With 13 seconds remaining in Penn State’s basketball game against Wisconsin on Monday night, Badgers freshman Aleem Forward missed the first free throw of a one-and-one opportunity, giving the Nittany Lions a chance to win the game.
Naturally, they put the ball in the hands of Tony Carr, unquestionably the team’s best player and the guy who everyone expects to have the ball in critical situations. Even though Penn State was down by just a point, Carr ended up settling for a three-point shot. The attempt was off the mark, and the Lions saw their comeback fall short in a 64-63 defeat.
It was a great effort by Penn State to battle back from 17 points down in the final 10 minutes, but many of the questions after the game focused on the final play. Should Carr have known better and played to his strengths by taking his defender off the dribble? Did Pat Chambers think about calling a time out to better organize his players and draw up a better play? Here’s what the coach had to say after the game.
I did not, and for a couple reasons why. You have the ball in your best player’s hand and they are converting. So they don’t know who they are guarding. So you got 21 [Khalil Iverson] on Tony Carr and he typically guards Lamar [Stevens]. So I liked our chances, and I liked what we saw. In breaking film down, because we discussed this before the free throw, if Tony can get the ball let's give him a push and see what he can do. I thought we had the right matchup and Tony made that decision. He is shooting incredibly from the three-point line this season, maybe not tonight, but this season. So I had to trust that decision, but if you call a timeout there, there is a chance. Because in the UCLA game, they doubled the point guard. They took the point guard away and that’s what we brought up, but I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to make sure that he had the ball in his hands. So I like what we had there, and again, I thought we executed down the stretch exactly the way we needed too in order to give ourselves a chance to win. We can’t look at that last possession because we gave up rebounds on the free throw line situations, we turned the ball over, we missed layups, and we had poor rotations. This team can get a heck of a lot better.
That explanation might not be enough to convince some fans that Chambers made the right move. After all, the play didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. On the other hand, Chambers’s response shows that he did his research and thought critically about the end-of-game scenario. Maybe after a timeout, Chambers draws up a great play and the game ends with another Mike Watkins dunk. There’s also the chance that Wisconsin doubles the point guard like Chambers said and we end up with an even bigger mess than we got.
Either way, it’s good to see that Chambers was ready for the situation, made a decision, and stuck with it. It’s not as though he forgot he had a timeout or didn’t have knowledge of Wisconsin’s defensive tendencies. The final play didn’t work out for the Nittany Lions on Monday night, but thanks to Chambers’s explanation, fans should have a little more confidence that the next close game will end in Penn State’s favor.