Austin Carr’s NCAA Tournaments: The Best
Notre Dame’s Austin Carr owns the NCAA Tournament scoring record book. Call A.C. “The Man” and be done with it.
A remarkable thirty-eight years have passed with sharpshooters taking aim at his records. The closest anyone has come since Austin’s 61 points against Ohio is David Robinson’s 50 points against Michigan in 1987. Consider that Carr did not benefit from a three point line. “With that short three-point line in college, that’s a lay-up. I would have loved to have played with that line,” said Carr. Observers of that Ohio game in 1970 have estimated that, with today’s three point line, Austin would have scored 70-75 points!
When asked in his post-game press conference how to stop Carr, Ohio University Coach Jim Snyder said simply, “Deflate the ball.” In spite of a Notre Dame exit after only three games in 1970, Carr was chosen as the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Carr was fluid, smooth, a pure shooter and was a 6’4″, 200 pound guard who posed a difficult matchup. He moved well without the ball, and had the endurance to play all game. Jackie Meehan, his point guard, described Carr: “When Austin was on—which was most of the time—he was a shooting machine. I could tell the minute Austin released the ball whether I could turn around and run back, I knew his stroke so well.” (Echoes of the Hardwood, Michael Coffey, 115)
Some of his amazing records:
- Most Points in a Game — 61 versus Ohio, 1970
- All-Time Career Tournament Scoring Average — 41.3 over seven games (Bill Bradley is second with 33.7 over nine games and Oscar Robertson’s 32.4 is third, over ten games)
- Most Field Goals Made — 25 (Ohio, 1970)
- Most Field Goals Attempted — 44 (Ohio, 1970)
- Top two highest scoring averages for a tournament — 52.7 points per game, 1970 and 41.7 points per game, 1971 (minimum three games)
- Three of the top five scoring games in NCAA Tournament history — 61 (Ohio), 52 (Kentucky), 52 (TCU)
- Five of the top twelve scoring games in NCAA Tournament history — No other player appears more than once, including Bill Bradley, Oscar Robertson, David Robertson and Elvin Hayes
Rupp and Wooden on Carr
Notre Dame’s Carr nightly faced box-and-one or triangle-and-two defenses, specifically aimed to stop him. During his senior year, Carr poured in 50 points in a 99-92 victory over No. 8 Kentucky in Louisville. “We put five different players on Carr tonight, and he still scored 50 points,” said Kentucky’s legendary coach Adolph Rupp. “It was an amazing performance.”
Later that same year, Carr scored 46 points in Notre Dame’s win over No. 1-ranked UCLA, 89-82—the most points anyone ever scored against a John Wooden-coached team. Austin had two steals leading to breakaway layups in the final minutes. According to Carr, “Coach John Wooden always played a man-to-man defense, which I liked. Four different players guarded me during that game and the final opponent was Sidney Wicks, who was an All-American and future star in the NBA. In the closing minutes I took him to the basket and had a layup that clinched the game. I remember him looking at Wooden and saying, ‘I told you not to put me on him!’”
Jackie Meehan: “…he was a point guard’s dream. I could always find him open. If you were playing defense on him, you’d play him hard for a quarter or 10 or 15 minutes, and then you’d get tired because the guy never stopped. By the end of the game, you didn’t want anything to do with him.” (Echoes of the Hardwood, 112)
This loss would be UCLA’s last loss for 88 games, before Notre Dame broke the streak in 1974. Unlike the 1974 game, Notre Dame led most of the game. The Irish crowd was as raucous as in the old Fieldhouse. Afterward, the fans lifted Carr up to cut down the nets.
Wooden said of Carr’s performance, “There is no one to compare with him man-to-man.”
CBS chose Austin Carr on their First Team All-Tournament Team with other legends Oscar Robertson, Bill Bradley, Bill Walton, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. (Jerry West, Glen Rice, and Gail Goodrich were chosen Second Team guards.)
Carr’s three-year NCAA career scoring average (freshmen did not play varsity at that time) is 34.6 points per game, second in the record books only to Pete Maravich’s 44.2. Carr is proud that he also shot better than 50% for his career—54% for his final 58 games, 10% higher than Maravich’s shooting percentage.
The Fieldhouse and A New Tradition
A Washington, D.C. legend from his playground and Mackin High Schools days and a Parade All-American, Carr came to Notre Dame in 1967, part of the best recruiting class in Irish basketball history. Collis Jones (St. John’s) and Sid Catlett, Jr. (DeMatha) came with Carr from D.C.. Jackie Meehan, Tom Sinnott, Jim Hinga and Big John Pleick joined the D.C. three.
