When Bonzie Colson’s three-point shot failed to draw iron and chants of “Air ball!” filled Lahaina Civic Center Wednesday evening from giddy Wichita State fans, it appeared to all but seal the Maui Invitational championship for the Shockers.
Wichita State had the ball, a three-point lead, and 19 ticks left to survive. According to the KenPom web site, the Shockers had a win probability of 97.3 percent in that scenario.
Notre Dame extracted the 2.7-percent miracle to snatch the Maui title away from Wichita State in a 67-66 victory.
Here’s how Wichita State lost the Maui Invitational in less than 20 seconds:
A phenomenal play by Matt Farrell
Following Colson’s airball, Wichita State had Conner Frankamp, probably WSU’s surest passer, make the inbounds pass from the right block underneath his own basket. Notre Dame came out showing its diamond press with a defender on the ball and two defenders on either side of the lane.
Austin Reaves started right of the free-throw line, broke across the court, then came back to Frankamp to receive the pass. It’s important to note that Frankamp had a spot throw, so he couldn’t run the baseline and cut down on the airtime of this pass.
Matt Farrell, Notre Dame’s All-American candidate, was the defender on the left side. When Reaves planted to cut back toward the ball, Farrell was already moving. He broke on the play before Frankamp even released the pass. Reaves caught Frankamp’s pass just outside his body and didn’t sense the oncoming pressure from Farrell.
Farrell picked the right time and the exact right spot to swoop in and go for the steal. With the ball exposed outside of Reaves’ body, Farrell jarred it loose, tip-tooed the baseline for the steal then tossed it back to Colson for the easy bucket.
“I saw (Reaves) cut and I just read it and tried to come from the backside and tip it,” Farrell said. “It worked out. You never give up. You play hard until the horn sounds.”
Wichita State still had the ball and the lead, but now it’s cushion was gone.
The missed front-end free throw
Reaves was part of the three-guard lineup, including Frankamp and Landry Shamet, that closed the game because Gregg Marshall wanted his best free-throw shooters on the floor. After the turnover, the ball once again went to Reaves and this time he was wrapped up in a foul with 13.7 seconds left.
Notre Dame was in the bonus, sending Reaves — a career 78-percent free throw shooter — to the line. Reaves was perfect this season (4 for 4), although he had yet to attempt a foul shot on Wednesday.
Reaves did his usual routine, spin the ball in his left hand, take one dribble, then release. The shot was on target, but long, careening high off the back of the rim and sucked up by Colson to set Notre Dame up for the winning basket.
“Austin Reaves is probably an 80-percent free throw shooter who knocks down free throws routinely and he doesn’t make that one,” Marshall said. “He’s crushed. A lot of guys in that locker room are crushed right now.”
A missed chance at a crucial rebound
Colson fed the ball to Farrell, who pushed the ball upcourt and used a double screen set for him above the arc on the right side. Rashard Kelly was late to hedge the screen, but did just enough to force Farrell a step further outside to delay his foray to the rim.
Zach Brown fought through a screen to remain on Farrell’s hip, as Rauno Nurger dropped off his man to chase the block. Farrell flipped the ball up with his left hand, and Nurger tipped it off the backboard.
Here is where the game could have stayed with Wichita State: Kelly grabs the ball in the air and lands with it, but Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger wraps him up and is awarded the jump-ball call with the possession arrow pointed toward Notre Dame.
Wichita State fans will plead their case that Pflueger fouled Kelly before tying him up, but the referees decided to allow the battle for the rebound to continue. It just so happened to work against Wichita State in this case.
“There are a lot of plays you can point to, but every single play in that game mattered,” Marshall said. “We needed to come away with the rebound at that end without the tie-up.”
Notre Dame would have one last chance with the ball under its own basket trailing 66-65 with 3.3 seconds left.
“Between the steal and the tie-up and the execution in a 20-second window, that’s a lot going on,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. You’ve got to have smart guys to pull that off.”
A missed defensive assignment on the inbounds
The ESPN cameras show Marshall bark out final instructions as Wichita State heads back onto the floor to defend one last time.
“One of the last things I said to them was, ‘Don’t help, guard your man. We belly up and we show our hands and we fight screens,’” Marshall said.
Notre Dame inbounded on the left block and set up Farrell at the top of the key with its two big men, Colson and Martinas Geben, staggered to the left along the perimeter. The play called for Farrell to loop around the double screen to the short corner and clear out, then Colson to follow around a screen from Geben and head to the corner.
“If I’m making shots, you’ve got to chase me off those staggered screens and then we have another one after that,” Farrell said.
It’s a set Notre Dame has run before, but never to set up Geben. The action is designed to shoot its two stars, Farrell and Colson, off screens to the short corner. Those players have a gravitational pull on a defense and sure enough, it ended up being enough misdirection to tempt Geben’s defender, Shaquille Morris in this case, to shuffle sideways to help deny the pass.
That second shuffle was all Pflueger was looking for, as he immediately hit Geben as soon as he rolled open down the middle of the lane. Morris did well to recover and grab Geben’s arm to prevent the sure basket, but Notre Dame now had a pair of free throws with a chance to take the lead.
“Somebody helped and they were smart and looked for that and were able to get it to their big guy, probably the last guy you would expect them to throw it to,” Marshall said.
Brey said it was the first time Notre Dame had allowed the full play to develop and hit Geben on the roll after the screens.
“I kept telling them don’t rush through it, let it develop,” Brey said. “Marty did a great job of diving hard and Rex is great taking the ball out.”
Same bounce, different result
The 6-foot-10 Geben, a senior from Lithuania, was a 76-percent foul shooterne.
The championship was on the line when Geben received the ball, took one dribble, spun the ball in his right hand, bent down, and fired his first shot. The ball struck almost the same part of the back of the rim that Reaves’ shot had found on the other end just minutes earlier.
But instead of bouncing away, Geben’s shot kissed the backboard just soft enough to create the right amount of backspin so that when the ball fell on the front of the rim, the ball was sucked into the basket.
“Divine intervention,” Brey said. “Maybe the lady on the Dome helped us a little bit on that one.”
“I thought it was coming out, I really did,” Marshall said.
There was no drama on Geben’s second release, as it barely moved the net to give Notre Dame the lead.
For nearly 38 minutes, Wichita Stated held a lead in the game. Notre Dame only needed the lead for 22 seconds to escape with the victory.
“I just wish it would have ended three seconds sooner,” Marshall said.
One final chance
Wichita State called timeout to set up its final chance at the win 94 feet away and with 3.3 seconds left.
Zach Brown took the ball out from the left block with a defender guarding the throw-in. Marshall predicted this and had Frankamp waiting on the left block to set a rare screen for the inbounder.
Brown nearly turned the ball over jumping in the air, but his pass found Shamet near half-court. He took one dribble down the left sideline, then tried to cut back to the middle of the floor. But Pflueger vacated Frankamp entirely and came crashing in to poke the ball away and prevent Shamet from even attempting a shot.
“We’re going to win our share of these games,” Marshall said. “Unfortunately, this came down to us needing one more play, one more stop, one more basket. We can point to a lot of different things, but it came down to that one play and three seconds.”