“Winning Time” had arrived and the time had come for Gregg Marshall to entrust the ball to a player to decide Wichita State’s fate.
Samajae Haynes-Jones, listed generously at 6-foot tall and 180 pounds, isn’t a physical specimen. He can’t rise up over defenders or plow through them to the basket. But what he does have — off-the-chart quickness paired with an array of hesitation moves — makes him difficult to stay in front of.
So with the clock inside 10 seconds late Wednesday night at Koch Arena with the game against SMU tied at 83, Marshall decided to give Haynes-Jones the chance. That’s all the Wichita native needed.
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Haynes-Jones finished a gravity-defying, up-and-under layup on the left side with one second remaining in what proved to be the game-winning basket in WSU’s 85-83 win over SMU. The senior finished with a team-high 17 points, as WSU improved to 9-11 overall and 2-6 in American Athletic Conference play.
Here’s an inside look at how the final play unfolded:
The play call
When Marshall called a full timeout with 13 seconds remaining, what ended up becoming WSU’s final play call was not his idea.
Isaac Brown, a fifth-year assistant who has been with Marshall longer than any other assistant, was adamant that the Shockers should involve their two seniors and two best players in Haynes-Jones and Markis McDuffie. He made a compelling case and Marshall acquiesced.
“I was going to go with something different, but I listened to coach Brown,” Marshall said.
Brown set up the play by essentially clearing out the middle and right side of the floor to give Haynes-Jones and McDuffie all the room they needed to operate. Jamarius Burton and Erik Stevenson spotted up on the left wing only to stretch SMU’s defense out further away from being able to provide help, then center Jaime Echenique stood on the baseline ready to crash for either the dump-off pass or a put-back.
The play call was to run McDuffie up for a slip screen with eight seconds remaining to read SMU’s defense and react accordingly. If SMU didn’t switch, McDuffie would be open for the jumper on the slip. If SMU switched, then it would be up to Haynes-Jones to create.
McDuffie slipped the screen and SMU switched the screen, as Jahmal McMurray switched onto McDuffie and Jimmy Whitt stepped up to guard Haynes-Jones.
The scouting report
Teams who have done their homework know Haynes-Jones loves to get the ball to his left hand and finish with his left hand around the basket.
It was obvious SMU coach Tim Jankovich had this in the scouting report because when Whitt switches onto Haynes-Jones, he plays him straight up initially. But you can see the moment Whitt recalled the scouting report because he actually changes his defensive stance and shades the left side of Haynes-Jones.
That is the correct way to defend Haynes-Jones, who has struggled on the whole this season finishing when he attacks from the right side. Per Synergy, Haynes-Jones had missed 11 of 13 floaters or driving layups on the right side of the rim. Synergy also shows on isolation plays from the top Haynes-Jones has never driven right and finished at the rim this entire season.
The hesitation and hang time
Not many players can keep up with Haynes-Jones’ quickness, but the WSU senior is at his best when he deploys his array of hesitation moves to set up that burst of speed.
Haynes-Jones finished at the rim, but it’s worth taking a look at how he got there.
It started with two hesitation dribbles to size up the defender, then Haynes-Jones finally made his move, accelerating to the right and then bobbing his head to make it look like he was about to step back for a jumper. The hesitation move worked, shifting Whitt off-balanced enough for Haynes-Jones to turn the corner and penetrate the lane.
What came next was special.
Haynes-Jones held the advantage of knowing where he wanted to go when he planted his right foot a step inside the right side of the lane. SMU had two shot-blockers barreling toward Haynes-Jones and since he took off from the right side, both of the defenders took off to block a shot on the right side.
But they were left swatting at air because Haynes-Jones soared across the lane, tucking the ball under the outstretched arms of SMU’s Isiaha Mike, gliding through the air, defying time and finishing on the other side.
“I couldn’t believe he was able to get to the other side,” Marshall said. “I’m thinking, ‘Okay, he’s not going to be able to get the shot on the rim because he’s gone too far underneath.’”
Watching from his home, Joe Jackson, the Wichita East boys basketball coach who coached Haynes-Jones in high school, just smiled. It reminded him of a game-winner Haynes-Jones made as a sophomore for the Blue Aces on senior night to defeat Southeast at the buzzer.
“The way Samajae uses head fakes and shoulder fakes to keep people off-balanced and then his ability to control and distort his body to get those angles to get by his defender is truly special,” Jackson said.
When asked if he had a spot he knew he wanted to get to when he started his drive, Haynes-Jones admitted an up-and-under move to the left side wasn’t planned. It was pure spur-of-the-moment creativity.
“That’s just how it happened,” Haynes-Jones with a smile.
To call Haynes-Jones’ game-winner simply a layup would be a disservice to the degree of difficulty he had to overcome to make the basket.
Yes, Haynes-Jones had an open look after squeezing through three defenders to the left side. But his entire momentum was taking him away from the basket and Haynes-Jones couldn’t create the angle to simply lay the ball off the backboard into the hoop.
The shot required just the right amount of spin, which is precisely what Haynes-Jones gave it. The shot kissed the backboard well outside of the square and with the help of a little “English” as Marshall called it and a little “jelly” as the players called it, the ball spun a foot to the right and swished through the net.
“I do it all the time,” Haynes-Jones said, “that jelly.”
That claim was backed up by those closest to him.
“That’s something Samajae does all the time,” McDuffie said. “That’s what he does, those types of layups. He’ll be fooling around in practice and make them and then we’ll try and he’s the only one who can make it. When I saw it hit the backboard, I knew it was going to spin off in the rim. I knew it was money.”
“In my mind, there’s probably too much jelly with young kids in today’s game, but Samajae is a kid who spends more time in the gym than anyone perfecting that,” Jackson said. “He has such an incredible touch and feel for it.”
It was a dagger for a SMU team that answered a WSU basket six times in the final five minutes to keep pace with the Shockers, only to lose at the buzzer.
“Close games can come down to one play and they made a great play and a tough shot,” Jankovich said. “I don’t think we defended it that poorly. That’s the hardest way to lose. I’d rather lose by eight or 10 and get the heck out of here. Last-second shots, those are tough pills to swallow.”
It was just the second go-ahead shot in the final minute for WSU in the last four years and the first that close to the buzzer. For it to be delivered by Haynes-Jones, a Wichita native, made it even sweeter for the Shockers.
“It’s amazing,” Haynes-Jones said. “This is my hometown. I take pride in being from Wichita and for that to happen, it’s just amazing.”