One thing that is universally recognized about basketball is that it’s good to be tall.
But you don’t necessarily have to be. It might take a little extra work in the gym, but little guys can make it, too. And this year, a few players who stand more than a foot shorter than some of their teammates and opponents still put up major scoring numbers.
Here are the top five scorers under 5-foot-10 around the nation.
Marcus Keene | Central MichiganKeene doesn’t just score. He’s the best scorer in the country. And it’s a dramatic difference, too. At 29.8 points per game, he's about six points higher than No. 2 on the scoring list.
At 5-foot-9, defenders have a hard time trying to stop his quick dribble and a knockdown jumper. The redshirt junior, in his first year with the Chippewas after transferring from Youngstown State and sitting out last season, is looking to become the first player to average 30 points per game since Long Island’s Charles Jones in 1996-97. Keene is going to shoot plenty — he has attempted nearly a third of Central Michigan’s shots this season — but he’s so skilled that opponents can gameplan only so much.
The San Antonio, Texas, native has had some gigantic games, scoring 40+ points four times this season, including a 50-point showing against Miami (Ohio) on Jan. 21 that ranks as the best-scoring game in the nation this season. Remarkably, he scored those 50 points on just 23 shots. That highlights what makes Keene so special: his efficiency. The guard is shooting better than 46 percent this season, incredible considering his height disadvantage often leads to a higher number of difficult looks. He also leads his team in assists at 5.3 per game.
Interestingly, the Chippewas’ second option, Braylon Rayson, who averages a little over 20 points a game, also stands at 5-foot-9 (more on him later). So, while it’s easy to see why Central Michigan is a mediocre 6-7 in Mid-American Conference play and has one of the worst defenses in the country, there’s also no denying that it’s one of the most fun teams to watch. They score nearly 90 points a game, third in the nation.
Chris Clemons | CampbellA few spots behind Keene on the scoring leaderboard is sophomore Clemons, also 5-foot-9. The Raleigh, N.C., product comes in ranked No. 5 nationally at an average of 23.1 points per game.
One advantage that Clemons has is some absurd athleticism. He not only can get to the rim, he can throw it down. Take a look at him against Samford early in the year:
Clemons is one of the more consistent scorers in the country, putting up at least 20 points in all but seven of the Camels’ 26 games. In all but five of those, he’s made at least a trio of 3-pointers. He's also an impressive rebounder for his size, pulling down 4.1 per game. In all, this is a player whose athleticism, quickness and scoring abilities allow him to play a lot larger than his size would suggest.
Keon Johnson | WinthropComing in two inches shorter than Keene and Clemons is Johnson, who at 5-foot-7 is still outscoring the likes of Malik Monk, Peter Jok and Frank Mason III. The senior is putting up 22.0 points a night, 10th best in the country.
Johnson’s 43.5 percent field-goal mark continues to buck the trend of smaller guys being inefficient. Those skills were on full display in the Eagles’ biggest victory, an overtime win at Illinois. In Champaign that night, he dropped 38 points on 15-of-21 shooting.
Johnson, who hails from Mansfield, Ohio, has more or less carried Winthrop at times. The team is right in the thick of things in the Big South, with its 11-3 conference record one game back of first place. If the Eagles can get past UNC Asheville and Liberty in the conference tournament, Johnson could open some eyes in the NCAA tournament.
The senior went head-to-head with Clemons on Feb. 14. Johnson outscored him, 39-24, while Winthrop walked away with a 76-62 victory. He followed that up with a 40-point showing in a critical double-overtime loss at UNC Asheville.
Braylon Rayson | Central MichiganRayson joins Keene in the Central Michigan backcourt, with the two combining for a nation-leading 50.5 points per game — despite each standing at just 5-foot-9.
It’s amazing that there are still shot attempts to go around given Keene’s 21 per game, but the fast-paced Chippewa offense still allows Rayson to get plenty of looks at about 17 a night. His shooting percentage is a few steps behind the rest of this list (at 38.1 percent), but there’s no denying Rayson’s scoring abilities. He's 25th in the country in that department, an incredible feat for a clear No. 2 option.
In his fourth year as a starter for Central Michigan, Rayson has found his niche since conference play began. In all but one MAC game — the opener at Eastern Michigan — Rayson has eclipsed 20 points. That’s a streak of 12 straight 20-point performances after failing to reach that mark in nine of the team’s first 14 games.
Justin Robinson | MonmouthRounding out this list is Monmouth’s 5-foot-8 all-time leading scorer. The Hawks have received a lot of hype this year as a team that could be a Cinderella in March. Their 14-2 record, tops in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, has them well-positioned for a decent seed.
Robinson deserves a lot of the credit. He has been spectacular in conference play. Monday’s 40-point outburst at Siena certainly helps, but overall he is averaging 21.3 points in 16 MAAC games.
The point guard has been the leader of this talented team for the last two seasons, scoring 19.6 point a game this year, nearly identical to last year’s 19.3. This year, he's also getting others involved more, bumping his assist by more than one a game, from 3.7 a game to 4.9. Robinson also has a pair of double-doubles.
An Iona upset in the MAAC championship took Monmouth out of the NCAA tournament picture last season. Robinson had his struggles — 2-of-9 in the loss to Iona, 2-of-16 in a second-round NIT loss to George Washington. But if he and the Hawks can get through the MAAC tournament this year to make it to the NCAAs, a talented senior looking to make a name for himself would be a dangerous thing.