Campus Corner

About Grinnell's 138-point scorer...

Updated: 2012-11-21T04:23:44Z

The Kansas City Star

Tuesday, Jack Taylor, a 5-10 sophomore guard for Grinnell College, scored 138 points in a game against Faith Baptist Bible. Taylor went 52 for 108 from the floor and 27 for 71 from three-point land in a 179-104 victory.

The total shattered the college game scoring record of Rio Grande's Bevo Francis, the 1950s star who once scored 113 points in a game.

Taylor's total is, of course, flabbergasting. But if it could happen anywhere, it's Grinnell.

About a decade ago, I visited the campus to attend a game and attempted to explain basketball's most unusual approach.

The story, with the headline Organized Chaos, ran in The Star on Feb. 9, 2003.

Blair Kerkhoff

GRINNELL, Iowa - The visitor's half of the final statistics sheet read like a coach's dream. The Green Knights of St. Norbert shot 64 percent from the floor, 87 percent from the line, grabbed 52 rebounds - dominating its opponent in each category - and scored 106 points. And the Green Knights shuffled out of the building muttering to themselves in disgust after a 12-point loss.

"We forgot about this one the second it was over," said St. Norbert forward Kari Hannula, who shot eight of nine from the field and scored 20. "This was our bad habit day."

Grinnell infects opponents that way.

College basketball's greatest scoring show outscored two more during the weekend, 118-106 against St. Norbert on Friday and 139-125 against Ripon on Saturday.

That makes 19 games and 19 times above the century mark for Grinnell and continues the madness of coach Dave Arseneault, who has transferred this once-moribund Division III basketball program in central Iowa into a frenzied blur of three-point baskets and trapping defenses.

James Naismith wouldn't recognize it.

"Organized chaos is what I call it," Arseneault said. "Some people look at us like a basketball circus and have said we make a mockery of the game. But it's been working for us."

Working to the tune of a 14-5 record, a solid second-place position in the Midwest Conference and a possible trip to its third NCAA tournament in eight years.

This after 26 consecutive losing seasons when Arseneault arrived in 1989. Now, the good times roll at Grinnell because of a high-octane system that whisks conventional basketball wisdom out the door.

Unless allowing uncontested layups is your idea of defense. Or passing up open 4-footers for open 19-footers is your idea of a high-percentage play.

"We are a little different," Grinnell senior Jim Shaw said.

A little different? No. The Pioneers might as well play on another planet. Three-point shots by the dozens - Grinnell has attempted more than 80 twice in a game this season; a full-court press that would make John Wooden cheer; nonstop action that necessitates wholesale substitutions every minute or so. Enough points to break a scorekeeper's spirit.

Grinnell averages 130.7 per game. If that figure holds, it will break the NCAA all-time scoring record for all classifications of 124.9 points, set last year by ... Grinnell. Hanging from a wire in cozy 1,250-seat Darby Gym are banners that commemorate the accomplishment: Division III's highest-scoring team each year since 1994.

"I'd hate to be on the team that doesn't get one of those," freshman Paul Nordlund said.

That won't happen as long as Arseneault, a Boston native who grew up loving the Celtics, fires the starting gun. He arrived at Grinnell from a small New Hampshire college, and a break-even record was the best he could muster in his first four seasons.

"We weren't getting anywhere with results or recruiting," Arseneault said. "So I thought about doing something radical." Arseneault remembered a Canadian coach talk about playing up-tempo and subbing entire units after five minutes.

Why not give it try?

"We kind of experimented with it my first year," said Chad Folsom, then a Grinnell freshman and now the women's basketball coach at Benedictine College.

Results were mixed. The freshmen got it. The upperclassmen didn't. Arseneault didn't return to the philosophy until those freshmen were seniors. In 1994, the Pioneers led the nation in scoring, averaging a then-Division III record 109 points.

Grinnell applies the basic premise in sports - outscore your opponent - to the extreme much in the same manner Loyola Marymount did in the late 1980s and early 1990s under coach Paul Westhead. Everybody plays, none intentionally more than 2 minutes at a stretch.

