Campbell falls short of NCAAs, but superstar Clemons still satisfied

The Camels’ standout guard is fourth on the all-time Division I scoring list and built a culture that will carry on after his team’s NIT bid

Campbell senior guard Chris Clemons fell short of reaching the NCAA Tournament during his career with the Camels, but the Raleigh native will have a chance to climb as high as second all-time in NCAA Division I scoring in the NIT. (Jason E. Miczek / AP Photo)

BUIES CREEK — Chris Clemons has done virtually everything a college basketball player can do during his four seasons at Campbell.

He’s scored more points than all but three others that have ever played the game. He’s carried his team to its most successful three-year stretch in school history and led the Camels to the Big South Conference regular season championship.

About the only thing he hasn’t done is played in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s a goal the undersized senior guard hoped to cross off his list this season, with the conference tournament being held on the home floor of his top-seeded team. But even though the dream ended in disappointment on Friday with a semifinal loss to eventual champion Gardner-Webb, Clemons said he’s content with what he’s accomplished and can look back on his career with no regrets.

“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody,” he said after a 79-74 loss in which he was held to 23 points — eight fewer than his nation-leading average. “I feel like I did all I could for this program. I think the fans know that. I’m happy, if this is my last game, knowing that I did my job.”

Despite falling short of the Big South’s automatic NCAA bid, Friday’s game at Gore Arena won’t be Clemons’ last in a Camels uniform. As the regular season conference champion, the Camels are guaranteed a bid to the NIT.

They will find out who and where they’ll play on Sunday, shortly after the 68-team NCAA field is announced.

Regardless of the opponent, the game won’t have the same luster or attract the same kind of audience as it would have had Campbell made it to the Big Dance and been matched as a 16-seed against Duke or North Carolina — as many were projecting.

When the Raleigh native was asked if he’d given any thought to what might have been, his coach Kevin McGeehan interjected, admonishing the questioner by saying “that’s a tough question to ask.”

“Bracketology is running rampant,” McGeehan said. “There’s about 5,000 brackets. They’re just projecting who might win the conference tournament. Fifty (percent) of them were (second-seeded) Radford, 50 of them were Campbell. Yeah, it would have been nice. We’re going to play in the NIT, probably against a really good team and probably win.”

As long as Clemons is on the court, the Camels will have a fighting chance against anyone.

Despite usually being the smallest man on either team at 5-foot-9, a factor that kept him from being recruited by higher-profile programs in power conferences, his season average of 30.0 points per game is a full 3½ points more than anyone else in the country.

He’s also averaging five rebounds and three assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the floor, an impressive mark considering his range is literally anywhere on his team’s side of the midcourt line.

For his career, Clemons has amassed 3,193 points — just 24 shy of LaSalle’s Lionel Simmons and 56 behind Portland State’s Freeman Williams on the all-time Division I scoring list. Another Raleigh native, LSU’s Pete Maravich, is safely entrenched at No. 1 on that list with 3,667 points.

As prolific a scorer as he’s been, the numbers for which Clemons is most proud are those he and his teammates, especially fellow senior Andrew Eudy, have put in the win column.

“With huge help from Chris, we kind of put Campbell on the map,” Eudy said. “It’s incredible. We’ve had our ups and downs through the years. We’ve come from literally the bottom and now we’re here. It’s almost like a Cinderella story that you see in the movies.”

Campbell went 12-18 and finished eighth in the Big South in Clemons’ freshman season. The Camels improved to 19-18 the next year and 18-16 last season while advancing to the semifinals of the College Basketball Insiders postseason tournament.

They won 20 games this year to tie a school record, going 12-4 in the conference to earn a banner to hang from the Gore Arena rafters.

That’s not the only thing Clemons said he’s leaving behind once his career is finally over.

“I feel like I’ve prepared these guys next year to carry on the legacy me and Andrew have set,” he said. “That’s all I could ever ask for.”