There are times when statistics' indifference to the narrative elements of a basketball game make them woefully inadequate to capture the greatness of an individual performance.
That can even be true in a case like Chelsea Gray's career-high 28 point performance in the Duke Blue Devils' 71-56 win over the visiting Maryland Terrapins last night. As ESPN analyst Kara Lawson mentioned after the game, it didn't even seem like 28 points and really it didn't matter what the total output was; what mattered, or at least what stands out as most significant, was that Gray completely took over the game at exactly the right moment, as described at GoDuke.com.
Freshman Chloe Pavelich's 3 with about 10:45 left gave Maryland its only lead at 44-42.
Three possessions later, Gray took charge - and kept Duke alone atop the league standings.
She put Duke back on top with a 3, followed that with two free throws and capped her personal 7-0 run with a layup from Alexis Jones that made it 49-44 with 7 1/2 minutes to go.
It was clear before the game that star power would probably have a significant impact on the final outcome, one way or another. The easy narrative is that Gray - and teammate Elizabeth Williams, especially defensively - showed up while Terrapins stars Tianna Hawkins and Alyssa Thomas simply didn't. Yet what made Gray particularly impressive is that she became so dominant that it appeared for a seven minute period during which Duke went on a 19-6 run - punctuated by four Gray free throws resulting from Terrapins coach Brenda Frese's ejection and a 13-point Blue Devils lead - that it never occurred to her that losing was an option.
Ultimately, it's one thing to believe you won't let your team lose and quite another to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that you can put a team on your back and carry them to a win; Gray's greatness was defined by her ability to do the latter when first place was on the line.
And whereas Gray's scoring output does tell you something about how dominant she was last night - even if it was almost stunning that she had never scored so many points before after witnessing her shred Maryland - what remained absent from her final stat line was that she didn't exactly shift entirely from distributor to scorer in the course of taking over the game despite finishing with only three assists, two of which came in the final minute when the outcome was no longer contingent upon someone imposing their will on the game.
There were a number of situations in which Gray still looked to set up teammates who failed to convert the opportunity into points. It's not so much that she had to turn on a switch to "become" a scorer; Gray's presence of mind to take exactly what the defense gives her and skill to capitalize on it are what make her great. This ability to take advantage of the situation, of course, is an ability that defines all great point guards but the very purest non-scorers and it's no coincidence that similar language has been used before to describe among the greatest.
All of that is to say nothing of her defensive performance, which helped - though doesn't entirely explain - a difficult night for Alyssa Thomas.
Certainly, Gray's performance is an example of a situation that might call for more robust statistical tracking - assists lost due to teammates not finishing would certainly go a long way in attempting to prove the point that Gray wasn't locked in scoring mode on this night or ignoring her teammates while going one on five. But that sort of misses the point: for a brief stretch of time, whether counting only the turn of momentum itself or the entire stretch that effectively put the game out of reach for Maryland, Gray showed that she is truly a player that a team might be able to rest their Final Four hopes on. And even if they don't make it this year, she still has another seasons to realize that full potential.
It was a game when Maryland was trying to establish that they belong among the elite and Gray kicked the door shut, for now, just as Maryland seemed to gain a foothold.
If the way forward for Duke holds more performances like this from their junior point guard, it will be a beautiful thing to watch unfold.
For more of our coverage of this matchup and its significance, check out our storystream.