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Troy State vs. DeVry is the highest-scoring game in NCAA history, and the score is wrong

Part of me still cannot believe it. The highest-scoring basketball game of all time was played in front of three referees, an official scorer, two announcers, a camera, and a reported crowd of 2,000 people. Some twenty years later, video of the game was uploaded to YouTube, where it received tens of thousands more views. Some twenty-five years later, I watch the game and keep score. I end up with a different score. I watch it again and again, until I have scored eight times and end up with 253 points for Troy State each time.

All those people and all the dozens of newspapers and record books and a quarter-century of basketball history are wrong, and I am right. It doesn’t seem possible. Even this morning, when I scored it for the eighth time, I was deeply paranoid that I had somehow missed a basket or two, or kept making a typo or two. I ended with 253 again.

Have you ever in your life heard of a game going down in history with the wrong score? I’m not talking about something related to a blown call by officials, I’m talking about a simple miscount. The closest analogue I can think of is the Mets’ “grand slam single,’ wherein Robin Ventura hit a walk-off grand slam, didn’t bother trotting to second, and was ultimately awarded a single instead of a home run. But again, that instant was different. No facts escaped us, we simply chose to rule them a certain way.

This time, we simply lost count. As far as I can tell, I am the only person to register dissent. The discovery was incidental, if not accidental: I simply wanted to write up a play-by-play of the most statistically incredible sporting event I had ever seen. Would someone else have come along eventually and discovered it? Well, nobody did in the first twenty-five years, and the game ain’t getting any fresher.

I’ll present my case in full below, but for the moment, let’s just suppose I’m absolutely right about what transpired. Fantastic, but who ultimately decides what a game’s score actually and ultimately is? Viewers like me? The referees? The scorers? The NCAA? The record books? Is a score an artifice awarded by a governing body, or a journalistic work? Can any one person or entity claim dominion of a score? If the NCAA announces that the score is one billion to three, is that the score?

I do not know. But if you ask me, I will tell you that the score of this game is Troy State 253, DeVry 141. Not 258-141, as has been reported in every other instance.

If I’m right, it’s up to you to decide how much it matters. Either way, this game is a landmark statistical achievement that might not be approached ever again, let alone equaled. To me, it matters at least a little bit, because a game that goes down in the record books on account of its score ought to have the correct score.

That does not mean that I fault any scorer, official, announcer, or journalist for this miscount. I can attest firsthand that this is a very difficult game to score, and I say that having had the privilege of rewinding and re-watching it. Those in attendance that day did not have that luxury. To make matters worse, their scoreboard stopped properly displaying the score once Troy State reached 200 points. Circumstances were working against anyone who tried to score, in real time, the fastest-scoring officiated game in the history of sports.

Let’s begin.

NOTE 1: We are very lucky, in that the Kip Smithers Film — so named because it was uploaded by YouTube user kip SMITHERS — is an unbroken, uncut, single-camera video. Because of this, we can be certain that we aren’t missing a single basket. One exception, in which the tape freezes, is accounted for below.

All timestamps refer to that of the original Kip Smithers Film, not the game clock or any other cut of the film.

NOTE 2: None of this concerns any sort of “foot was on the line” judgment. Luckily for us, every Troy State bucket in this stage of the game is either a three-pointer or a definite two-pointer (either a dunk or a layup). I’m not taking any of Troy State’s threes away. If it looks like a three, and the public address announcer and/or broadcast announcers say it’s a three, then I recorded it as a three.

NOTE 3: I have timestamps for all of DeVry’s buckets as well, but since I agree with their official score of 141, I won’t bother to add them here.

NOTE 4: I’m beginning this review at the 55:22 mark of the tape. I scored the entire game, but up until this point, there were no discrepancies between my score and that of the game’s scorer or announcers.

NOTE 5: If you want to follow along with this while watching the video, scrolling down and back up will probably get annoying. I considered putting together an edited version of the film for easier viewing, but ultimately I felt it important to leave the Kip Smithers Film as an unaltered document. I have simply embedded it here.

55:22 - Three-pointer. Troy State 200, DeVry 105.
This is the last point at which my findings agree with the score relayed by the announcers. After this point in the tape, according to my findings, every score they announce is wrong.

55:44 - Three-pointer. Troy State 203, DeVry 107.

