Sunday, February 25, 2024

Tate | Lacking a finishing touch

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Humans can flap but they can’t fly. It’s impossible. We were not blessed with wings. So there is no point in complaining about it.

Humans can’t outrun cheetahs. It is no contest. They’re twice as fast so we don’t complain about it.

Humans can’t officiate basketball. Man is mortal and shouldn’t be asked to do the impossible. And yet we complain about it incessantly … round the clock, before, during and after games, at work, at lunch, at the barber shop. It has become a national pastime.

That was traveling. No it wasn’t. That was a block. No, it was charging.

Maybe we’d be better off issuing the refs a silver dollar and let them flip for outcomes.

If there were 500,000 Division I college games in the last 50 years, it is reliably reported that 490,000 of the 500,000 losers blamed the referees for their team’s failures. The other 10,000 losers wanted to fire the coach.

So the question is: Why constantly grump about something that is entirely beyond the ability of humans? Before initiating your next rant, remember that flying is impossible, and officiating basketball is only marginally less so.

Staying aggressive? Good luckYears ago, a coach told me that he had a new obsession for the coming basketball season: Somehow, by constantly emphasizing it, influence his players to maintain their aggressiveness when they carry a 10-point lead into the final four minutes.

Again, as with the previous segment on officiating, what the coach was asking is impossible. The reason is psychological.

The natural tendency, as we see in football, is to become instinctively conservative when trying to protect a lead. How many game stories begin with “Northern Tech hung on” to win? That’s because, as we saw with Illinois’ narrow win against Nebraska on Feb. 4, Tech’s players became hesitant and started running down the clock, thus increasing the difficulty of scoring.

The “four corners” offense was popular in the college days before 1985 when there was no shot clock (it began at 45 seconds). Late-game slow-downs have surely carried into the 21st century. To my knowledge, no coach ever figured out how to maintain aggressiveness when the players start looking over to see whether they should begin the slowdown.

Driving the point homeAnother point: It doesn’t matter how well you play if you can’t finish.

And Illinois was an example of a non-finisher Saturday at Michigan State. When Marcus Domask cashed a trey with 7:30 to go, the Illini led 72-64 and appeared in charge.

Wrong!

Illinois had 13 possessions in the next seven minutes, and failed to record a field goal (six free throws) while making several crucial turnovers. Counting Justin Harmon’s late layup, Illinois was outscored 24-8 at the end, almost the same score before halftime (19-8) when coach Brad Underwood had Coleman Hawkins sitting out with two fouls.

The Spartans were persistent with their penetration. They only attempted eight three-pointers (making five) and consistently broke down the Illinois defense, drawing 24 fouls that led to 34 Spartan free throws due to so many “and-ones” on basket drives.

Terrence Shannon Jr. demonstrated beyond doubt that he has fully returned from this legal problems (a game-high 28 points) and Hawkins was used successfully in back-down moves that were previously the providence of Domask.

This game was also one more reminder (ask Wisconsin) of how difficult it is to win as a visitor in such a heated atmosphere, as the Spartans discovered earlier at the State Farm Center … and Illinois does better than most on foreign courts.

Loren Tate writes for the News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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