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50 years later, former Notre Dame star Austin Carr still No. 1

The ex-Irish standout’s 61-point game in 1970 continues to stand as the NCAA Tournament’s single-game record.

Notre Dame star Austin Carr takes the ball to the basket against Texas Christian in 1971.
Notre Dame star Austin Carr takes the ball to the basket against Texas Christian in 1971.
UPI

Without the NCAA Tournament to entertain basketball fans this year, Austin Carr’s achievement from a half-century ago shines even brighter on its anniversary.

It still boggles the mind that Carr, at 6-4 and without the benefit of the three-pointer, scored 61 points in Notre Dame’s first-round victory against Ohio on March 7, 1970. That still stands as the single-game scoring record for a men’s NCAA Tournament game.

His three-game scoring average of 52.7 points also has survived the test of time. After leading the Irish past the Bobcats 112-82, Carr went out and scored 52 points against Kentucky in a Mideast Regional semifinal loss, then another 45 points against Iowa in a consolation game.

Is Carr, 72, surprised no one ever broke his record, especially with the three-pointer coming along in the mid-1980s?

‘‘Actually, I would say no,’’ he said in a recent phone interview. ‘‘They’ve changed the way they coach. They don’t allow one guy to have that type of dominance anymore. They spread it around a lot.’’

An outburst of 60 or more points has happened 40 times in NCAA Division I history, but Carr’s remains the only such feat in the NCAA Tournament.

A 2007 inductee of the College Basketball Hall of Fame, Carr was selected first overall by the Cavaliers in the 1971 NBA Draft. Knee surgeries cut short his career, but Carr does TV analysis for the franchise.

He compares his game to that of vintage Dwyane Wade, another 6-4 dervish who played at a Catholic university in the Midwest, Marquette.

‘‘I was more like Wade,’’ Carr said. ‘‘My initial approach was attacking the hoop, but if you backed off me, I could hit the outside shot. That’s how I see Wade’s game. I played a lot under the basket.’’

Supreme conditioning was a vital part of Carr’s arsenal, which helped him average 38 points and rank second in the nation in scoring as a junior and senior for coach Johnny Dee’s Fighting Irish.

Carr credits full-court battles in the summer against teammate Collis Jones with giving him the endurance to move so well without the ball in the double-stack offense Irish assistant Gene Sullivan installed.

He also recalls Sullivan delivering the motivational speech that got him going against Ohio. Bobcats senior John Canine made his first six shots with Carr chasing him.

‘‘Coach Sully told me: ‘Are you going to let him score all day long? What are you going to do?’ ’’ Carr said. ‘‘I said: ‘Coach, I’m trying to slow him down.’ And next thing you know, I was off to the races.’’

Carr took 44 shots from the field and made 25 of them (57 percent). He missed a driving layup on his final try, and there were three missed free throws out of 14, too.

Nine of Carr’s makes that day would have been from three-point range had the rule existed, researchers have estimated, so it easily could have been a 70-point game.

Canine, who averaged 19 points that season, had 24 points in the loss.

‘‘I would have to say the fact he got off to such a good start really got my focus into what I needed to do,’’ Carr said. ‘‘And I never stopped after that.’’

When Navy 7-footer David Robinson came along in the mid-1980s, Carr figured his record was in danger. Robinson finished with 50 points in a first-round loss to Michigan in 1987, but that’s as close as anyone has gotten since Carr eclipsed Bill Bradley’s 58-point night for Princeton in the 1965 Final Four.

‘‘I had no idea what the record was,’’ Carr said. ‘‘I had no idea until about 2:50 was left in the game. Coach Dee said: ‘Look, you’ve got to get it done here quickly, or I’m taking you out.’ ’’

Carr got it done.