BCI Basketball writer, "Coach" John Fidler, analyzes the final play of the game in the Eagles loss at NC State.
It would be too simple to say that BC lost its 17th consecutive ACC contest because of the inability to defend an underneath out of bounds play with just 1.1 seconds on the clock, allowing the home standing NC State Wolfpack to escape with a 73-72 win. The Eagles shot just 50% from the free throw line for the game, while coughing up a 13 point first half lead and a 7 point second half lead with just 5:36 left in the game. They also failed to defend the three point line most of the night, allowing the Pack to shoot 8-17 from behind the arc, as well as over 50% in total from the field.
The truth is that NC State didn't really show up to play last night. When Hyde Park born Abdul-Malik Abu jump started the Pack by scoring the team's first 11 points, State seemed to lose focus. The Eagles punished them in transition, generated turnovers for scores, while limiting their own miscues and even wound up plus 10 for the game in points in the paint.
Perhaps for the first time all year in an ACC contest, Boston College deserved to win. But we know that didn't happen and the lasting memory of the game will be the Eagles hanging their heads or staring blindly off into space after State's Maverick Rowan converted a naked layup at the game's death.
So what happened on that fateful last second to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Let's take a look.
First let's talk about situational basketball. Coaches work on situations all the time. We would work each day on a different situation, whether it be a time/score scenario (one team up 2 with 30 seconds left for instance) or defending or executing end of game plays, you try to cover as much as you can and make sure your team is comfortable when similar situations arise.
I had a rule that we never ran anything we didn't practice in advance. We would actually practice timeouts and it was obvious when you would draw something up on a whiteboard and then send them out to execute and it would fail, that you were far better off running something that you had practiced all the time and were confident in. Game slippage, the difference in how you execute in practice versus how it comes out in a game, under all the pressure a game brings, is another major factor in sticking with the known.
Unfortunately of course, you can't cover everything and with an inexperienced team, the ability for them to properly respond when those plays arise is just less likely and such was the case last night.
So last night, the ball went out of bounds off Sammy Barnes-Thompkins with 1.1 seconds remaining. Both coaches got free time outs while the officials reviewed the call to determine possession and both had decisions to make. Neither would walk back out to the court with a time out in their pocket, so what they had to get across needed to be done right then and there.
The Eagles decided to come out in man to man, rather than zone. Interesting in that with just 1.1 seconds left, it probably would have given them a better chance to defend the rim and force the shot to come from the outside if in zone.
Defending underneath out of bounds plays is not easy. The NBA limits the locations that teams can run under OB sets for that reason. All players (except in most cases, the person covering the inbounder) actually have their backs to the ball and coaches have a library of these offensive sets they can pull out when needed.
Time was another big factor. When we taught end of game situations, we said that every action you take accounts for 1 second. A dribble, a second, a shot, a second, a pass, a second. So if you had four seconds left, you had four actions that you could take. Generally actions take a bit less than a second, but it is a good guideline. In this case, with 1.1 seconds left, there was really only time for one action. BC would not lose on an offensive rebound put back and it also meant that the inbounder, so frequently a player that would receive a screen for a shot, would not be the one involved in the actual shot this time.
When you watch the replay, it is nature to watch it in a big picture sense, but if you do that, it all goes so fast that the details get overlooked. Try to watch each player individually and then you will be able to piece it together easier.
I will say that in the last 24 hours, I have watched this probably 100 times and although it's discouraging, it was not a simple play to defend.
Wow. N.C. State wins at the buzzer as Boston College nearly won its first ACC game of the season. https://t.co/muE2WhjorJ— Andy Wittry (@AndyWittry) March 3, 2016
Let's look at each Eagle defender and their role (or what should have been their roles) in defending the NC State OOB play starting with where they aligned.
Sammy Barnes-Thompkins covered the inbounder, Caleb Martin. His role, similar to a hockey player or soccer player was to defend the back post. There is no way that the ball should go past him to the opposite block, which of course was exactly where it wound up going. He needs to make sure the ball goes to the short side and preferably outside the paint. The Pack using Martin in this role, seemingly helps BC as he and Rowan had been hot behind the three point arc, so it took one major scoring option out of play.
Eli Carter covers Cat Barber, who is at the elbow opposite ball side. In his post game press conference, Mark Gottfried states the play originally was for Barber to dive to the rim on that side, but if not open to come off the double screen on the ball side.
Jerome Robinson covers Maverick Rowan, the eventual scorer. He starts lined up to the outside of Rowan, and then wiggles his way in between Rowan and Beejay Anya just as the play commences. It appears that he setup outside by design to potentially help if Barber came off the double screen on that side.
Dennis Clifford is in front of Robinson covering Beejay Anya with Garland Owens in front of him covering Cody Martin.
As the play starts, Barber dives to the basket and immediately puts Carter on skates. Barnes-Thompkins who one could make the case should be defending the ball and under the rim, angling the ball outside, hedges on the Barber cut and sends him off the double screen opposite.
Robinson does a nice job wedging himself between Rowan and Anya, and looks like he is now in position to deal with Rowan's cut should he make one.
Then the fun begins.
With just a second left, covering "your man" is far less important than covering someone. It is one of the reasons that in general switching all screens in this situation is the way to go and I am pretty sure that would have been covered in the Eagle huddle before the play.
The question is what do you do if there is an exchange? In theory, the rules should have stayed the same..any time two players cross in any manner, it's a switch.
Rowan never screens for Barber he simply delays his cut to the basket a split second and the two exchange. I really believe if Rowan screened and then cut, the Eagles would have defended this successfully, but the two players moving at virtually the same time created some chaos.
It appears that Robinson was told to stick with Rowan.
Carter doesn't quite know how to react, primarily because he loses his balance and forces Garland Owens to hedge off Cody Martin to defend Barber now in the ball side corner. The more I watched this, I am not so sure that the Owens hedge out to Barber, wasn't intentional.
Robinson believes that Barnes-Thompkins has him protected and slows down just an instant as Sammy steps over to defend Martin who was left open by Owens, which opens up the passing lane and the winning basket is scored.
So what should have happened?
Barnes-Thompkins should have stayed planted under the rim at all cost to keep any pass from entering the lane. I would have had him facing the ball and not with his back to it. Stop the ball and all would have been fine.
Robinson should have been the hedge man for Barber coming off that exchange. The hedge on a double screen or staggered double screen situations always comes from the man furthest away from the basket. In this case, with Owens hedging out on Barber, if Rowan wasn't open, watch Martin step right down the lane, he would have been. How much Carter's footwork made Robinson stick with Rowan or how the stagger of the two cuts impacted their decision would be really interesting to hear.
When Rowan and Barber cross, Robinson would have picked up Barber and Carter would have had Rowan. Anya and Clifford essentially never move, although the case could have been made that Clifford could have dropped further down to allow more coverage around the rim instead of having Clifford become part of the double screen.
All in 1.1 seconds.