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February 14, 2013

Twenty-five years ago, Virginia Tech and Southern Miss combined for 274 points in a breathless, frenetic, up-and-down-the-court classic that set a Cassell Coliseum scoring mark and today remains the . . . HIGHEST-SCORING GAME IN TECH HISTORY

By: Jimmy Robertson

Bimbo Coles

It was the winter of 1988, and both Louisville and Memphis State dominated Metro Conference basketball attention. It was the era of great players like Louisville’s Pervis Ellison and Memphis State’s Elliot Perry, with their high-profile, well-known coaches Denny Crum and Larry Finch.

So many expected just another ordinary conference game when Tech and Southern Miss got together on a February afternoon at Cassell Coliseum. But the two programs were out to make points:

Literally and figuratively.

On a chilly Saturday afternoon, the game between the Hokies and the Golden Eagles turned into a near four-hour sprint that bordered on insanity. Points were scored at a dizzying pace, and the wild action left players, coaches and fans exhausted at its conclusion.

It also left those in attendance near speechless. Words used to describe the game were “terrific,” “awesome,” “unbelievable,” and “great.” Yet those adjectives fail miserably to capture a performance that saw at least 13 records fall and one that has never been duplicated. In fact, no Tech team has come close.

On Feb. 6, 1988, the Hokies outlasted Southern Miss 141-133 in double overtime. The game turned out to be the highest-scoring game in Tech history.

Twenty-five years later, it still is – and the records set that day, quite honestly, may never be broken.


Heading into the season, expectations for the 1987-88 Tech basketball team were tempered for numerous reasons. For starters, the 1986-87 season ranked as the worst in 32 years, as the Hokies finished with a 10-18 mark – their worst record since the 1954-55 season.

Making matters worse at that time, an NCAA investigation into the Tech basketball program dug up nine violations, and that led to a two-year postseason ban. Charlie Moir, Tech’s head coach, resigned on Oct. 2, 1987, even though he had been cleared of any wrongdoing. Tech’s interim AD, Raymond Smoot, named Frankie Allen the interim coach. Allen became the first African-American head coach of a major Division I sport in the state’s history.

So entering the 1987-88 season, Tech had a young team with no hopes of making it to postseason play, playing under a first-time head coach.

“We were picked last,” said Allen, now in his fourth season as the head coach at Maryland Eastern Shore. “I was an interim kid, and I was just trying to get kids to go out and play at a high level and play with some enthusiasm.”

Allen refused to use the turmoil within the department as an excuse. He promised an up-tempo attack. His squad was young, but they were also athletic, and they possessed the pieces to be an effective, pressing team.

Steady junior Quinton Nottingham stabilized the group, but sophomore guard Bimbo Coles and redshirt junior Wally Lancaster provided the scoring punch. Redshirt sophomore Greg Brink spearheaded the press, and 6-foot-11 senior Roy Brow manned the back end, with his shot-blocking prowess. Tim Anderson, a 6-6 junior, flourished as a defensive stopper.

Greg Brink

In short, Allen’s group was going to get up and down the court at a rapid pace. They were going to be fun to watch, regardless of a game’s outcome.

“The players that we had fit into that style of play,” Allen said. “We really played to our strengths.”

Despite the low expectations, Allen’s team bought into his philosophy, and the Hokies started winning. They downed Southern California early that season, and a few weeks later, shocked then-No. 14 Georgetown 87-82 in Hampton, Va. They also beat West Virginia, Memphis State, Virginia and Florida State.

All told, they entered the Feb. 6 game against Southern Miss with a 14-6 overall record and a 3-3 mark in Metro Conference play.

“What people don’t understand is players don’t listen to expectations,” said Nottingham, who now works as an associate professor of business information technology at Tech. “You’ve still got to play the games, and there’s not a single player in America who says you’ve got to mail it in. Everyone else says you can. We had a new coach and a new style of offense, and the players bought into it.”


The funny thing about the Tech-Southern Miss score-fest was that arguably the biggest play of the game came on the defensive end in the first overtime.

That seems hard to believe considering the volume of points scored. Of course, it seems hard to believe that the game got to that point considering the Hokies nearly got blown out in the first half.

The Golden Eagles quieted the sellout crowd of 10,000 Tech fans by jumping out to an 18-point, first-half lead. Lancaster kept the Hokies in it, scoring 25 points in the first 20 minutes. But Tech trailed by 14 at the break – 62-48.

“The biggest memory is us being down so much at halftime and going in thinking, ‘We’re down so many points. What are we going to do?’” said Coles, who runs a Crossfit Box and two fitness centers in Lewisburg, W.Va. “We just had a heart-to-heart at halftime and said, ‘All right, let’s go.’ We came out and were all over the place the rest of the night.”

The Hokies looked to be in trouble, though. Just a few weeks earlier, the Golden Eagles blew out Tech in Hattiesburg, Miss., by a 127-102 count. At the time, the 127 points tied for the most ever allowed by a Tech team.

This time around, with 19 minutes left in the game, the Hokies trailed by 18, but they rallied down the stretch and had a 110-108 lead in the waning moments. With 14 seconds left, Lancaster picked up his fourth foul with a push of John White, who buried both free throws – two of his 41 points – to tie the game at 110. The game then went into overtime.

Lancaster fouled out at the 3:33 mark of the first overtime, with the Hokies trailing by two. The redshirt junior scored a career-high 39 points, hitting 13 of 29 from the floor, including five 3-pointers.