A Grinnell game opens with a starting lineup, but it's more like a first shift. A list of 20 shifts hang on the locker-room message board.

As the starters hit the floor, the next shift of players man the five seats closest to the scorer's table.

At the first dead ball after 35 seconds, starters come out, next shift reports. The third shift, a mix of starters and more reserves, moves into what amounts as an on-deck circle on the bench.

Why mass substitution? Grinnell never stops running. Arseneault lists his goals in numbers: take at least 100 shots, at least 50 of them three-pointers, and force at least 32 turnovers.

Against St. Norbert, the Pioneers won the tap and 6 seconds later Matt Brown drained a three-pointer. The Knights took the ball out and encountered full-court pressure. The receiver was trapped in a double team but found an outlet breaking free. The Green Knights got an easy layup that made it 3-2 with 19:42 left in the first half.

As the opponent was scoring, two Pioneers headed in the corners on the offensive end. Another three-point attempt comes 7 seconds into the next possession.

With 19 minutes left in the half, out go the starters. Ideally, shots are taken fewer than 12 seconds into the possession. On one possession Friday, the Pioneers worked it around for about 15 seconds looking for an open three. Arseneault nearly burst a vein yelling, "Shoot the ball!"

On defense the idea is to get the ball back. Quickly. "The way we play, I'd rather give up a dunk in 10 seconds than let a team hold for 30 seconds and not score," Arseneault said.

The press and trapping force turnovers, and guarding the three-point line is a priority, but shots inside the arc often are uncontested. That explains some of basketball's most bizarre team statistics:

Opponents shoot nearly 63 percent against the Pioneers, who make only 43 percent of their shots.

About 63 percent of Grinnell's field-goal attempts are three-pointers. Only 10 percent of opponents' shots come from behind the arc.

Seven players average double-digit scoring, and 12 average double-digit minutes played with nobody logging as many as 20 minutes per game. This balance actually is a departure from earlier greyhound teams.

Arseneault used to designate priority shooters in the shifts, and that's how Jeff Clement set Division III records with 77 points and 19 three-pointers in a 1998 game.

Against St. Norbert, the Pioneers had launched 60 three-point attempts before the Green Knights had attempted their first. Grinnell has made 422 treys in 19 games. Last year, Missouri set the Big 12 record with 327 treys and played 36 games.

The result is scores that light every bulb on the scoreboard. Grinnell has won games this season 160-131, 153-117 and a 150-149 triple-overtime thriller over Lawrence University.

"And we were leading the league in defense," Lawrence coach John Tharp said.

Teams do beat Grinnell. Two weeks ago, the Pioneers lost at Beloit 120-108. But opponents win playing Arseneault's game. "You have no choice," said Beloit coach Cecil Youngblood. "As far as preparing for it, you can't duplicate it in practice. You can only give your players a sense of it."

And even then ...

"Kids will come out of the game shaking their head, asking themself, 'What just happened?' " Tharp said. During games, Arseneault pulls a seat from the far end of the bench and watches the game from corner of the floor. He rises and paces to challenge an officials' call, to implore his team to shoot more, press harder and continue to make life miserable for the opponent.

On Friday, the Pioneers kept clanking threes. St. Norbert led by nine early. Grinnell rallied and led by one at halftime, but an unhappy Arseneault didn't follow the team to the locker room. "Let them work this out themselves," he said.

The Pioneers started going inside more often and pulled away. With four minutes remaining and a double-digit lead, Arseneault shifted gears and ran a spread offense. Exhausted St. Norbert players eventually gave up the chase.

On this night, Grinnell made 15 of 62 three-point attempts for 24.2 percent, much lower than Arseneault desires.

"Sometimes wins aren't pretty, but you take them," Arseneault said.

For at least a moment, Arseneault speaks the game's universal language.

Then he's off in his basketball world.

"We have to get more threes next time."

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