college basketball

The lowest scoring games in March Madness history

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Ryan Murphy

March 16th, 2022

If there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that anything can happen during March Madness. That includes game-winning 3-pointers heaved from half-court, title-sealing blocks at the buzzer, and No. 11 seeds waltzing all the way to the Final Four. It also includes defensive slugfests where both teams struggle to score 50 points combined.

Although the most memorable NCAA Tournament games are real barn burners, there are plenty of instances of matches where the scorekeepers didn’t even need to show up. We’ve examined every single tournament game played since 1939 (yes, we have that kind of times on our hands), and have come up with the definitive list of the top five lowest scoring games in March Madness history.

5. USC 38, Colorado 32 (1940)

The NCAA didn’t adopt the shot clock until the 1984-85 season, so it should come as no surprise that the first game on our list occurred in 1940, when players could quite literally sit on the ball to kill time when their team had the lead. That, and an inability to hit the broadside of a barn, contributed to a sluggish game in which the Trojans and Buffaloes combined to score just 70 points. By contrast, there were 203 teams in NCAA Division I this season that averaged 70 points per game all on their own.

4. Indiana 39, Duquesne 30 (1940)

We’re sticking with the 1940 tournament for our second selection. Indiana and Duquesne participated in a borderline unwatchable game on March 23 that year when the two teams missed 77% of their field goal attempts and combined to score just 69 points. Bill Menke led the way with a "blistering" 10 points, and the Hoosiers went on to win the tournament with an emphatic 60-42 victory over Kansas.

3. Wisconsin 36, Pittsburgh 30 (1941)

It’s onto 1941 for the third game on our list between Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. Records for the precise number of field goal attempts for this game no longer exist, but it’s safe to say the Badgers and Panthers missed from nearly every conceivable spot on the court as they combined to make just 22 shots. Wisconsin mustered just a wee bit more offense in the championship game one week later to pull out an uncomfortably close 39-34 win over Washington State.

2. Duquesne 30, Western Kentucky 29 (1940)

Yup, it’s Duquesne again. The Dukes only managed to score 30 points for the second time in the tournament, but this time around it was enough as Bill Lacey & Co. edged out the Hilltoppers by a single point. Every member of Duquesne’s six-man rotation cracked the scoresheet, while only three Western Kentucky players found the bottom of the net.

1. Pittsburgh 26, North Carolina 20 (1941)

Fans expecting a high-scoring affair between Pittsburgh and UNC on March 21, 1941 must have left the Wisconsin Field House deeply disappointed. The score at halftime was just 12-8 in favor of the Tar Heels, as both teams threw up enough bricks to build a schoolhouse. By the time the final whistle mercifully blew, the two clubs had combined to make just 18 field goals and collectively shot 13.4% from the floor. The Panthers came up short in their next game in the Regional Finals, but the program's players enjoyed a much more meaningful victory four years later after every single member of the 1941 team served their country in WWII.