With 17 seconds to go on Tuesday night in Providence, the Friars had the basketball down 3 against Marquette. The game was already in double-overtime and had featured an incredible number of big shots, not to mention a 75-foot heave that won the game for Marquette, only to be waved off after a video review. Providence attacked the rim with LaDontae Henton and got a basket with about 10 seconds to play and quickly called time out - their last time out - to set their defense.
Marquette led by 1 with the ball and had to get it in against Providence's pressure. They got it in to one of their best free throw shooters, Jake Thomas, who then made a huge mistake, one that you see a lot in this situation - he assumed he was going to get fouled. He simply smothered the ball in his gut and held onto it, waiting to get it. But Providence didn't foul right away, they went for the tie up and they got it. Jump ball, and Providence had the possession arrow (I wonder if Marquette talked about who had the arrow in their huddle - important information that is often not discussed). After the game the Providence coaching staff said they told the officials they were not going to foul right away - to keep them from anticipating a quick foul when they were trying to get a steal. An interesting approach that many officials appreciate but some aren't too fond of (you aren't supposed to foul intentionally according to the rules, so telling the officials when you are going to can create an issue). Providence's strategy was risky with less than 10 seconds to play, but it worked perfectly and they got the ball back.
One of the things we discuss when handling pressure in our time and score package is not to anticipate getting fouled. We tell our guys not to "turtle" on top of the ball and just wait for the whistle. We won a semi-final game two years ago in our league tournament in a similar situation, where we trapped the corner right away with 10 seconds left but made sure not to foul. The ball-handler thought we were just going to foul him and traveled. We got the ball back and won the game. You can't anticipate the foul on offense for two reasons - one, they might not foul you, and two, they might foul you and the refs might not call it. You have to be ready to play and beat the pressure, and if they foul you great.
So PC was getting the ball back with 10 seconds to go under the basket. PC was out of time outs and Marquette had 2 left. This is where I think Marquette made a second crucial mistake in not calling time out. I get the idea that your opponent has none left and you don't want to give them a chance to set up a play. A few weeks ago both Jamie Dixon and Steve Donahue were criticized for taking time outs with a lead late in a game they were leading when their opponent had none left. An argument can be made that you don't want to help the opposing team in that spot, but I'm not buying it. Your concern has to be with your team and what they need.
I'm always of the belief that if both teams are set and prepared, the defense has the advantage. I'd much prefer to use our time outs when we are going on defense as opposed to offense, because I think the offense has the advantage in a scramble or transition situation. When we score a basket late in a game we are usually calling time out to set our defense, and when our opponent scores we usually are not. We want our offense to attack a defense that isn't set.
But there's another reason why I think Marquette should have called time out in that spot. The game had just changed drastically. You went from up 1 with the basketball, where all you had to do was get it in and handle it and you'd be shooting free throws to put the game away, to defending a baseline out of bounds situation where a basket could lose you the game. You went from being in complete control to being in a bit of a panic situation. I want to settle my kids down and reset their mentality, and make sure they know all we need is a stop and we are going to win the game.
Anytime the game changes dramatically in a short period of time late in the game I want to slow the game down and make sure my guys are aware of the situation. Especially if we are on defense. If we are up 2 with the basketball and we score to go up 4 in the last 30 seconds, I'm calling time out. Being up 2 and being up 4 are very different in that spot. If we are down 1 and we score to go up 1, I'm calling time out. The game changes, and it's hard for guys to process everything while trying to move on to the next play.
Marquette did not call time out, and PC struggled to get the ball in at first. They threw a lob out to their point guard Bryce Cotton and as he jumped to grab it he was undercut by a defender who was also trying to get to the basketball. It was an obvious foul and the refs had to call it. Cotton made both free throws, Marquette missed a shot at the buzzer and PC stole the win.
Time outs late in a game can be tricky and there are always arguments made on both sides.
I'm a believer in calling a time out to make sure your defense is set, and certainly in a situation where your team needs to settle down. But it's important as a coach to think about where you stand before you get into that situation -trying to make that decision on the fly with the pressure on is tough to do. Thinking about your approach ahead of time will allow you to make a clearer decision.