Time Out: November 28, 2012

Basketball coaches have long believed the remedy for a good shooter suffering from a shooting slump is to shoot his/her way out of the slump. A week ago Tuesday night, Jack Taylor of Grinnell College, an NCAA Division III school, took that maxim to a new level. The five-foot, ten-inch inch shooting guard dropped a mind-blowing 138 points through the nets, shattering college basketball’s single-game scoring record in Grinnell’s 179-104 rout of tiny Faith Baptist College.
Gimmick, stunt, or history-making basketball moment? Arguments have raged on both sides of the issue since Taylor’s crazy scoring night.

To give Taylor’s achievement perspective consider the facts. The Grinnell guard took 108 shots, 71 from behind the three-point line. Grinnell made 25 of 31, two-point field goals scoring at an 81 percent clip. He was 27 of 71 from behind the arch, that’s 38 percent, downing 18 of his treys in the final 20 minutes of the game. Taylor did hit seven consecutive threes at the close of the game and at one point set another NCAA record by scoring 28 points in a row. Taylor scored 3.8 points per minute taking three shots per minute and hitting three-point attempts at a rate of two per each minute played.

No balanaced scoring
Taylor’s teammates took a combined 41 shots, and Taylor did not record a single assist.
No one can argue that Taylor is a record setter, and although I’ve coached high school players who have shot from long range with a percentage equal to Taylor’s, his long-range shooting range shouldn’t be dismissed.

Prior to Tuesday night, Taylor was struggling shooting the basketball. In two previous games, Taylor hit only 11 of 41 shots and six of 34 from behind the three-point line. Grinnell coach David Arseneautt Jr. claims part of the reason he turned Taylor loose against Faith Baptist was to help him shoot his way out of his slump before conference play began.

The announcer broadcasting the game actually said Grinnell seeks weak teams to add to their schedule for the purposes of running up scores and attempting to break records. It’s all part of the Grinnell game plan. Apparently, the strategy works since Taylor’s record-breaking streak was the third time a Grinnell player has broken the NCAA Division III single game scoring mark.

That game plan includes a Grinnell “Bomb Squad,” a gang of five freshmen Grinnell subs into the game any time their opponents have reached the foul shooting bonus. The freshman’s task is to immediately foul, stopping the clock and placing their opponents on the foul line. The Grinnell scorers reenter the game to play offense taking almost no time off the clock and allowing the scorers maximum time to, well, score.

Also included in the Grinnell game plan is 40 minutes of full-court pressing, every game, no matter what the score. Tuesday night, Grinnell incorporated a four-man diamond press in the backcourt. Taylor never made it to the defensive end of the floor, camping out behind the three-point arch waiting for his teammates to make a steal and feed him the ball.

The four-man press has a downside. Faith Baptist was able to throw full-court passes over the press for easy scoring chances. In fact, David Carson of Faith Baptist scored 70 points in the losing effort, most on wide-open lay-ups off the Grinnell press.
To me the Grinnell strategy violates the spirit of basketball. At its best, basketball is a game of timing, precision, and execution. That played almost no part in Grimmell’s win and Taylor’s record-setting performance.

Not just a gimmick
But, the 138 point game wasn’t just gimmick. Basketball at Grinnell College is a somewhat alien game to basketball played in other places. The Grinnell game plan in every game is to get the ball back as fast as possible even when it means allowing the other team to score. The first shot is considered the best shot whether it’s launched from five feet or 25 feet. To create chaos, Grinnell double-teams the opposing ball handler at all times. Defensively, conceding an uncontested lay-up is preferable to forcing a shot-clock violation. The result: Grinnell has led college basketball in scoring in 17 of the past 19 seasons, almost always averaging over 100 points per game. Grinnell has also been ranked first nationally in three-point shooting in 15 of those seasons.

The “Grinnell Way” includes five-man, hockey-like substitution shifts. Every 30 to 54 seconds one of three five-man shifts enters the game. Each shift has a primary shooter with the other players asked to feed the designated shooter.

And, Grinnell uses a formula that, if actualized, almost guarantees success. The Grinnell goal in every game is to take 94 or more shots, 47 or more from behind the three-point arch and at least 25 more shots than their opponents, rebound at least one of every three missed shots, and force 32 turnovers. When they have reached those targets, Grinnell has won 95 percent of their games in the last 19 seasons.

Basketball fraud or innovative strategic planning, you decide. One thing’s certain: Jack Taylor’s 138 point scoring effort got Coach Arseneautt and Grinnell College the national attention to which they aspire.