Just when it appeared each’s team had punched tickets for Tuesday’s District 1-AAA championship game, Dobyns-Bennett’s Makale Foreman and Tennessee High’s Caleb Easterling forced overtime with dramatic 3-pointers after Crockett and the Hilltoppers elected not to foul.
Subsequently, the surreal back-to-back finishes left the Indians and Vikings paired up in the title game, and Science Hill and Crockett with the consolation of first-round road games in the regional tournament.
The endings were almost identical. Dustin Day hit two free throws to put Crockett up 71-68 with 8.7 seconds left. Calvin Songster hit two free throws to give Science Hill a 46-43 lead with 12.4 seconds remaining.
At this point, the dejected Cutlip and Good said afterward, they thought they should’ve instructed players to foul intentionally when the clock was near zero.
“Last Friday against Greeneville in a similar situation we were supposed to foul and, you know, we just didn’t do it,” Cutlip said. “But tonight, that’s all on me. … I wanted to foul … and I didn’t make the call right there. I didn’t put our kids in position. I didn’t tell them to foul until it’s on the other end and I’m trying to get us to foul at the point when it gets down to three or four seconds. But I mean, our kids can’t hear me at that point. … We should’ve fouled, especially when they took so long. ...
“I didn’t take care of our team in that situation – take care of our players. So I’m highly disappointed in myself but extremely proud of our players.”
Hindsight offers a better vantage point, of course, but even it doesn’t always offer clear answers.
“I thought about it (fouling),” Good said, “but it’s kind of iffy if they get it down too far and they’re in the act of shooting and they, you know – you never know if we’re gonna foul when we’re supposed to. But that’s on me. I should’ve – the kids didn’t lose the game; I did.”
What really fouled things up were the difficult shots Foreman and Easterling hit. Easterling hit a deep one from the left wing with 3.5 seconds remaining. Foreman beat the buzzer with a difficult shot beyond the top of the key.
“Instantly, I think, it was kind of like you go from elation to deflation,” Good said. “But we shouldn’t have been in that situation. That’s on me.”
Dobyns-Bennett coach Charlie Morgan and Tennessee High’s Roby Witcher can empathize with Cutlip and Good, and they understand their waffling on any strategy or lack thereof. However, neither appeared convinced they would’ve done anything differently.
“John’s a very good coach,” Morgan said, “and we always second-guess ourselves as coaches.”
Would Morgan have called a timeout after a free throw put his team up three points and given his players specific time/foul instruction?
Morgan was reminded how much he doesn’t like calling timeouts while leading in the final seconds after Syracuse’s buzzer-beating win against Pittsburgh last week. Pittsburgh hit two free throws to take a one-point lead with 4.4 seconds to play.
“The other night in the Pittsburgh game I debated that,” Morgan said. “There was four-point something on the clock and I’m thinking no, I wouldn’t call a timeout. I’m sitting there watching the game (thinking) I’m not gonna call a timeout.
“(Syracuse coach Jim) Boeheim didn’t have a timeout. And then (Pittsburgh coach Jamie) Dixon calls that timeout, and all you need is that little bit of time. And I felt like it gave them (Syracuse) time to set something up. And they did, and they knocked it down.”
The end of Tennessee High-Science Hill, Witcher noted, was an argument for not fouling.
Science Hill trailed Tennessee High 52-48 with 1.9 seconds left in overtime. The Hilltoppers’ Kaden Wampler made the first of two free throws and Daniel Sweeney tipped in the second miss at the buzzer to make the final 52-51. Yes, it was anticlimatic, but nevertheless, it was three points in 1.9 seconds.
“You see what happens right there,” Witcher said. “They made the one, missed it and tipped it back in.”
Percentage-wise, the proverbial book says, you’re less likely to lose from that scenario than you are letting a player shoot a 3-pointer in the final few seconds. But fouling late, especially when you factor in the possibility of it being ruled in the act of shooting, is far from an exact science.
Ticking clocks and racing minds wreck a lot of would-be wins.
Witcher watched the end of D-B and Crockett, and perhaps somewhat reluctantly, decided he would foul in the same scenario. Well, let’s say he definitely might have.
“We were watching that game and you think about things like that,” Witcher said. “But man, I hate to put somebody on the line with the clock stopped. I just hate to do it.”
So if Tennessee High’s up three against Dobyns-Bennett on Tuesday with five seconds or fewer remaining, will Witcher instruct his players to foul?
“I’m gonna tell you I’m gonna feel really good if we’re up three with five seconds to go on D-B, and I’ll have to think about that question between now and then,” Witcher said through a smile. “But I want to have that decision to make.”