Anyone who has ever played basketball knows you never leave the practice court without beating the buzzer. ¶ The imaginary countdown begins — over and over if necessary. It might be a weave through defenders the length of the floor. A halfcourt heave. A 3-point bomb or pull-up jumper. ¶ It always ends the same way: the ball dropping through the net, an opponent collapsing in defeat. ¶ But when you make that shot at the NCAA Tournament — the way Western Kentucky's Ty Rogers and San Diego's De'Jon Jackson did Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum — that's how memories are made. ¶ In each case, those last-second heroics in overtime were not just the result of great individual efforts. They took planning, practice and precision long before the teams made it to the tournament. ¶ And, oh yes, they also took a great deal of faith. But then, Cinderella always knew how to beat the clock.
Western Kentucky 101, Drake 99
Hilltoppers guard Tyrone Brazelton was having a great game. He led his team with 33 points and was just as effective from behind the arc or driving to the basket. Trailing by a point, coach Darrin Horn wanted to make sure the ball was in the hands of his best player, so he had Rogers inbounds the ball under Drake's basket to Brazelton.
During the timeout, Rogers reminded Brazelton that he would be trailing the play as he pushed it down court.
"In general (Friday) night it was more of a situation where we wanted to go with a philosophy of how we wanted to attack it vs. a set play," Horn said. "The idea was to get Tyrone the basketball. He's a young man that can get up and down the floor in a real hurry. Six seconds is an awful lot of time. Let him get as close to the rim as he could. And if he couldn't, that meant somebody was open to kick it out."
Brazelton penetrated the right side of the key, flipping the ball backward to Rogers with about 1.5 seconds left. With two defenders in his face from about 27 feet, Rogers swished the shot as the horn sounded.
Former Indiana coach Bob Knight, working as an ESPN analyst, made the point Friday night that 999 times out of 1,000, the guard in that situation keeps the ball and takes the shot.
"I think it's mostly Tyrone," Horn said. "I think we told our guys in the huddle that, yes, there is a play, but players make plays and that's what we need to do right now. He's a special player.
"It took an awful lot of faith for Tyrone to flip that shot back to his teammate. I think what it showed also was a lot of trust."
San Diego 70, Connecticut 69
In a perfect world, San Diego coach Bill Grier prefers to keep the basketball and the outcome of the game in the hands of guard Brandon Johnson. Or at the very least, create a play to give Gyno Pomare — 10-of-12 from the field Friday — the final shot.
But both players had fouled out in overtime, forcing Grier to design a play for Jackson.
Trailing by one point with the ball at midcourt, Grier called for Jackson to start beneath the basket and rub his defender off screens by either Rob Jones or Clinton Houston to take the inbounds pass from Devin Ginty. Normally, this is a play the Toreros run for Johnson, but Grier said he had just as much confidence in Jackson, who was just 1-for-7 shooting in the game.
"I really have a lot of confidence in both Brandon and Gyno," Grier said. "They've both hit big shots or game-winning shots in several games. You know, I like having the ball in Brandon's hands. Just his ability to create his own shot. But I also had a lot of confidence in De'Jon (Friday). The set we ran is a set we've run for him several times throughout the course of the year, and he's delivered on that on a fairly regular basis."
Jackson circled off Rob Johnson's screen, took the pass and dribbled down the right sideline. The plan was to take the ball to the basket and either make the shot or draw a foul. But he noticed 7-foot-3 UConn center Hasheem Thabeet waiting in the paint. So Jackson pulled up from 17 feet and hit a shot over the outstretched arm of Stanley Robinson with 1.2 seconds left.
"Actually, we do practice plays like that every once in a while," Jackson said. "It usually is Brandon who has the ball or coming off a screen, so this time it was me. So I went out there and executed. But coach does have everybody prepared for plays like this."