I love box scores. They don't tell us everything about a game, of course, and they can even be misleading.
You do have to watch the game to capture the full story. Still, think of how often you see coaches at halftime or in the postgame news conference furtively checking a box score for enlightenment, support or both. Box scores aren't all-explanatory, but they are the single most consistent evaluative medium we have in basketball. No one box score has ever been "better" than another.
Here are a few of the most aberrant and memorable box scores that have come across my laptop so far this college basketball season, broken up into two categories (team and individual).
Hitting 31 of 31 at the line: Missouri vs. Alabama
Missouri still lost to Alabama by 14 earlier this month, but just think how much worse it could have been. From Xavier Pinson (9-of-9) and Dru Smith (7-of-7) all the way down to Kobe Brown (1-of-1), every Tigers player was perfect at the line. The result was a 31-of-31 performance overall.
In its next game, Missouri converted its first 23 free throw attempts against Texas A&M and thus set an NCAA record of 54 consecutive makes from the line. Now, getting back to this 31-of-31 box score ...
Perfect shooting on that many attempts within one game is rare. For reference, the runner-up in this category is the 22-of-22 performance Harvard turned in from the line on a neutral floor against Texas A&M in November.
Meaning, yes, be amazed that Oklahoma was 34-of-34 on its free throws at home against Iowa State in March 2013.
Scoring 46 and coming away with the win: Fairfield vs. Canisius
Yes, yes, it's true Virginia also posted 46 points in a game this season while coming away with the victory. But here's the thing: Tony Bennett's guys were hosting an overmatched opponent (Maine) in Charlottesville.
Conversely, the Stags were playing a conference game on the road and one that had a normal number of possessions (66). Coach Jay Young's offense eked out just 0.70 points per trip -- and Fairfield still came away with the W, 46-42.
Scoring 98 in a 40-minute game and not coming away with the win: New Orleans vs. Houston Baptist
There have been higher point totals for losing teams in 2019-20, but those box scores were all inflated by games lasting longer than 40 minutes. This box score tribute goes out instead to the team that scored the most points in a 40-minute loss this season.
Two weeks ago, Houston Baptist put 98 points on the board (including a notably robust 54-point second half) yet took an eight-point loss at home against New Orleans. Ron Cottrell's team featured no fewer than four players who scored at least 15 points, but on this night, it wasn't enough.
Going 0-for-25 on 3s: Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt
Markus Howard drops 51 in win over USC
Markus Howard goes off for 51, a day after going for 40, in Marquette's dominant 101-79 win over USC.
Earlier this month, Vanderbilt tried 25 times to make a 3 and didn't succeed once. The 0-for-25 performance in a 66-45 loss at home to the Volunteers marked a degree of single-game perimeter futility not seen in Division I in almost eight years.
You have to go all the way back to Northwestern State's loss to Sam Houston State in February 2012 to find another example of a team recording zero makes on at least 25 3-point attempts. As if making history weren't enough, the interesting aspect here is that prior to that game the Commodores were not a bad 3-point shooting team. Jerry Stackhouse's men entered that game in the top 100 nationally for perimeter accuracy. Some days the shots don't fall.
Posting an effective FG percentage better than 80: Boise State vs. Oregon
When Boise State visited Oregon back in November, things could not have gone worse for the Broncos. Or maybe the Ducks just played the perfect game. In any event, Oregon's offense shot 29-of-41 on its 2s and 13-of-19 on its 3s. That nets out to an eFG% of 80.8, which, to put a number into context, is roughly equivalent to what Villanova famously uncorked against Oklahoma in the 2016 Final Four (82.7).
Oregon won 106-75.
Individual player stat lines
Coming off the bench and scoring 43: Saint Mary's vs. Arizona State
Alonzo Verge Jr. arrived at Arizona State this season by way of Moberly Area Community College. He started three games at the beginning of the season, and, though he came off the bench in his next five appearances, the junior was still averaging 26 minutes a game.
It was that fifth appearance off the bench, however, that stands out. On Dec. 18, ASU played Saint Mary's at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. Though the Gaels won the game with ease, 96-56, Verge managed to score 43 points despite the fact he wasn't in the starting lineup. Verge's scoring total that day ranks as the fourth-best game in program history, better than any outing James Harden, Jahii Carson or Tra Holder ever recorded in a Sun Devils uniform.
Furthermore, by scoring fully 77% of his team's points, Verge eclipsed even Wilt Chamberlain's share of the Philadelphia Warriors' total output in his legendary 100-point game in 1962 (59%). Not bad for a reserve.
Making 11 shots from beyond the arc: South Alabama vs. Louisiana Monroe
In ULM's 69-49 victory at home over South Alabama earlier this month, Michael Ertel scored 39 points thanks in no small part to the 11 3-point shots he drained while playing the full 40 minutes. Ertel's performance ranks as the most prolific display of perimeter scoring posted by any player this season.
Launching 21 tries from beyond the arc: South Alabama vs. Louisiana Monroe (again)
Well, this is a coincidence. No player has recorded more 3-point attempts in a game this season than Ertel did that afternoon against the Jaguars.
Attention, all who peruse box scores, lend your heartiest salutes to Luke Knapke and Sha'markus Kennedy. First, Knapke: On Dec. 4, the Toledo senior recorded 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks in the Rockets' 80-65 win at Cleveland State. Pretty wild, right? Not so fast!
Not to be outdone, Kennedy posted totals of 17, 10 and 10 in those same three categories on Dec. 10. The McNeese senior led the Cowboys to an 82-73 win at home over UMKC.
These two games remain the only points-rebounds-blocks triple-doubles recorded thus far this season in Division I.
Player you might not have heard of previously goes off for 51: UMass Lowell vs. Long Island University
Scoring 51 points is self-evidently a good thing, and when Christian Lutete accomplished that feat in the first week of the season, he additionally reached that mark with amazing efficiency. The UMass Lowell senior was 9-of-13 on his 2s, 7-of-12 on 3s and 12-of-13 at the line. That, plus a couple of assists (and a couple of turnovers) was good enough for an astronomical 162 offensive rating.
Player you have definitely heard of goes off for 51: USC vs. Marquette
Let's not overthink this: Markus Howard is good at basketball. He scored 51 against USC at the end of November. The box score is a treasure.
Fouling out in less than three minutes: Troy vs. Indiana
Yes, in less than three minutes. When Troy visited Indiana in November to take on the Hoosiers, Tyrek Williams was assessed five personals within 2:32 of game clock. Though a far cry from the Arkansas Pine Bluff dynamo who fouled out in one minute (yes, one minute) against Grambling in January 2016, the efforts of coach Scott Cross' young player were nothing if not energetic.
IU won the game 100-62.
This connoisseur of box scores tips his cap to Sports-Reference.com and its invaluable Play Index feature.