The top 25 individual performances of the past 25 years

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The men's college basketball offseason offers an opportunity to reflect on the past, not just last season, and examine the nostalgic moments throughout the history of the sport. But sometimes those conversations are complicated by a boundless time frame. How can you compare players or teams from the 1980s to players or teams from the past few years since the game has changed dramatically, making it difficult to have any fruitful conversations?

That's why we've launched a series that focuses on the past 25 years of college basketball. Any team, player, coach or highlight from 1998-99 through 2022-23 is eligible. The rest? That's someone else's problem.

After paring it down to the 25 best players and the 25 greatest "What ifs?" moments, our next installment in this series is a list of the top 25 individual performances.

Yeah, we know. You might hate this list. Or you might love it. There's probably no in-between.

Consider the criteria. It's easy to find a multitude of incredible performances throughout college basketball over the past 25 years. However, our goal was to identify the greatest efforts based on the stakes of the game, the opponent, the moment, the numbers and the reactions.

Some of the performances on this list were viral before the word meant what it does today. Some of the great games you might remember unfolded against subpar competition (apologies to UT Martin's Lester Hudson and his quadruple-double in 2007 against Central Baptist College, an NAIA school). We excluded many of those efforts unless they were just too incredible to ignore. You'll see a lot of NCAA tournament games, too.

If you think your favorite player's greatest game is missing and deserves inclusion, you might be right. But, we had only 25 spots.

1. Carmelo Anthony gets hot againstTexas in the Final Four (2003)

Two days before he led 3-seededSyracuse to its lone national title with a win over Kansas, Anthony put together quite the performance in an upset win over the 1-seeded Longhorns. That night in New Orleans, Anthony finished with 33 points (12-for-19, 3-for-4 from the 3-point line, 6-for-7 free throws), 14 rebounds and 3 steals in the 95-84 victory.

2. Steph Curry scores 40 points vs. Gonzaga (2008)

Buzz about the future NBA star shifted to a new level when he led 10-seededDavidson to an 82-76 opening-round victory over the 7-seeded Bulldogs in the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga had corralled Curry in the first half, but the then-sophomore scored 30 points in the second half, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:04 to play and sealed the win with late free throws.

3. Eddie House records 61 points vs. California, his dream school (2000)

Originally from Berkeley, House idolized former Cal point guard Jason Kidd and had hoped to play for the Golden Bears -- but he was never recruited by them. In this road game during his senior season, the Arizona State guard exacted some revenge, scoring 44 of his 61 points after halftime in the Sun Devils' 111-108 double-overtime victory. In doing so, he tied Lew Alcindor's then-Pac-10 record, finishing 18-for-30 from the field (7-for-10 from beyond the arc, a then-record 18-for-19 from the charity stripe).

4. Jimmer Fredette takes down undefeatedSan Diego State (2011)

On Jan. 26, 2011, San Diego State -- an eventual 2-seed in the NCAA tournament, led by former star Kawhi Leonard -- arrived in Provo, Utah for its matchup against BYU (19-1) with a 20-0 record. The unblemished mark didn't remain. Fredette (43 points, 14-for-24, 5-for-8 from the 3-point line) outplayed Leonard (22 points) in the 71-58 home win.

5. JJ Redick seals Duke's No. 1 ranking over Texas (2005)

When Duke and Texas met in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Dec. 10, 2005, they were the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in America, respectively. Redick's 41-point effort (9-for-16 from the 3-point line) in a 97-66 victory left no doubt as to which squad was the best at that juncture of the season.

6. Mateen Cleaves' return to the national title game after an ankle injury (2000)

The Most Outstanding Player of that year's tournament had already scored 18 points for Michigan State, which was up by eight points on Florida, when he limped to the locker room after a collision early in the second half of the national championship game. The injury looked severe, yet he would eventually return to the floor. His scrappy playmaking would help the Spartans secure an 89-76 win and the school's second NCAA title.

7. Javi Gonzales collects 10 points in 23.3 seconds against Arizona (2009)

With NC State down 70-64 with 36.4 seconds remaining in an early-season nonconference matchup at Arizona, Gonzales kicked off an NCAA-record scoring barrage. He scored on a shot off the backboard, a free throw, a 3-pointer, a jump shot and a layup -- all in 23.3 seconds -- to tie the game at 74-74. The remaining 7.1 seconds would not be kind to the Wolfpack, however, as they lost 76-74.

8. Jairus Lyles leads UMBC's upset of Virginia (2018)

Lyles was the catalyst for the first win by a 16-seed over a 1-seed in NCAA tournament history, scoring 28 points against the Cavaliers in the first round. The senior guard was 9-for-11 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) and 7-for-9 on free throws in the historic 74-54 victory.

9. Dwyane Wade's triple-double against Kentucky in the Elite Eight (2003)

The recent Basketball Hall of Fame inductee's 2003 NCAA tournament performance for 3-seededMarquette deserves its own 30 for 30 documentary. The best scene in the hypothetical film would be Wade's ridiculous 29 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds in the Golden Eagles' 83-69 win over the 1-seeded, favored Wildcats in Minneapolis, solidifying his status as a collegiate legend.

10. Anthony Davis dominates the national title game, despite poor shooting (2012)

If you look at the box score of the national championship game between Kentucky and Kansas in 2012, you'll see that Davis finished a dismal 1-for-10 shooting and scored just six points overall in the 67-59 win. But that only tells part of the story. Davis dominated in other ways: he had 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals and created enough of a defensive gridlock that Kansas made just 33.3% of its shots inside the arc.