56:13 - Three-pointer. Troy State 206, DeVry 112.

56:22 - Tape freezes for approximately 16 seconds.
Clearly, this needs to be addressed. What if this means we’re missing 16 seconds of video, and Troy State’s five missing points are hidden within those 16 seconds?

That is not the case. I made this GIF out of four frames:

56:22 - the instant the tape freezes
56:25 - rogue frame
56:28 - rogue frame
56:38 - the instant the tape resumes as normal

These frames are clearly fragments of one missing second, and no more: all the players are exactly where they would be one second later, and the posture of people in the stands is largely identical. No meaningful footage is missing.

56:39 - The game’s horn blows the play dead.
Interestingly, only one second after we experience our malfunction with the tape, Sartain Hall’s horn experiences some sort of malfunction. The horn sounds for no apparent reason, and the announcers on the tape note that it seems to have sounded inadvertently. I have no idea how, but it’s tempting to consider that the tape and horn malfunctions could be related in some way.

56:45 - No basket. Troy State 206, DeVry 114.
Troy State’s Terry McCord throws down the dunk a full six seconds after the horn blew the play dead. My suspicion is that the scorer counted this as two points, but this is not a basket. This statement is not a judgment call on my part, because:

a) the play was whistled dead six seconds prior,
b) the referee on screen makes no signal other than a stoppage in play and,
c) most importantly, when play resumes, Troy State is awarded the ball from their own baseline. If the referees counted this as a score, they would not have given Troy State the ball. They simply reset the ball to where it was before the horn inadvertently sounded.

This is not a basket.

58:18 - Two-pointer. Troy State 208, DeVry 116.
A clear two-point layup.

58:45 - Two-pointer. Troy State 210, DeVry 120.
A clear two-point dunk.

59:12 - Two-pointer. Troy State 212, DeVry 120.
A clear two-point alley-oop dunk. The alley-oop pass is thrown from beyond the three-point arc, so for good measure, I’ll note that visual evidence confirms this as a dunk, and the announcer further confirms it as a “jam.” Two points.

59:19 - Three-pointer. Troy State 215, DeVry 120.

59:35 - Two-pointer. Troy State 217, DeVry 122.
A clear two-point layup.

59:57 - Three-pointer. Troy State 220, DeVry 124.

1:00:11 - Two-pointer. Troy State 222, DeVry 126.
A clear two-point dunk.

1:00:57 - Three-pointer. Troy State 225, DeVry 126.

1:01:08 - Two-pointer. Troy State 227, DeVry 126.
A clear two-point dunk.

1:01:33 - Three-pointer. Troy State 230, DeVry 126.

1:01:54 - Two-pointer. Troy State 232, DeVry 126.
A three-point attempt bounces off the rim. The ball is clearly rebounded and returned for a put-back dunk. Two points.

1:02:15 - Three-pointer. Troy State 235, DeVry 126.

1:03:10 - Free throw good. Troy State 236, DeVry 128.

1:03:23 - Free throw good. Troy State 237, DeVry 128.

1:03:33 - Free throw good. Troy State 238, DeVry 128.

1:04:13 - Two-pointer. Troy State 240, DeVry 128.
Once again, a missed three-point attempt is put back for a clear two-point dunk.

1:04:44 - Three-pointer. Troy State 243, DeVry 130.

1:05:01 - Three-pointer. Troy State 246, DeVry 132.

1:05:43 - Two-pointer. Troy State 248, DeVry 134.
A clear two-point dunk.

1:06:34 - Two-pointer. Troy State 250, DeVry 138.
A missed layup is tipped in for two points.

1:06:45 - No basket. Troy State 250, DeVry 138.
The announcers’ commentary:

Oh no, the ball got stuck! The ball got stuck between the rim and the backboard ...

The ball was thrown from beyond the three-point arc in an alley-oop attempt. It seems as though Fred Bryant, while trying to dunk it in, wedged the ball between the rim and backboard. When this happens, the defending team is supposed to receive the ball at their own baseline, which is exactly what happens here. No basket, but I’m noting so here for good measure.

1:07:12 - Three-pointer. Troy State 253, DeVry 138.
This is Troy State’s final score. Seconds later, DeVry hits a three-pointer at the buzzer, and we end the game with a score of Troy State 253, DeVry 141.