College Basketball Nation: Grinnell College

Jack Taylor's second act falls short

November, 26, 2012

Thankfully, mercifully, Jack Taylor-mania is officially over.

It swept the nation briefly last week, when the Grinnell guard broke the NCAA-record for most points in a game with 138. The numbers were incomprehensible -- 138 points in 40 minutes, 108 field goal attempts, 71 3s -- until you realized exactly what was going on here. Grinnell College coach David Arsenault is renowned for his hyper-uptempo, Paul Westhead-on-steroids system. His teams frequently score 150 points, and they do so by running minute-long shifts of five, playing very little defense, and shooting 3s at the first possible opportunity. It's a circus, in other words. Normally it's a balanced circus. Against something called "Faith Baptist Bible," Grinnell apparently decided to let one player take every shot -- 108 to his teammates' 28 -- in the hopes he could break the NCAA record.

Once the Internet processed this information, 138 points no longer looked quite as impressive. In fact, it looked cynical -- a team running up a score on an inferior opponent and allowing one player to chuck 108 shots (he didn't even shoot 50 percent) for the sole purpose of breaking a record and garnering some buzz. It was genius marketing, but it wasn't good basketball. The backlash had teeth.

After a couple of days of that, I just wanted to go home, eat some turkey and never discuss the 138-point record again.

Fortunately, that shouldn't be a problem now. In his first game since the record-breaker, a 131-116 Grinnell loss to William Penn, Taylor scored -- wait for it -- 21 points. He shot 6-of-21 from the field and just 3-of-13 from beyond the arc.

A less cynical person would say that Taylor decided it was time to get back to normal, to hang back and not take too many shots (in Grinnell's system, 21 shots isn't a ton of shots), to share with the teammates who gave him the go-ahead for the record-breaking performance last week. A more cynical person would say that Taylor's follow-up performance shows pretty clearly (as if we needed further confirmation) that there was nothing natural or "in the flow of the game" about the record -- that it was entirely contrived.

Whatever your thoughts, it happened, it was wild, not everybody liked it and we can now all move on. Good.

How on Earth do you score 138 points?

November, 20, 2012

Maybe we should have seen it coming.

After all, when Grinnell guard Jack Taylor broke the NCAA all-time single-game scoring record -- a record that has stood since 1954 -- with 138 points Tuesday night, he didn't do it for just any random basketball program. He did it for Grinnell.

For the past two decades, Grinnell coach David Arseneault has been running his system ("The System"), based on his formula ("The Formula"), which explicitly requires his team to shoot at least 94 field goals per game, 47 of which should be 3-pointers. Arseneault recruits almost exclusively sharpshooting guards, so that his players can be interchangeable when he runs them in quickfire all-five line changes every other minute. It's a totally insane, totally thrilling way to play basketball, and it's also an elephant and a tiger and a creepy clown shy of a straight-up circus freakshow.

So when you ask yourself, "How in the name of everything holy did some D-III kid just score 138 points?," Arseneault's crazy system is a good place to start.

But alas, it's not the whole answer. Typically, Grinnell's offense is designed to be balanced. In Tuesday night's 179-104 victory over Faith Baptist Bible, however, Taylor shot 108 field goals (he made 52), 71 of which were 3s (he made 27). He recorded three rebounds and zero assists, and he didn't even shoot 50 percent from the field. The rest of his teammates combined for a grand total of 28 field goals. So not only was Grinnell running its inherently insane team system, it was obviously running it with the expressed purpose of getting Taylor enough shots to score an utterly mind-blowing number of points.

A more cynical person would say that it's pretty clear what Grinnell was trying to do here. It wasn't merely trying to win a game. It was trying to set a record and get on "SportsCenter" and reap the benefits of copious Internet coverage. And guess what: It worked.

And guess what else: I don't care! Whatever the aim, it'd be foolish to try and take anything away from Taylor. At the end of the day, I don't really care how you score 138 points. It's 138 points! The sheer act of getting up 108 shots in a 40-minute game is in and of itself an impressive athletic accomplishment, regardless of how many go in.

So, no, Taylor may not have scored 138 points in anything resembling a conventional way. But I'm not sure there is such a thing. And if you've got a better idea, I'd love to hear it. In the meantime, Taylor's record will stand for a very long time -- or at least until Grinnell decides to break it again.

(Editor's Note: You absolutely must check out this box score. And not to be lost in all of the hoopla over Taylor, Faith Baptist Bible's David Larson made 34 of 44 shots for 70 points! Greatest performance ever in a game in which your team lost by 75? We think so.)