11. Markus Howard hits 11 3s in win over Providence (2018)

Howard's résumé at Marquette was full of elite scoring efforts. But his 52-point explosion (he finished 11-for-19 from beyond the arc) in a 95-90 overtime win over the Friars -- including four consecutive baskets toward the end of regulation -- was a Big East and a school record.

12. Darius Lee scores 52 points in a quadruple-overtime thriller (2022)

The 6-foot-6 Houston Christian standout had a memorable outing last season when he scored 52 points (16-for-30 from the field, 20-for-27 from the charity stripe), including the buckets that sent the game into the second and third overtime periods in the 149-144 win over McNeese. Sadly, Lee was killed in a shooting three months after this performance.

13. Ja Morant's triple-double guides Murray State to upset over Marquette in NCAA tournament (2019)

By the time Morant and the 12-seeded Racers entered their first-round matchup against the 5-seeded Golden Eagles in Hartford, Connecticut, he'd already become a popular player and a projected lottery pick. After the 17-point, 11-rebound, 16-assist performance, which included a viral dunk over former Marquette forward Joey Hauser, Morant became a household name.

14. Thomas Robinson scores 28 points in Kansas' come-from-behind win over Missouri (2012)

Down 19 points against a top rival, the Jayhawks were led by a miraculous comeback by Robinson, who capped his 28-point, 12-rebound performance with one of the greatest blocks in recent college basketball history against Phil Pressey at the end of regulation.

15. Zion Williamson debuts with a huge game over Kentucky (2018)

The 2018-19 Wooden Award winner made his college debut at the Champions Classic, No. 4 Duke's season opener against a No. 2 Kentucky team led by future NBA standout Tyler Herro. He was nearly flawless. Williamson finished the 118-84 takedown of the Wildcats with 28 points (11-for-13), seven rebounds, two assists and a block.

16. Shabazz Napier leads UConn to a national title (2014)

Napier averaged 21.2 PPG as he led the 7-seeded Huskies to their fourth national championship, which punctuated one of the most memorable NCAA tournament runs over the past 25 years. In the title game against 8-seeded Kentucky, Napier's brilliance continued with 26 points (4-for-7 from the 3-point line), six rebounds, three assists and three steals.

17. Jodie Meeks sets a Kentucky record with 54 points against Tennessee (2009)

Meeks had one of the most explosive seasons in recent history, ending 2008-09 eighth in the nation in scoring (23.7 PPG). In particular, his school-record 54 points (10-for-15 from beyond the arc, 15-for-15 on free throws) in a 90-72 road win stood out. Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said his players "couldn't guard [Meeks]" following the game.

18. Kemba Walker scores 36 in the Sweet 16 vs. San Diego State (2011)

UConn's magical run to the 2011 national championship -- the Huskies had entered their conference tournament with a 4-7 record -- was fueled by Walker, who won Most Outstanding Player. After the game against the 2-seeded Aztecs, it was clear that Walker and 3-seeded UConn would not be blocked from their goal of winning a national title.

19. Buddy Hield drops 46 at Allen Fieldhouse (2016)

Hield finished the 2015-16 season with a collection of national awards, including the Wooden Award, after 13 performances with 30 points or more for No. 2Oklahoma. None were more impressive, however, than this one, a 109-106 triple-overtime loss against No. 1 Kansas on the road. He was so good (he was 8-for-15 from the 3-point line) he even had Jayhawks fans cheering for him after the game.

20. Greg Oden leaves his mark with one hand in the national title game (2007)

The Ohio State big man had suffered a wrist injury that impacted his entire freshman season, and lingered through to the national title game, against defending champion Florida. But it didn't matter that he was only playing with one healthy hand. Oden finished with 25 points (10-for-15 shooting), 12 rebounds and four blocks in an 84-75 loss to one of the greatest college basketball teams of the past 25 years.

21. Trae Young flirts with a triple-double against TCU (2018)

Young was so electric during his lone season at Oklahoma in 2017-18 that NBA players would send him text messages after games. He had multiple outings that warranted his status as a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA draft. But his greatest game, arguably, came the night he led No. 9 Oklahoma to a 102-97 overtime win against No. 16 TCU, with 43 points (10-for-18 3-pointers), 11 rebounds and 7 assists.

22. Kevin Durant records 37 points, 23 rebounds in Lubbock (2007)

In his lone college season, Durant won every national honor, including the Wooden Award (he was the first freshman in NCAA history to win the honor). His performance against Texas Techin a 76-64 road win included 15-for-29 shooting, three steals and one block -- the first time a Texas player had recorded a 30-20 game.

23. Ben Woodside registers 60 points for North Dakota State (2008)

This effort in a 112-111 triple-overtime loss to Stephen F. Austin, rivals any individual performance on this list. There were a lot of incredible numbers attached to that effort: Woodside only made two 3s that night, but was 30-for-35 from the free throw line.

24. Richard Hamilton leads UConn in a national title upset of Duke (1999)

The Blue Devils entered the 1999 national title matchup after winning 32 consecutive games, and were nearly a double-digit favorite over the Huskies. Then, Hamilton dropped 27 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals, to help the Huskies win 77-74. He also won Most Outstanding Player.

25. Carsen Edwards scores 42 against Virginia in the NCAA tournament (2019)

A week after scoring 42 points and leading Purdue to a win over defending national champion Villanova in the tournament, Edwards did it again. In the Elite Eight game against the Cavaliers, he registered 42 points (10-for-19 on 3-pointers) in an 80-75 overtime loss against the best defense in America. Edwards may not have won the game but he certainly won the hearts of fans who watched him give everything he had that night.

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