“Some People Don’t Call it Basketball”

Central's Thomas Spoehr working under the basket in a game against Grinnell College.

Central’s Thomas Spoehr working under the basket in a game against Grinnell College.

A quick glance at the box score might leave basketball fans assuming some horrible statistical malfunction. A second glance might produce a furrowed brow: Grinnell College took how many 3-pointers? And Central College didn’t take any?

An even closer look would reveal one of the oddest college basketball games of the year: a Division III contest Tuesday [Nov. 20] between two teams in central Iowa in which the losing team attempted 89 3-pointers, equaling an NCAA Division III record, and the winning team attempted none. The box score reported an official attendance of 175.

The final score: Central College 105, Grinnell 96.

“Some people don’t call it basketball,” Central Coach Craig Douma said in a phone interview.

Grinnell has for years used a frantic, up-tempo style that basketball aficionados affectionately call “The System.” The Pioneers play a full-court press the entire game and take as many 3s as possible. Coach David Arseneault Jr., using a scheme developed by his father, utilizes hockey-style line changes every few minutes.

The Pioneers score a ton of points—they’re averaging more than 120 points this season through four games—and run opponents into the ground. They’ve already attempted 302 3-pointers.

“The System” has generated plenty of wild statistics in the past. In 2012, for example, guard Jack Taylor scored an NCAA-record 138 points on 52-for-108 shooting, going 27 for 71 from 3-point range.

“They’re playing the mathematics game on this thing,” said Douma, whose Central team has played Grinnell each of the past three seasons. “If they can hit 30 percent of their 3s, they’re going to have a good shot to win the game.”

Central responded with a novel equation of its own: Don’t try any 3-pointers. At all.

In fact, Douma told his players to forget all the schemes and plays they’ve worked on all season. Central usually shoots a lot of 3-pointers out of its half-court offense. But that wouldn’t work against Grinnell.

Just break the press, Douma said, and take as many layups as possible. Then get back on defense and rebound, and do the whole thing over again.

And again. And again.

“We’ve beaten Grinnell two of the last three times,” he said. “Our players trust us and we know this is our formula for success.” While Douma paced the sideline shouting encouragement and reminding players to box out, his assistant coaches kept track of the team’s substitutions so Central’s players wouldn’t tire out. During timeouts, he forced players to stay on the bench and rest for as long as possible until officials called the team back out onto the floor.

In practice, he ran drills with five defenders against three guards to force them to get open without the ball. They scrimmaged six against five, so Grinnell’s frantic pace wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.

Grinnell made 20 of its 89 3-point attempts, outscoring Central 60-0 from behind the arc. But Grinnell made just 28 percent of its field-goal attempts, while Central shot 58 percent from the floor.

“It’s very intriguing,” Douma said. “People come out just to watch this game and see how we’re going to play the chess game and what our strategy is going to be.”

The strategy is actually pretty simple: endure.

That extends beyond the annual meeting with the Pioneers, too. After Thanksgiving, Douma will try to coach his team out of the “Grinnell hangover,” as he calls it. After such a weird and draining experience, he said, it’s hard to play a normal basketball game again.

At least the next game, Saturday against Gustavus Adolphus (Central lost 81-74), will be easier on the statisticians.

This story first appeared in “The Washington Post” Nov. 22. Reprinted with permission.


Women’s Golf: Central walked off with its 10th conference championship and its second in three years. It gains a berth at the NCAA Division III tourney May 14-17 in Houston.

Football: Behind all-conference quarterback Blaine Hawkins ’20, Central’s football team was an overtime away from a share of a league title. The Dutch finished 8-2.

Women’s Tennis: Jenna Stewart ’19 and Karleigh Schilling ’21 received all-conference distinction and placed fourth in doubles at the conference tournament.

Volleyball: Leaning on a freshman-heavy roster, Central’s volleyball team bettered last year’s season win total in a 12-19 campaign.

Men’s Soccer: Goalkeeper Salvador Salado-Herrera ’21, high-scoring forward Miguel Pina ’19 and defender Taylor Petkovich ’20 received all-conference distinction.

Women’s Soccer: Midfielder Olivia Denham ’19 and forward Erin Manion ’20 were all-conference honorees for the third consecutive year for Central.

Cross-country: Miranda Kruiswyk ’22 earned a berth in the NCAA Division III Championships.

For up-to-the-minute news on Central athletics, visit athletics.central.edu

To encourage serious, intellectual discourse on Civitas, please include your first and last name when commenting. Anonymous comments will be removed.

Comments are closed.