Without Lancaster, Tech still managed to retake the lead. In fact, the Hokies led 122-117 with 52 seconds left following two free throws by Coles. But the Golden Eagles rallied, as White buried a long 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining, and after Coles missed a free throw, Casey Fisher hit a jumper with 20 seconds left to tie it at 122.

Wally Lancaster

Fisher then nearly won it for Southern Miss in the final seconds. He picked Coles clean at the free-throw line and drove toward the basket. But Nottingham prevented Fisher from getting to the goal, and Coles ran back and dove at Fisher, knocking the ball away from him along the sideline.

“I prevented Casey Fisher from going to the basket, and Bimbo was behind him,” Nottingham said. “He (Coles) dove on the sideline. That was big, but for us, diving on the floor was what we were doing that year. In the beginning of the season, we had more knee scrapes, and we started wearing kneepads. We just wanted to press and run, and wanted to get the ball out and go.

“That was a great effort on Bimbo’s part, but from the players’ perspective, we were all diving all over the place all the time.”

Southern Miss inbounded the ball, but didn’t get off a shot. So off things went to a second overtime.

In the second overtime, Coles took over, as the Hokies opened the overtime with a 12-4 run. Southern Miss got no closer than six, and Coles scored seven of Tech’s 19 points in that second overtime.

Coles finished with a career-high 51 points – just one short of Allan Bristow’s single-game record of 52 points (vs. George Washington in 1973). Thirty-nine of those points came in the second half and the two overtimes and 10 came after Lancaster fouled out. Coles hit 16 of 30 from the floor for the game, including a 3-pointer. He made 18 of 27 from the free-throw line. For good measure, he dished out 11 assists, thus accounting for 73 of the Hokies’ 141 points.

“Wally actually got the player of the game, and I ended up with 51,” Coles said, laughing. “But he actually had a better game than I did. After he fouled out, my points just kept adding and adding and adding. Someone who outplayed me doesn’t get as much recognition because I had 51 and he had 39.”


By the time the sweat had dried and the nets had cooled, Tech and Southern Miss had combined to smash at least 13 Tech and Metro Conference records, according to the Feb. 9, 1988 issue of the Hokie Huddler. The Hokies’ 141 points served as the most scored by Tech in a single game, and also the most by a Metro Conference team both in a game and in a Metro game. The 274 points combined were the most by two teams in a Metro game.

Coles’ 51 points were the most by a player in a Metro game. He and Lancaster combined for 90 points – the most by two players in a Tech game.

“Wow,” Nottingham said, laughing, when asked what he was thinking after the game. “But I didn’t think much about the history of it.

“The style of play now, even though some teams are up-tempo, they still make a lot of passes. We probably didn’t make 10 passes a possession. We had no issues with the shot clock. I remember playing Marquette that year – or maybe it was the next year – and we had almost 100 shots. That’s unheard of, but that’s how we played.”

Twenty-five years later, many of the records from the Tech-Southern Miss game still stand, and given today’s style of basketball, those records may stand another 25 years – or longer. In fact, Tech and Duquesne combined for 224 points in an NIT double overtime affair at Cassell in 2009, but still came 50 points shy of the mark set in the 1988 Tech-Southern Miss game.

“I don’t see it broken any time soon with the way people play,” Allen said. “Connecticut and Syracuse played six overtimes, and I don’t know if they got to 274 (the two scored 244). It’s going to take two teams playing well and playing at a high level, and playing an up-tempo style. I guess you should never say never.”


Game Year Outcome Points Scored
Tech vs. Southern Miss 1988 W, 141-133 (2OT) 274
Tech at Southern Miss 1988 L, 127-102 229
Tech vs. Cincinnati 1988 W, 115-111 226
Tech vs. Duquesne 2009 W, 116-108 (2OT) 224
Tech vs. Virginia* 1989 L, 113-106 (OT) 219
Tech vs. William & Mary 1992 W, 127-92 219
(* Game was played in Richmond.)

The Hokies finished the 1987-88 season with a 19-10 overall record (13-1 at Cassell) and a respectable 6-6 mark in the Metro. Allen received a four-year deal from new AD David Braine to stay as the Hokies’ coach.

The 1987-88 team today remains the highest-scoring team in Tech history, as it averaged 91.2 points per game. Three of the highest-scoring games in the program’s history occurred that season.

Unfortunately, those days are long gone. Today’s college basketball resembles rock fights or taffy pulls. Teams rarely get to 80 points. In fact, at press time, half of ACC teams averaged less than 70 points per game. None averaged 80.

Of course, a lot of the best players are going to the NBA earlier and never seeing their senior seasons, which attributes a lot to the lack of scoring. But Allen thinks there’s a deeper problem.

“Maybe the advent of the 3-point shot has had an effect,” he said. “No one really attacks the basket any more.

“And everyone plays it so close to the vest any more. Everyone wants to control the game from a coaching perspective. Back then, we were an up-tempo team. We just went out and played, and kids loved playing that way. There are more possessions, but now, teams are milking the shot clock and there aren’t as many possessions.”

Regardless, Tech fans in attendance that Saturday afternoon 25 years ago witnessed history. They should cherish the memories for obvious reasons.

The cliché states that, “records are made to be broken.” Yet it’s certainly hard to see any of those records set 25 years ago falling any time soon.