Arguably the best performance in college basketball this year came from a 6-foot-11 center from Texas Southern University who was known more being troubled than talented at the two schools he previously played for.
Aaric Murray scored a career-high 48 points in the Tigers' 90-89 upset victory over Temple on Wednesday, setting the single-game high scoring mark for Division I basketball this season. The previous high was 43 points from Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky on Nov. 19.
It was quite the homecoming for Murray, a Philadelphia native and former La Salle University standout. He set the all-time records for points scored against Temple and points scored at the Liacouras Center, Temple's home arena since 1997.
"We probably need to play all of our games in Philadelphia," said TSU head coach Mike Davis, probably more famous for his seven-year run as Indiana's head coach following the dismissal of Bobby Knight in 2000.
Murray arrived at the historically black university in Houston after being dismissed from West Virginia in July. TSU took a calculated risk on Murray, who graduated last spring and thus was immediately eligible for the Tigers this season.
The hope was Murray could once again live up to his substantial promise. He began playing organized basketball as a 16-year-old at the Glen Mills School, a residential facility for juvenile delinquents just outside of Philadelphia ranging from 15 to 18 years of age. Murray had been recommended to Glen Mills because of truancy, according to philly.com.
He seemed on the way to big things at La Salle, where he averaged 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds as a sophomore in 2010-11. But Murray asked for his transfer at the end of the year, and La Salle granted him his release.
"This was a very difficult decision for me, and I wish Aaric the very best for his future," La Salle coach John Giannini said in a statement. "I know Aaric always tried to do his best for La Salle, and we did all that we could to help him as a person and as a basketball player. We will continue to support Aaric in this process of finding another university." The reasons for Murray's transfer have never been revealed.
While sitting out his transfer year en route to West Virginia, Murray was arrested and charged with marijuana possession in December 2011. Trouble also followed him to Morgantown, where he was suspended for a violation of team rules in 2012. On the court, he disappointed, averaging 8.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for a team that struggled through a 13-19 campaign in 2012-13.
In July, Huggins announced he and Murray had arrived at a "mutual decision" and that Murray would finish his final year of eligibility elsewhere. That elsewhere was TSU.
Murray arrived at TSU in August, acknowledging that it was an unusual detour for a player of his gifts.
"Although, this is not the road I expected to take, this journey will undoubtedly support my goals long term," Murray said in a statement to USA Today. "Publicly, there are tons of expectations of what I should be. This however is the best opportunity I have in efforts of reaching my full potential. In addition anything that can be done in college basketball can be done at Texas Southern."
A school of about 8,000 in Houston, TSU is one of the nation's largest HBCUs and alma mater of former NFL All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan. Its most notable basketball moment in recent memory probably came in 1995, when the Tigers nearly upset defending national champion Arkansas in a 79-78 first-round loss in the NCAA tournament.
The addition of Murray gives TSU a chance, if only for a year, to again threaten some of the nation's top programs. He entered Wednesday's game at Temple averaging 22.2 points per game, good for 13th in the nation. He was also averaging 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
In his return home, Murray — he previously played five games against Temple at La Salle, averaging 16.4 points — put on a show. He became the first NCAA Division I player taller than 6-10 to score 48 points in more than a decade, while also becoming the first player since BYU's Jimmer Fredette to make 20 or more field goals in a game since 2011.
"This is by far the best offensive performance that I've ever witnessed as a coach," said Davis, who led Indiana to the Final Four in 2002.
Afterward, Murray told the Associated Press that he didn't want to talk much about his past.
"But right now life is great," he said. "I'm really enjoying my life and the game of basketball."