FAIRFIELD — As a longtime fan of North Carolina, I am no stranger to the tactic of stalling in basketball. In the days before the shot clock was introduced to the college game, it was one of Tar Heel coach Dean Smith’s secondary strategies.
A quick Google search led me immediately to a noteworthy example: the Tar Heels took the air out of the ball for the final eight minutes of the 1982 ACC Championship, trying to protect a one-point lead in what would become a 47-45 victory over Virginia. Consider that Smith tried to shorten a game where he had Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins on the court (the Cavaliers did have 7-4 center Ralph Sampson).
This from the New York Times’ account: “…(the) game started as a thriller between two fine teams today, but became a bore when North Carolina used its four-corner stall…”
I’m pretty certain this generation is familiar with Jordan.
Jordan was a long way from the Fairfield Ludlowe gymnasium last night, there were no all-out delays and we will be kinder with our description of the second FCIAC girls basketball tournament semifinal, a 36-34 triple overtime game in which we will say Trumbull outlasted Fairfield Warde to reach tomorrow night’s final.
Suffice it to say it was one of the least interesting games in which teams were separated by two or fewer points for the final 17 1/2 minutes. Yes, some of the paucity of scoring can be attributed to good defense. Poor offense was an equal factor: last night all four teams — Stamford defeated Ridgefield in the first game — may have set a league record for most combined layups missed in a conference Final Four.
“It wasn’t a good game,” Warde coach Dave Danko conceded. “It was a chess match.”
Reinforced though was the crying need for the state to adopt a shot clock for both boys and girls high school games. Trumbull and Warde on numerous occasions took long stretches to run their offenses. Danko indeed went into a stall for over a minute at the end of the first overtime to hold for a final shot.
Warde waited too long to run its final play, and point guard Daja Polk then saw a path to the basket cut off. The Mustangs never got a shot off.
“They were sitting back and at worst I figured we would go to another overtime,” Danko said.
Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch, with the league’s best defense, figured he would count on it to make one stop.
“We didn’t want to come out and do something dumb and take a risk, especially with a guard as quick as Daja,” said Tobitsch. “We just let them run the possession down and took our best shot defensively. By overextending our defense, they would have gotten a good look.”
The way both teams were shooting last night, holding onto the ball might have seemed sound. And you cannot blame a coach for making use of all options.
But this is a course that should be removed from a coach’s playbook. And the coaches want it taken away. Though some might have thought otherwise last night, Tobitsch and Danko are two of the many proponents for a shot clock. It is hard to find a coach in favor of the status quo.
“I think a shot clock would improve the flow of a game,” Tobitsch said. “And it will definitely impact how games are coached at the end of the quarter, the half and the end of a game. Over all, a 35-second shot clock would be more than enough time to get a good shot within the flow of the game.”
Danko used almost the exact words.
Given the way the Eagles play, they are one of the biggest beneficiaries of the lack of a shot clock, because they play defense so well and run judiciously, usually off of turnovers. Games in the 30s are raw meat for Trumbull.
Yet the Eagles’ gritty work would be best rewarded if they only had to defend for 35 seconds. In Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Staples, the Wreckers won the opening tip and needed more than a minute to get off a shot.
So why isn’t there a shot clock when FCIAC coaches continue to clamor for one? As with everything, the answer is money. Shot clocks are a capital expense. The cost for having someone run them for a minimum of eight home games a year stretches strapped athletic budgets.
Still, there are times when the quality of a sport, within reason, should supersede financial considerations, and this is one of them.
If you want to break this down in terms even a juvenile could understand, coaches and their teams should be rewarded for accumulating more points than their opponents, and this is accomplished in part by stopping them from scoring.
Trying not to score? Now that’s really bad basketball.