Football was king. The Irish had won the national championship the year before Carr arrived. A skinny, New Jersey kid full of attitude named Joe Theismann was a freshman quarterback recruit. On Friday nights, students streamed into one end of Notre Dame’s Fieldhouse, built in 1898, for the football pep rally. Ara Parseghian and the Irish Guard led the team up wooden stairs to a wooden balcony while the band played the fight song, reverberating off the walls and ceiling. Students would stomp up a cloud of dust from the dirt floor and cheered so loudly that the old building would sway. Alcohol may have been a factor. The other end of the Fieldhouse was Notre Dame’s basketball court, complete with raised wooden floor, the students surrounding the playing surface in an area resembling an old airplane hangar.
Notre Dame had more students who got in free than the Fieldhouse’s capacity (6,000). The Irish crowds made the most of the echoes and the decidedly home court advantage, shouting and waving white handkerchiefs behind the visitors’ backboard. The football team sat together and tried to intimidate opponents. The noise could get deafening. Kentucky, a perennial national powerhouse, was 1-6 in the Fieldhouse.
The varsity squad went to the NIT that year, finishing third. Carr’s freshmen squad, however, had beaten the varsity seven out of eight times in practice. The next year, the echoes of the Fieldhouse with its pep rallies, Austin’s swishes and Sid Catlett bouncing medicine balls off the backboards became part of Irish lore. Carr, Jones, Catlett, Meehan and company joined the varsity, opening the new basketball facilities of the Athletic and Convocation Center (ACC) against Wooden’s UCLA, featuring Lew Alcindor.
“We all went there to try and start a basketball tradition—Collis and Sid and Jackie [Meehan] and Tom Sinnott and I,” Carr said. “And it seems that we were successful in doing what we came there to do, except win a championship. I’d give up all the scoring I did to win a championship.” (Return of the King, Michael Coffey)
Playing the Game, Greatness and Notre Dame
When asked what he thought of Bill Bradley, Austin responded, “They played the game the way I was taught to play it—as a team. I loved watching him. I loved the way he played. He was a great spot shooter.” Many have said the same about how Austin Carr played the game.
Carr: “Notre Dame certainly prepared me for life after college because it is such a national school with all nationalities represented. My experience at Notre Dame taught me to be responsible, but also to take pride in who and what you are. At Notre Dame I was around so many people who strove for greatness. When you are around successful people, it carries over to your own work ethic and self esteem.
Before I had played a game at Notre Dame, Sid, Collis and I met with Father Theodore Hesburgh and Father Edmund Joyce. I will never forget that meeting. When I shook Father Joyce’s hand I thought he was going to break it. Father Hesburgh said, ‘Remember, gentlemen, at Notre Dame you are a student-athlete.’ […] The importance of getting a Notre Dame degree was stressed from Day One.
I would do anything to help Notre Dame to this day. Once a Domer, always a Domer.”
On graduation, Austin Carr had earned his degree, swept the Player of the Year awards and was the No. 1 choice in the NBA draft, by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Street and Smith chose Carr as the 19th best college basketball player of their Top 100, fourth among pure guards. ESPN chose Carr as the 22nd best collegiate player of all time.
He was elected into the second class of the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. Collis Jones presented Carr for induction with Jackie Meehan in attendance.
Comparisons to Today’s Players
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky, had three of the top scoring games in the regular season last year (2008-09)—45, 46, and 54 points. Impressive, but not comparable to Carr’s achievements. Converting Meek’s threes to two point shots, Meek’s scores would have been 38, 37 and 44 points according to 1970 rules. Austin Carr averaged 38.1 points his junior year and 37.9 points his senior year against a schedule that included perennial powerhouses UCLA (twice a year), Kentucky, Marquette, West Virginia, Illinois, South Carolina, Villanova, Houston and Indiana. Carr scored 40 points or more in 23 of the 74 games he played for the Irish.
Nowadays, A.C. is the commentator for the Cleveland Cavaliers, is active in community work in Cleveland, and has sponsored fund-raising events at Notre Dame. His commitment to community work began when the Irish team worked with youth at risk in South Bend for three summers in Operation Reach-Up. Prior to his induction into the Hall of Fame, his kids asked if he ever played basketball because he was not on any video game.
Will anyone approach Austin Carr’s 61 points in one game, 52 point average for one tournament, or career tournament average of 41 points? Ludicrous. Carr was money. You can’t stop that.
Further reading: “Austin Carr Week” series at UND.com.