For nearly two decades, Mike Davis has treasured of his then-7-year-old son smiling alongside a baby-faced LeBron James.
The Detroit Mercy men’s basketball coach has caught himself glancing at that photo more often this season with both subjects chasing history.
“I’ve been thinking, ‘Is this the all-time leading scorer in NBA history and the all-time leading scorer in college basketball history?’” Davis told Yahoo Sports last week. “What a priceless picture that would be if that happens.”
That future came achingly close to becoming reality, but Antoine Davis fell just a single flick of his wrist short of making it happen. The Detroit Mercy fifth-year senior missed a hurried pull-up 3-pointer in the final seconds of a 71-66 season-ending loss to Youngstown State, leaving him three points shy of taking down Pete Maravich’s NCAA career scoring record.
Davis entered Thursday night’s Horizon League quarterfinal 25 points away from the 3,667 that the legendary Maravich tallied at LSU from 1967-1970. It seemed like light work for a tough shot specialist who averaged a national-best 28.4 points this season and had exceeded 30 in eight of his previous nine games.
The calculus changed when Youngstown State unveiled a defensive scheme designed to make anyone besides Davis have to look to score. The top-seeded Penguins sent a double team at Davis anytime he attacked off the dribble, anytime he saw daylight in transition, anytime he curled around a screen for a catch-and-shoot opportunity. Sometimes Davis faced a trap as soon as he crossed mid-court.
In response, Davis struck a balance between hunting his own shot and seeking to set up his teammates with 4-on-3 opportunities. He had seven points at halftime, 15 midway through the second half and 22 by the final buzzer Only down the stretch did he become ultra-aggressive, hoisting eight of his 26 shots during the final four-plus minutes.
It was a relief to some that Davis didn’t claim a hallowed record that had stood unthreatened for more than half a century. They argued wouldn’t have been college basketball’s rightful scoring king, that his feat would have come with a super-sized asterisk. After all, Davis needed 144 games to approach what Maravich did in 83.
Maravich played at LSU in an era when freshmen weren’t yet varsity-eligible. For three years, he averaged an unfathomable, almost mythic 44.2 points per game despite not having the benefit of a shot clock or 3-point line. Because of rules changes prompted by COVID-19 disruptions, Davis received an NCAA waiver allowing him to play five full seasons at Detroit Mercy. He tallied 25.4 points per game for a struggling Titans program that has posted losing records in all but one of his five seasons.
The other factor in play was Maravich’s mystique. Pistol Pete became a basketball folk hero during his career, a player whose mop-top haircut and floppy socks were of his era but whose crowd-pleasing game was ahead of his time. LSU’s freshman team consistently outdrew its varsity during Maravich’s first year on campus. Fans in basketball-apathetic SEC cities flocked to see his array of behind-the-back dribbles, no-look assists and next-zip-code jump shots.
Davis, on the other hand, has shined in anonymity at an off-the-radar program. Detroit Mercy’s 8,000-seat arena was less than a quarter full on Tuesday night when Davis scored 38 points to extend his team’s season and keep his pursuit of Maravich alive. The 6-foot-1 combo guard’s quest to break the record Thursday night streamed on ESPN+.
Even Mike Davis said last week that if his son surpassed Maravich, they both ought to be remembered as record holders.
“I feel like Antoine is the best scorer of this generation and Pistol Pete is the best scorer from his generation,” Mike said.