Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grinnell's Jack Taylor shatters scoring record, pundits criticize the effort

There really is no way to answer criticism, particularly on something as unconventional as The System. Or perhaps it is not even The System, just basketball (or sports in general), that opens itself up to contrarians. A few weeks ago, Alabama football coach Nick Saban questioned the no-huddle, fast-paced offense so many schools employ these days, including this little salvo: "Is this what we want football to be?"

I thought of this today while listening to my favorite afternoon sports talk show, "SVP and Russillo" on ESPN Radio. Scott Van Pelt was absent, so Ryen Russillo was flying solo, and I caught a segment when he was dicussing the effort Tuesday night from Grinnell's Jack Taylor. By now, any reader of this blog knows of the 138 points Taylor scored against Faith Baptist in a 179-104 victory for the Pioneers. The outburst broke every known collegiate scoring record, which we'll get to a bit later.

Let's get back to my boy Ryen Russillo. He told the audience he wasn't pleased with how Grinnell coach David Arseneault (and indirectly, his assistant, son Dave Arseneault) set up the game plan for this matchup. Russillo spoke of his distaste for the pace of play, the way the Pioneers gave up layups, even the way they sent mass substitutions into the game every 45 seconds or so.

Hmm, anyone notice what he (and I) did there? He basically is railing against The System, which is no big deal, in and of itself. Most of us are accustomed to that, and this style of play, while beautiful, breathtaking and exhilarating to me, just isn't for everybody. I face that every day with my friends and other hoops aficionados.

Russillo's mistake -- the same one made by many who expressed unhappiness with how it all played out -- is he failed to investigate Grinnell's background. All the things that annoyed him in this game have nothing to do with Jack Taylor or 138 points. The Pioneers play this way every game.

Case in point: he theorized that Coach A sent all these subs in to foul the players for Faith Baptist, so Grinnell could get the ball back. Well, you and I know that the subs come in that way each and every game, and one of the focuses of The System is to avoid fouls. That way, you create more possessions and take advantage when the opponent's players begin to get tired.

By the way, Faith Baptist finished 4-for-8 from the free throw line for the game, and Grinnell finished with 14 total fouls.

The layups are nothing new, either. Last season, when the Pioneers were 18-5, opponents shot a combined 58 percent from the field, so field goal percentage defense isn't something that is important to the success this style.

Now, I am in no way saying Taylor's magical game came without some orchestration. He was on the court for 36 minutes, or about 20 more than he ordinarily would play. Essentially, instead of subbing five-for-five, the Coaches Arseneault went four-for-four, leaving Taylor with each shift, or group, in System vernacular. And because he was the "preferred shooter" for each group -- another System term -- he got all the shots.

Several times over the years, Grinnell has set out to help one of its players be statistically significant in a single game. On Dec. 8, 2007, Dave Arseneault, then the starting point guard for his dad, set the NCAA all-division record with 34 assists against North Central University. He relied on the same methods as Taylor: namely he played at the front of the full-court pressure (leaving him on the offensive end of the court for much of the game), he stayed in with each group (he played 38 minutes) and he enjoyed assistance from his teammates (John Grotberg had 49 points).

That was one of the most impressive things about Taylor's game. Each player on Grinnell's roster dug in to help him, including Griffin Lentsch. Surely you remember him, right? He scored an NCAA Division III record 89 points in a game last season and eventually led the Pioneers in scoring for the year. He spent this whole game setting screens for Taylor and finished with seven points on three shots.

When it was over, and the news trickled out via Twitter and other avenues of social media, Taylor's teammates did something else: they searched out people who could help spread the word, including some of the very pundits who took to the airwaves in an attempt to discredit this record.

Again, nothing wrong with that. I'm sure it's simply white noise to the folks at Grinnell, particularly Coach A, since he's done this so much over the years. When I visited Grinnell and the cornfields of Iowa in 2009, I asked him about singling out one player in this manner, I found his answer -- as it pertained to his son's assist record and others -- to be fascinating.

"He took some heat on that, from some people. What those people fail to understand is that it set David off on a stretch of play where he played better than he can for about 10 straight games. People don't understand that, statistically, if you can get people to reach for the stars, and then achieve it, they can start being better than they are.

"Our level of play gets better when our best players are statistically significant. You can't explain that to people. Even though it was somewhat manufactured, the reality is that every time we've done that for somebody, it's been a long-term positive for the group."

David Arseneault

Here's hoping it works out that way for this year's team.

As for this game, not much I can add to what already has been written and spoken around the country. Taylor had 58 points at halftime and kept going after the break, breaking Lentsch's mark on a 3-pointer with 11:14 left in the game.

Taylor reached 100 points on a nifty backdoor cut with about 9 minutes remaining, then swished a 3 about 4 minutes later to break Bevo Francis' NCAA record of 113 points. He scored his final points on two free throws with 1:37 on the clock, then exited the game for good a few seconds later to a raucous reception at Darby Gym.

Grinnell plays again Sunday, hosting William Penn University at 5 p.m. EST. This one should be very interesting, as well, even if no one reaches triple digits by himself. The Statesman, an NAIA school, is 9-0 and averaging 99 points, so they likely will run with the Pioneers. Should be a good one.

Best of luck to Grinnell.

And, heck, while I'm at it, I guess I ought to update our other teams who have played this week.


After a 47-point loss on the road last Saturday at California (Pa.), this group of Pioneers returned home to open West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play against Wheeling Jesuit. Thanks partly to Ginny Mills, they averted a losing streak.

Mills made six 3-pointers and scored 22 points (in 17 minutes of run) to lead six players in double figures as Glenville State rolled past the Cardinals 113-86 Tuesday night. Kenyona Simmons added 17 points, Ashleigh Fossett had 14, Tiffani Huffman got 13, DeShawna Curry finished with 12 and Jessica Parsons (no relation) chipped in with 10.

A great effort for coach Bunky Harkleroad and his team; the Pioneers (3-1, 1-0 WVIAC) finished with 103 shots and forced 25 turnovers in the victory. Breanna Butler paced Wheeling Jesuit (1-2, 0-1) with 21 points.

Glenville State has a bit of a break before playing next, when it travels to play conference foe Bluefield State next Thursday. If all goes well, I plan to be in attendance, the first time in two years I've seen the Pioneers.

Hope to see them them then.


Coach Mike Curta and the Cardinals are playing in the Richards HS Thanksgiving Tournament, and they opened with a pair of victories. On Monday, in their season opener, they beat Fenger HS 104-84, thanks in part to an 11-point shift from one of their preferred shooters.

So far, this player hasn't been identified by Coach Curta (I'm kidding, I'm sure he'd be glad to, I just know he's busy so I haven't asked). He made a 3-pointer before stealing the inbound pass and scoring again before making two more 3s on consecutive possessions. Pretty sweetk.

Eisenhower beat Peoria 66-47 on Tuesday and plays Marist tonight. Go Cardinals.


Jessica Lieber had 10 of her 23 points in the fourth quarter to help the Silver Streaks pull away to beat Western Big 6 rival Moline 71-52 Tuesday night.

Coach Evan Massey's team made 13 3-pointers -- Lieber had five of them -- for the game. Sharron Diggins added 14 points for Galesburg, which continues play in its Thanksgiving Tournament on Saturday against Freeport. The start is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST, and I wish the Streaks all the best.

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