Al Toups had a problem.
Make it two.
As the official scorekeeper for LSU basketball, there were moments he didn’t have time to actually watch the action between the Tigers and Loyola Marymount on Feb. 3, 1990.
The baskets were coming that fast.
“I was just looking down at the scorebook,” Toups recalled. “I had to rely on what Dan (Borné) was saying over the PA system to mark down the points and keep up.”
Later, as the score mounted toward something only seen in NBA All-Star Games, Toups realized he didn’t have enough room to log all the points.
“Back then, the scorebook had squares to record up to 120 points,” he said. “When the game went to overtime, I remember I had to draw in little squares to fit all the scoring in for both teams.”
It’s been 25 years since LSU and Loyola Marymount played in that stunning showdown. In the history of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, named after college basketball’s most prolific scorer, there has never been a game like it.
The Tigers beat the Lions 148-141 in overtime that day, a game that set records for scoring that may never be duplicated in LSU history.
It was a different time, to be sure. There was no social media, no players in baggy shorts. And the CBS telecast didn’t feature a constant score and time of the game; only sporadic glimpses.
At one end of the scorer’s table near where Toups sat, Debi Polito typed the official running summary of the game on an electric typewriter.
The overtaxed machine couldn’t keep pace. The motor seized up with about four minutes left in the first half. A mad scramble for a replacement followed.
“As the game went on, I kind of caught myself looking up and down the court like I was watching a Chinese pingpong game,” former LSU coach Dale Brown said. “You literally almost couldn’t catch your breath.”
That was precisely the strategy behind Loyola Marymount’s breakneck pace, an offensive system put into place by LMU and former Los Angeles Lakers coach Paul Westhead.
“I really think that if he had stayed in college (coaching), he would have revolutionized the game,” Brown said. “You couldn’t play a stall game against them. If you took your time and got your two (points), they would just go right down and shoot a 3.”
Playing under Westhead was a dream for his two best players, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, childhood friends who migrated from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to play for him.
“It was great to have a coach allow you to play at that level,” Kimble said. “He would tell you, ‘If you’re ever open for a shot and don’t shoot, come have a seat next to me.’ ”
Current LSU coach and then-assistant Johnny Jones scouted LMU the Thursday night before the teams met Saturday. The Lions beat St. Mary’s 150-119. They returned home to Los Angeles the night after the LSU game and beat San Francisco 157-115, with Kimble scoring 50 points.
“One of the first things coach Brown asked me when I got back Friday was, ‘What are we gonna have to do?’ ” Jones recalled. “I said, ‘Well, the first thing we’re going to have to do is get some track shoes.’ ”
As Kimble recalled: “We were the best-conditioned team in college basketball, I promise you that. Actually, our practices were harder than any game you’ve ever seen. We ran that much more. Out of a three-hour practice, 2½ hours was nothing but transition drills.”
LSU countered with what may have been Brown’s most talented team. The Tigers featured three future NBA first-round picks: Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Jackson (an All-American in 1988-89 and that season) and Stanley Roberts.
The main battle was between O’Neal and Gathers. Shaq blocked Gathers’ first five shots (O’Neal ended up with 12 blocks, along with 20 points and 24 rebounds), but Gathers and the Lions were undeterred.
Gathers ended up scoring 48 points on 20-of-35 shooting, while Kimble had 32. Two other LMU players had more than 20 points, while Jackson led the Tigers with 34 before fouling out in overtime.
Kimble said the game was thrilling to him as a player because he knew the stands were filled with NBA scouts.
“That game was one that stood out because we were going against Chris and Shaq and the challenge of him going against Hank,” Kimble said. “He showed the kind of player he would have been.”
Gathers died a month later, on March 4, after collapsing on LMU’s home court in the West Coast Conference tournament final against Portland because of a heart condition.
Today, Kimble runs a Philadelphia-area foundation dedicated to providing heart testing for children.
LMU almost pulled out the game in regulation with the score tied at 134, but Terrell Lowery missed the front end of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left. Gathers scored the first two baskets in overtime, but LSU went back up 139-138 with 2:25 left on a shot by Roberts and never trailed again.
Toups, by the way, still has the game’s two pages from that season’s scorebook — the ones with all the extra little squares on them, from the epic he barely got to watch.