Jan. 17, 7 p.m.: The best player in the state of North Carolina may not bear the nickname “Psycho T” or carry the genes of a former NBA long-distance sharpshooter.
Playing in the shadow of North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Davidson’s Stephen Curry, Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague has emerged as an unlikely yet legitimate national player of the year candidate.
Since New Year’s, no player in the country has outplayed Teague, who has averaged 29.2 points this month in four victories, including two over top 10 teams North Carolina and Clemson.
Teague did not play his best in today’s 78-68 victory over Clemson before a raucous crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum. He missed more free throws and shots than he is accustomed to, and he never dominated the way he had earlier this month.
But Teague’s team-high 24 points helped Wake Forest improve to 16-0, its best start in school history, and remain in lockstep with Duke atop the ACC standings. And Teague displayed an array of skills that makes him one of the most difficult players to guard.
The 6-foot-2 guard looks quicker with the ball than most players are without it, and he can attack the basket almost at will. With 90 seconds remaining, he passed up an open three-point shot to reset the ball at the top of the key and drive for a layup that all but sealed the game.
“He is an amazing player,” Wake Forest’s Harvey Hale said. “He holds the game in his hand and says, ‘I am going to take over.’ Whenever we need a deep bucket we go to Teague. Whenever we need him to come through, he comes through.”
The national player of the year race looked like a three-man battle during non-conference play, with Hansbrough, Curry and Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin staking claim to the honor in different ways. And while Griffin remains the frontrunner, a handful of other contenders have emerged, including Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, Arizona State’s James Harden and Teague.
Teague is accustomed to being obscured by bigger names. He chose Wake Forest over Southern Illinois, Xavier and Boston College, three schools that routinely find diamonds in the rough of the AAU world.
In high school, Greg Oden and Eric Gordon overshadowed Teague in Indianapolis. As a college freshman, more renowned freshmen guards like O.J. Mayo and Jerryd Bayless garnered far more attention. And at the start of this season, Curry’s sharp shooting and Hansbrough’s talent-laden team dominated the talk of the state.
That began to change when Teague scored 30 points in Wake Forest’s 94-87 victory over Brigham Young on Jan. 3, and followed that with a 34-point effort in a 92-89 victory over North Carolina on Jan. 11.
In addition to points, Teague was shooting 54.1 percent from the floor, 55 percent from three-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line entering the Clemson game. Playing on a team as strong as any in the country, Teague will now find the spotlight that has never before focused on him.
January 17, 2009; 6:58 PM ET
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