Keion Peterson was celebrating his mother’s birthday on Friday, Dec. 1. He and the College of Southern Idaho men’s basketball team had a game that night, and he wanted to give his mother a special birthday present.
“I told a couple players before the game, ‘We need to put on a show for her,’” Peterson told the Times-News on Wednesday. “I think we did just that.”
The Golden Eagles beat Planet Athlete Academy 199-118 on their home court that Friday night. They set multiple school records and a national one. Their offense was hot, and their competition was lacking, but CSI needed much more than that to make history.
CSI, a perennial junior college power, plays prep schools every year. Head coach Jared Phay said he often schedules those teams for recruiting purposes. Getting a player to see Twin Falls and CSI’s campus and having them get a sense of the team can pay off in the long run.
Sometimes, CSI schedules a prep team simply to fill out its schedule. That was the main reason Planet Athlete, which is from Arizona, traveled to Twin Falls last Friday for the Coca-Cola Invitational.
But prep teams are not always pushovers. One week before the Planet Athlete game, CSI hosted and defeated Washington state’s Elite Prep 112-90 — a game that CSI led 46-41 at halftime. Planet Athlete played at Western Wyoming Community College on Nov. 25 and won 74-72. CSI beat Western Wyoming 120-106 last Saturday, one day after facing Planet Athlete.
The Golden Eagles have also played Planet Athlete in recent years, winning 131-102 in 2015 and 106-62 in 2014.
“We try to play every game with tough defense,” Planet Athlete head coach Eric Bowman said over the phone Wednesday. “Defense wins games.”
But last Friday, Bowman had to adjust his gameplan well before opening tip-off.
Bowman said his roster features 16 players at full strength. Against CSI, just seven players suited up. A handful of players were injured, he said, and a few left the team after securing early enrollment at their new colleges. One player, who Bowman said averages 10 rebounds a game, was traveling home to France last weekend.
Planet Athlete brought eight players to Twin Falls, but lost another on Thursday. The player had a bad case of pneumonia, Bowman said, prompting a 911 call and a trip to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center. He was released earlier this week, according to Bowman.
Planet Athlete was left with seven players (all 6-foot-4 or shorter) against the No. 9-ranked NJCAA Division I team, which had 14 active players that night.
“It was impossible for us to play a normal game,” Bowman said.
He knew his defense couldn’t survive in the halfcourt, and rebounding would be a major challenge. So he scratched his normal gameplan.
“'We’re gonna have to run with CSI,'” Bowman told his players. “'Can we shoot better than them?’ That night, we didn’t.”
With 15 minutes left in the first half, CSI led 26-5. With 10:00 remaining, the score was 51-17. That’s when Jonathan Drew, the play-by-play broadcaster for the live video stream of the game, began to grasp the math of CSI’s pace.
“100 points in a half? No. C’mon. Really?” Drew said on the broadcast.
The game lost any semblance of organization around this point. Planet Athlete almost exclusively hoisted 3-pointers, often early in the 30-second shot clock and well behind the line. Fast offensive pace is CSI’s identity, and Planet Athlete had poor transition defense, so the Golden Eagles ran a fast break on nearly every possession.
Phay said he stopped coaching before the half ended.
“The way they played, it made it hard to even work on anything,” he said. “It was just an open gym.”
The Golden Eagles entered halftime with a 92-45 lead. Sophomore guard Charles Jones Jr., a University of Utah commit, had 23 points (9-of-13 on field goals) and six assists. He, Hendricks and fellow starter Roche Grootfaam sat the entire second half.
“Honestly, it felt like a team they just threw together,” Jones said of Planet Athlete. “It definitely takes some of the fun out of it.”
Most of the halftime chatter in the CSI locker room revolved around the school record for most points scored in a single game. The mark was 160, set in 2008 against the University of Montana Western JV team. The Golden Eagles knew 160 points was attainable, so they chased it in the second half, mainly with backups and end-of-the-bench players.
Planet Athlete continued to fire quickly and repeatedly, with no desire to slow the pace down. With 4:35 left, Planet Athlete inbounded the ball from its baseline and let it roll until it crossed halfcourt, in order to preserve time (aka “walking the dog”).
CSI had no trouble breaking the school record. Sophomore forward Tommy Burton scored a layup with 7:16 left to give the Golden Eagles a 162-88 lead.
“You could just feel the energy, momentum building as we kept scoring,” said Peterson, a Canyon Ridge High School graduate. “It felt kinda surreal.”
The Golden Eagles quickly shifted their focus to 200 points, and in hindsight, CSI had several chances to match or surpass it. But after redshirt freshman guard Keegan Hansen hit a 3 to give CSI a 199-118 lead, Planet Athlete held the ball for the final 17 seconds and took a shot as time expired.
The Golden Eagles shot 61.8 percent (76-of-123) from the field, 44.4 percent (20-of-45) from 3-point range and 77.1 percent (27-of-35) from the free-throw line in the game. Planet Athlete made 37.8 percent (42-of-111) of its field goals and 33.3 percent (20-of-60) of its 3s.
Combined, the two teams averaged 5.85 shots per minute.
“I was irritated that we were letting them even score,” said Hansen, who scored a team-high 27 points. “I don’t care if we have 180 points. I don’t want to other team to score the basketball. I want to beat them 200-50.”
In addition to the scoring record, CSI set the school mark for most 3-pointers made (previous high of 19) and rebounds in a game. The 87 boards broke the previous mark of 82.
The next day, the Golden Eagles heard they broke the NJCAA single-game scoring record, as well. The previous high was 173 points, scored by Temple (Texas) Junior College against SW Christian College in the 1994-95 season.
In Phay’s mind, CSI didn’t run up the score against Planet Athlete. Bowman disagrees, but he isn’t angry at the Golden Eagles, nor is he embarrassed by the final score.
“I’m more disappointed that I didn’t bring my full team to play one of the better junior colleges in the country,” Bowman said. “It’s totally out of my control, but the buck stops with me.”
For some of the Golden Eagles, the records felt somewhat tainted by the quality of their opponent. With 8:08 left in the game, right before CSI set the school scoring record, Drew said on the broadcast, “You really don’t want to set it against a team that isn’t playing any defense like this team. You want to set a record like that against a team that can play or will challenge you.”
Therein lies the explanation. A team that plays tough defense is unlikely to allow 199 points, even against an offense like CSI’s. Same goes for a team with a deep bench, or a team with any size. And if Planet Athlete didn’t choose to play at a breakneck pace, CSI wouldn’t have had time to break a national record.
It was a perfect confluence of events.
“I know it was against a prep school, but every JUCO in the country is gonna play a prep school or a JV team,” Phay said. “Other people have played that same game and not done what we did.”