Andre Dawkins, 28 against Bradley;
Mason Plumlee, 25 against Marquette.
Close, but not quite. Four of the five season-highs were in November or December, and only two players had 25+ against ACC teams. Let’s move on.
Also close were 2012 (five players with games of 23+ in ACC play) and 2003 (five players with 23+ but only three who did it against ACC teams), but 23 points is pretty far from 27, so I’d say those teams are not close enough.
In 2001, Duke had five players with games of 24 or more in ACC play (again ACC-high games are listed with season-high if different in parenthesis):
Jason Williams, 34 vs. BC;
Shane Battier, 34 vs. Georgia Tech;
Nate James, 27 vs. Clemson;
Carlos Boozer, 25 vs. Clemson (26 vs. Temple);
Mike Dunleavy, 24 vs. UNC.
Still not 27, and really not even 25. It’s worth noting that Chris Duhon on that team also scored 20 against Virginia, giving the 2001 team six players with 20 or more in an ACC game. That feat is unique in Coach K’s Duke tenure, although the 2000 team had six guys with 20+ including non-conference games (Battier, 34 vs. Wake; Chris Carrawell, 30 vs. NCSU; Boozer, 28 vs. William & Mary and 25 vs. Virginia; James, 22 vs. DePaul; and Dunleavy, 21 vs. Virginia), and three early Coach K Duke teams had six guys with 19+ in a game (1990, 1989, and 1987). The 1990 team also pulled off the amazing accomplishment of having nine players who reached 15 or more points in a game: Alaa Abdelnaby (32 vs. NCSU); Phil Henderson (29 vs. The Citadel, 26 vs. Georgia Tech); Christian Laettner (29 vs. Georgia Tech); Bill McCaffrey (22 vs. Harvard); Robert Brickey (22, in four different games); Bobby Hurley (19 vs. Michigan); Brian Davis (16 vs. Georgia Tech); Greg Koubek (16 vs. Georgia Tech); and Thomas Hill (15 vs. Maryland).
In 1999, Duke also had five players score 24+ in ACC games (though, again, this isn’t 27 points and even just misses 25):
Elton Brand, 33 vs. UVa;
Will Avery, 29 vs. UNC (30 vs. Cincinnati);
Shane Battier, 27 vs. Maryland;
Trajan Langdon, 26 vs. Wake Forest (27 vs. Davidson);
Corey Maggette, 24 vs. NCSU.
Finally, in 1992, Duke had five players who all had games of at least 26 points, 25+ in either ACC play or the Final Four:
Christian Laettner, 33 vs. Georgia Tech;
Brian Davis, 30 vs. Clemson;
Grant Hill, 26 vs. Florida State;
Bobby Hurley, 26 vs. Indiana (in Final Four);
Thomas Hill, 25 vs. Maryland (26 vs. Canisius).
I didn’t check every pre-Coach K team, but a perusal of the best Duke teams of the 1960s and 1970s suggests five guys with 27+ didn’t happen then, either.
So, the bottom line is this year’s team is unique. Under Coach K (and probably in all Duke history), a season in which five Duke players had individual games of 27 or more points has never happened before. The teams that came closest were the 1992, 2001, and 1999 teams, (plus maybe 2011, mostly before Kyrie Irving got hurt). I imagine most Duke fans wouldn’t mind seeing this year’s edition attain comparable success to those classic Duke squads.