As an assistant coach at Providence I was often the guy who had to shoot during rebounding drills. Whatever drill we were doing I was usually the “shoot-to-miss” guy – trying to miss every shot, but miss them close enough so that they came off the rim as a game-like miss. Making a couple of shots in the middle of a rebounding drill can really ruin the flow, but inevitably sometimes you’d get on a hot streak and make a few in a row. Standing 15 feet from the hoop and trying to get a game-like miss isn’t easy. That’s when I started to realize that trying to miss a shot on purpose wasn’t that easy.
The only time you really encounter someone in basketball trying to miss a shot on purpose is on the free throw line. It comes up when a team fouls when they are up 3 late in a game to keep their opponent from shooting a 3. After making the first free throw the offense is left in a spot where they need 2 points with under 5 seconds to play, so they have to try and miss, get the rebound, and score to tie the game.
The rules dictate that a free throw shooter must hit the rim or it is a violation. So you’ve got a guy on the foul line in the biggest spot of the game, trying to miss a free throw a certain way to create a bounce that one of his teammates can get their hands on, making sure that he hits the rim but that the ball doesn’t go in. Does that sound easy? You see teams mess this up fairly often in this situation – the latest being Georgetown on Friday night in the Big East semi-final against Xavier. John Thompson III admitted after the game that it’s not a scenario they have ever practiced. The bottom line is that missing a free throw on purpose is hard. And like anything else, if you want your guys to perform it under pressure in a game, you should practice it.
Being a big believer in fouling when you are up 3 late in the game, we’ve been faced with the scenario where a team is trying to miss on purpose against us a few times. Given the fact that I think it’s hard to miss on purpose, I started thinking about violating the free throw lane. Let’s make them keep shooting until they make one, so they can’t get a rebound. When the only way they can beat you is to miss a free throw, why allow them to miss? If you go in the lane early and get called for a violation, the penalty is they get to shoot the free throw again. Fine. A violation keeps your opponent from ever getting a rebound. And, because it’s harder than you think to miss a free throw on purpose, at some point (usually pretty quickly), you’ll find the other team makes the free throw by accident. In which case there is no violation and play goes on – you take the ball out of bounds, get it in and win the game.
I’ve been in a few games where this situation has taken place. The most amazing one was in 2011 at RIC when we won the “Murray Center Miracle,” a double-overtime game against our big rival Keene State in the Little East semi-finals. With about 2.5 seconds left and a 3-point lead, we fouled Keene on purpose so they could not get off a 3. After they made the first and prepared to miss the second, we violated the lane on purpose (we had honestly practiced this the day before at the end of practice). After we violated 3 times, the official came over to me and told me he was going to give us a technical foul if we did it again. I asked him why, and he said to me “This game is never going to end.” My response was “Tell him to make the free throw, the game will end.” Ask different officials and you will get different answers as to whether or not you can call a technical foul in this situation – most that I’ve asked have to pause and think about it for a bit when you ask them. But because he warned us, we took the play off – and naturally Keene got the offensive rebound, scored, and sent the game to overtime. Exactly what we were trying to avoid by violating (after that game, we’ve changed the way we violate – not making it so obvious, where the official might feel like the have to call a technical foul). I’ve had numerous officials tell me that violating in this situation does not warrant a technical foul, and they’d never issue one.
Incredibly, that game was sent into double-overtime when we were forced into the same situation. We were down 3 with just over 2 seconds left and 1 free throw, and we missed the free throw, got the rebound and got it out to the 3-point line and made a 3 to send it to double-overtime. We won the game in double-overtime. It’s still the most incredible game I’ve been a part of.
There are a few things you need to be aware of if you plan on violating on purpose. First of all you need to be aware of who has the possession arrow. If you commit a violation and then the shooting team commits a second violation (such as not hitting the rim with the attempt), the rule is to go to the arrow. So in that case if they have the arrow, they can get the ball out of bounds if there are two violations. You also have to plan on getting the rebound. A violation in this situation might not always be called. If you just get into position early and get in the paint quickly, the officials might not see the violation or want to call it. So tell your guys to go in early – which should put them in the best rebounding position – and plan on getting the rebound. Don’t anticipate that a violation will be called, go get the ball. Finally, when the ball does go in, be ready to take it out of bounds. No one seems to know how to react in this situation when a violation takes place, a team is trying to miss, and the ball goes in. You can get the ball in-bounds quickly and let the clock run out before they are prepared to press or foul.
The statistics make it clear that fouling when up 3 late in a game is the right play to make. If you put your opponent in a situation where they have to miss on purpose, a violation will not allow them to do that and get the rebound. Make sure you have the arrow, in case they commit a violation as well. But get in the lane early to make sure they can’t miss, and watch the ball go in by accident. We have one games doing this in the past, including one this year at home against Binghamton.
But like everything else, if you are going to ask your guys to do it late in a game, make sure you practice it.