Last night was one of the more interesting nights for me as a sportswriter.
I work at the La Crosse Tribune in western Wisconsin, the newspaper that covered Jack Taylor in high school during his time at Black River Falls, as well as last season while he was playing for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, my alma mater.
The writers working with me last night, who have been working for the paper much longer than my two years, were stunned, like everyone else, that Taylor was able to put up 138 points in a 179-104 victory for Grinnell College over Faith Baptist Bible.
The conversation quickly moved to tales of his high school days, how he was the quintessential “gym rat” who was known for his marathon shooting practice sessions. We then talked about his season last year at UW-L, where he was essentially the sixth man for the Eagles, coming off the bench to provide a spark of outside shooting.
We were following twitter the whole night, reading the commentary and essentially having a laugh at how off-base people unfamiliar with the situation were. People ripping on UW-L for letting him leave, saying how that coach should be fired for not playing him more last season, that he should get drafted by the Wizards, etc. etc.
He’s a good player, there’s no doubt about that. But I saw him play five or six times last season for UW-L, and you can tell he was simply a gunner at heart.
Taylor put up 99 of the Eagles’ 498 three-pointers on the season. That’s just over 20 percent for those of you doing math at home. I’m not saying he was averse to playing defense, but just that his strengths lied on the offensive side of the court.
He could have stayed at UW-L and developed into a quality player and a high scorer, but it became clear that the Eagles’ system didn’t fit his style.
The Grinnell “system” is…interesting to watch.
It focuses on placing high pressure on the ball handler and putting up a shot, preferably a three-pointer, within the first 12 seconds of the shot clock. It’s no wonder that with this system, Grinnell is perennially one of the highest scoring teams in all of college basketball. They’ll happily trade a 3-point attempt for an open lay-up.
We were impressed by the national coverage he was starting to get, but then we got to looking at his stat line for the evening.
108 shots? Are you kidding me?
He claimed he was trying to “work his way out of a shooting slump.” That’s all fine and dandy. That’s what shooters do. And apparently at Grinnell, that means chucking up 108 shots and seeing less than half (52) go in. He shot 38% from three (27 of 71).
It’s not so much these numbers that I have the issue with. Grinnell runs a quirky system, and apparently, that’s what happens from time to time.
What bugs me is the margin of victory. Grinnell won by 75 points. Most college teams would be happy to just score 75 in a game!
Taylor played 35 minutes, out of a possible 40, in last night’s game. That’s abnormal for that team, which tends to treat substitutions more like hockey and change one line after the next.
But there Taylor was, shot after shot, still on the court on his way to breaking the previous NCAA record by 25 points. And the majority of those points (80 of them) came after halftime, well past the point where the outcome was firmly decided.
Let me reiterate my point: Taylor missed 56 shots in the game, including 44 3-pointers. But for some reason I don’t think those are the shots he’s going to be thinking about when he’s falling asleep or when he’s appearing on the national media outlets.
Taylor also finished the game with exactly zero assists. None.
If the goal was to get this kid out of a shooting slump, and you’re happy that he shot 48% from the field for the game, great. But to do so at the expense of a 75-point blowout of Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary, which isn’t an NCAA school, or even an NAIA one for that matter, is wrong.
And that’s not so much on Taylor as it is on the coach, David Arsenault.
Taylor showed some humility through the process, telling my colleague at the Tribune last night, “I’m so fortunate to have the teammates I do to sacrifice their own statistics for me. I appreciate it.”
I understand it’s the “system,” but to play a game just to accumulate those gaudy stats, in my opinion, is just plain wrong.
Related, from Deadspin: D-III Player’s 138 Point-Game Is A Sham Record And Shouldn’t Be Celebrated By Anyone