Brandon Rutledge couldn't take his eyes off the scoreboard in the gym at Brookwood High School. A 6'8" junior on the Bibb County basketball team, Rutledge had just played every minute of the game. Yet he felt as fresh as he had before the opening tip, and his uniform didn't have a drip of sweat on it—even though he had scored every single point in the game.
Walking off the court, he marveled at the numbers that were frozen on the scoreboard: Bibb County 2, Brookwood High 0. Earlier in the season, Brookwood had beaten Bibb County 40-36.
"I just couldn't believe what I was seeing, that the final score was 2-0," said Rutledge. "People were coming up to me laughing and saying I was the MVP, but I was just in shock."
So were the fans who sat through the game last Saturday in the bandbox of a gym at Brookwood that tied a national record for the lowest-scoring high school basketball game in recorded history. The last time a game ended 2-0 was in 1977.
"That really wasn't a basketball game," said Ricky Bush, the athletic director at Brookwood, of the game that was played per Alabama high school rules without a shot clock. "It was a battle of wills."
Indeed it was. In the locker room before tipoff, Brookwood coach Thad Fitzpatrick told his players he was going to try to rest them as much as possible. This was going to be their fourth game in a week, and many of the players had suffered cramps in the fourth quarter the previous night.
After winning the tipoff, a Bibb County guard launched a three-pointer. It was off the mark, but Rutledge grabbed the rebound and scored. Fifteen seconds had ticked off the clock. "At that point, I figured the game would be in the 50s," said Rutledge.
Brookwood then began running its Princeton-style motion offense, full of cuts, screens and picks. But the Brookwood players weren't cutting to the rim.
"I could see that they really weren't trying to score," said Bibb County coach Russ Wallace, "so I told my kids to back it off and play a zone. I didn't want to get worn down chasing after them."
Fitzpatrick then instructed his point guard, Zach Lee, a 6'2" senior, to merely hold the ball. "I wanted to get them out of that zone," the Brookwood coach said. "I wasn't going to let them dictate the game."
Yet Wallace was happy to have his players sit back in the zone. He held the lead and stood his ground.
"At first I thought he was joking around," Wallace said of Fitzpatrick. "I mean, he doesn't have the lead, and he's sitting on the ball. I thought, 'Certainly he's not going to do this for the entire game.'"
Wallace underestimated Fitzpatrick’s resolve. After Brookwood missed a shot at the end of the first quarter, it got the ball to start the second quarter. Again, Lee simply stood with the ball in his hands for virtually the entire eight minutes until Brookwood attempted another shot—it clanked off the rim—just before the halftime buzzer sounded.
In the locker room, Wallace told his players, "Two can play at this game." After receiving the ball to start the third quarter, Wallace instructed his point guard to hold it some 30 feet from the basket as Brookwood hunkered down in a zone defense.
At this point, most of the 200 fans in attendance began yelling for the teams to play, some using the bluest of language, hurling their words like sharpened spears. Other fans began looking at their phones. Fitzpatrick, strolling the sidelines, sang to himself to pass the time.
Bibb County missed a shot at the end of the third quarter. Brookwood, trailing 2-0, received the ball to start the fourth. Point guard Lee cradled the ball in his arms near midcourt. A fourth standoff ensued.
"It was really awkward just standing there with the ball," Lee said. "I was watching the defense to see if they'd come after me, and they never did. I was just following orders from Coach."
At this point, with the clock running down, a few of the fans realized they might be witnessing history for scoring futility. Dozens pulled out their phones and began recording the game for posterity.
With about 15 seconds to play, Brookwood turned the ball over. Bibb County’s Rutledge then tried to dunk but lost control when he went to the rim.
"I was fouled, but the referee missed it," said Rutledge. "He was probably asleep, which was kind of understandable."
With one second remaining, Brookwood's Dave Jenkins launched a 30-foot shot. The buzzer blared. Jenkins, a sophomore, takes this shot every day and makes about half of these long-range bombs in practice. Alas, this one hit the backboard and dropped to the floor.
Fitzpatrick, the losing coach, walked into the locker room with a smile on his face. This is a glass-half-full man who smiles when he walks in rain.
"Think of it this way," he told his players. "We held them to two points! Two! What more could you possibly ask for?"
In the other locker room, Wallace emphasized to his players that they had done something he had never dreamed possible: They had shut out the opposing team.
"This adds more fuel to the fire that we need a shot clock in high school ball in Alabama," Wallace said. "I think the world of Coach Fitzpatrick, but I think his ego got the best of him. It got to the point where it was just comical and not basketball."
A few days later, Wallace received a text message from Michael Williams, an offensive tackle for the Detroit Lions whom Wallace had coached in high school. Williams' words summed up what everyone who was in attendance was surely thinking as they left the gym at Brookwood and drove into the Alabama night: "Really, Coach, 2-0? Really?"