For nearly two decades, Mike Davis has treasured a photo of his then-7-year-old son smiling alongside a baby-faced LeBron James.
The Detroit Mercy men’s basketball head 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 Thursday night, but Antoine Davis fell 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 tying Pete Maravich’s NCAA career scoring record.
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Whether Davis gets another chance to break the record remains to be seen. Detroit Mercy will not earn a spot in the NCAA tournament or NIT because of its 14-19 record, but after Thursday's game Mike Davis did not rule out playing in the lower-tier College Basketball Invitational.
To play in the CBI, Detroit Mercy would have to receive an invitation and pay a $27,500 entry fee, per Gazelle Group president Rick Giles, whose organization runs the event. Any points that Antoine Davis tallied in the CBI would count toward the scoring record.
"I would definitely accept any invitation," Mike Davis said after Thursday's game. Later he softened that stance, saying, "It wouldn't be up to me. It would be more up to the players. If they didn't want to play, I would understand. Time to move on. But if they do want to play, we would love to play."
Antoine Davis said he "wouldn't have a problem" playing in the CBI, but he didn't sound overly excited about the possibility.
"Everybody wants to get to the NCAA tournament," the younger Davis said. "Nobody wants to go and play in the — no disrespect to CBIs and NITs."
It didn't seem like Detroit Mercy would have to resort to considering the CBI with Davis entering Thursday night’s Horizon League quarterfinal 25 points away from Maravich's 3,667. Twenty-five points 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 generate offense. The top-seeded Penguins sent a double team at the high-scoring 6-foot-1 combo guard 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. He had seven points at halftime, 15 early in the second half and 22 by the final buzzer Only down the stretch did he become ultra-aggressive, hoisting eight of his 26 shots with the outcome hanging in the balance during the final four-plus minutes. He finished 7-of-26 from the floor, including 4-of-16 from 3-point range.
To some, it was a relief that Davis didn’t claim a hallowed record that had stood unthreatened for more than half a century. They argued Davis couldn't be 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 Tuesday night when Davis scored 38 points to extend his team’s season and keep his pursuit of Maravich alive. Davis' 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.
For all that's different between Antoine and Pistol Pete, there are some striking parallels between the two. The younger Davis is also the son of a coach. Like Maravich, he had free rein to shoot from anywhere and everywhere. And like Maravich, he could put on a show.
Jab steps. Crossover dribbles. Step-backs. Floaters. There's not a shot that isn't in Davis' arsenal.
He tried all of them Thursday. Too often they didn't fall.
Had his son broken the record Thursday, Davis had a plan for the old photo he snapped with Antoine and LeBron. The coach says, "I would take it off my phone and put it on my wall."
Now the Davises will have to decide whether Antoine breaking the record in the CBI would take some of the luster off the accomplishment.