Brian Fincham stared at the halftime box score in the locker room Tuesday night in complete amazement. Fincham, the men’s basketball coach at tiny Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa, couldn’t believe one of his players had scored 24 points.
Maybe he could score 50, Fincham thought. That would be something.
Then, Fincham’s eyes darted toward the stat line next to the home team. That’s where he saw it: Grinnell College guard Jack Taylor already had scored 58 points.
“In the first half, I wasn’t paying as much attention to him scoring as I was concentrating on us trying to execute our game plan so we could make sure we got a layup against them,” Fincham said when reached by phone Wednesday. “At halftime, I saw he had 58 and realized obviously they’re trying to set a record. We knew coming out of the half that he was going to try to get that.”
Fincham couldn’t have known just how wild things would get.
Taylor, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound sophomore from Black River Falls, Wis., shattered an NCAA record by scoring 138 points — on 108 shots. He connected on 52 of his shot attempts overall and drilled 27 of 71 3-point tries. Division III Grinnell clobbered Faith Baptist 179-104.
The news of Taylor’s accomplishment immediately made international headlines, and he became an overnight celebrity featured on national TV shows.
“It felt like anything I tossed up was going in,” Taylor told The Associated Press.
The rest of Grinnell’s team took 28 shots, and only one other player reached double figures in scoring — Aaron Levin tallied 13 points.
So how could a team allow Taylor to continually fire at will? Fincham said his players are young, still learning the fundamental principles of team defense and unaccustomed to Grinnell’s style of play.
“We’re a very small college, and we play games like this knowing the outcome is probably not going to be something in our favor,” Fincham said. “We approached this first month of our season just trying to work on some things that we think are going to be helpful for us when we get into playing more of the schools that are at our level.”
Even before Tuesday night, Faith Baptist had lost all five of its games by an average margin of 29.4 points. The school, with an enrollment of about 300 students, is part of the National Christian College Athletic Association.
“In retrospect, maybe we should have done something different,” Fincham said. “But I’m not really disappointed in what we tried to do. I had my guys try to defend to the best of their ability. It ended up he got hot and scored a lot of points.
“We’re not going to foul somebody hard. It’s already a different style of basketball, and I didn’t want to triple-team the guy or quadruple-team the guy or do something silly like that. We’re trying to work on things, and our guys need to get better at defense.”
Taylor broke a 58-year-old NCAA record with his performance. Bevo Francis of Rio Grande set the NCAA scoring record with 113 points against Hillsdale in 1954. Furman’s Frank Selvy became the only other player to reach triple figures when he scored 100 points against Newberry in 1954.
Fincham declined to discuss whether Grinnell, which led 85-46 at halftime, broke any unwritten rules of sportsmanship.
“That’s something that they’ll have to answer themselves,” he said.
That such a record fell for a player from Grinnell is not surprising.
Grinnell, located 50 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa, has become recognized nationally under head coach David Arseneault for its frenetic, fast-paced style that emphasizes shooting and scoring as often as possible. Players typically substitute in five-in, five-out hockey-style shifts every 35 seconds to a minute. They press full court and often allow uncontested layups in an effort to get the ball back and shoot within the first seven seconds of the shot clock.
The Pioneers set goals each game to shoot at least 94 times, 47 of which should be 3-pointers. They have led the NCAA in scoring in 17 of the past 19 seasons, ranking first in 3-point shooting in 15 of those seasons.
And just last season, Grinnell’s Griffin Lentsch set an NCAA Division III scoring record when he put up 89 points in a game against Principia. Lentsch scored seven points off the bench Tuesday.
According to Lentsch, players began receiving emails from the coaching staff this past weekend that they would try to break the scoring record in the next game. They hashed out the game plan during Monday’s practice, and players quickly agreed to help Taylor chase the all-time scoring mark.
Lentsch said he didn’t feel sorry for Faith Baptist, because it, too, received a measure of publicity from the game.
“Their coach agreed to play us,” he said. “When they agreed to play us, they knew what they were getting into. It’s not like we just started doing this.”
During Tuesday’s game, Grinnell’s entire team cleared out to the other side of the court while Taylor dribbled one on one against a defender behind the 3-point line. Taylor, who played last season at Division III University of Wisconsin-La Crosse before transferring to Grinnell, pulled up for 3-pointer after 3-pointer to break the record. He also rarely exited the game, playing a team-high 36 minutes, and he often didn’t cross the half-court line to play defense. Along the way, his scoring average rose from 23.5 points per game to 61.7.
For the sake of comparison, last season at UW-La Crosse, Taylor took a total of 155 shots (he made 64). And he scored 190 total points, averaging 7.0 points per game in 13.4 minutes. His season high in one game was 20 points.
“He’s very good with the basketball in his hands,” UW-La Crosse basketball coach Ken Koelbl said. “He shoots the ball well. He’s got good quickness to create his shot. So he’s definitely got some strong abilities from an offensive standpoint, which is obvious after a guy scores 138, huh?”
Koelbl said Taylor transferred because he wanted to play in Grinnell’s up-tempo system, which better suited his skill set.
“When you think about the way Grinnell plays and Jack’s ability on the offensive end, it didn’t surprise me totally,” Koelbl said of the record. “Obviously, what he can do from an offensive standpoint, he did it. Jack took over 100 shots. We don’t get that as a team in a game.”
Given that it took 58 years to top the old mark, one has to wonder how long Taylor’s 138 points will remain first in the record books.
“That depends on who Grinnell gets to play them, right?” Fincham said. “I don’t know that you would see a performance like that unless you’ve got a team like they are that has a kid that can score and they know going into the game they have an opportunity to set that record.
“The last one was 50-some years. I would guess 138 points is going to be pretty difficult to break unless somebody really wants to.”
By the way, Faith Baptist’s David Larson — the player with 24 halftime points — set a school record with 70 points, mostly on uncontested layups. Unfortunately, the achievement is likely to be lost in the shuffle of another Grinnell record against Faith Baptist.
Two years ago, Grinnell set an NCAA record when 19 different players made a 3-point basket during a 137-103 victory against Faith Baptist.
Which raises the question: Will Faith Baptist finally stop scheduling Grinnell?
“We’ll definitely think about it,” Fincham said. “That’s all I’ll say.”