Gonzaga was up 3 with the clock running out against South Carolina on Saturday in their national semi-final.  The Zags executed well to foul with 3.5 seconds left and not give up a game-tying 3-point attempt.  South Carolina went to the line for 2 free throws down 3 with 3.5 seconds left.

I love the foul and the execution of it.  There’s just no reason to let your opponent take a shot at tying the game when you can put them on the line and increase your odds of winning.  But the next step is to violate the lane.  When they go to miss, simply don’t let them do it.  When you violate, they get to shoot another free throw.  They can’t get the rebound and tie the game.  They keep shooting until the ball goes in, and there is no rebound they can convert into 2 points.

Missing a free throw on purposes is not that easy.  The offense has to hit the rim, and they are trying to do something they don’t ever practice – miss a free throw in a way that allows them to get the rebound without missing the rim.  It’s not easy to do, and after a couple of attempts they are likely going to make one.  When they do, you just take the ball out of bounds before they can react and the game is over.

On Saturday I was at the game in Phoenix, and once Gonzaga fouled I tweeted that they should follow up by violating the lane.  At the game in the stadium the big scoreboard had the possession arrow going to Gonzaga.  Other people on twitter pointed out that South Carolina had the possession, so perhaps the big scoreboard was wrong.  Alternate possession matters because if there is a second violation committed by the opposing team they go to the arrow.  Your opponent could get the ball out of bounds with a chance to tie or win.

So if you choose to foul up 3, the next move is to violate the lane on the free throw as long as you have the possession arrow.  If you don’t have the arrow, you risk losing possession on a double violation.  So if you go in early and then your opponent doesn’t hit the rim with their attempt, you’ve got a violation on both teams.  Whoever has the arrow gets the ball.  Probably not worth the risk if you are winning the game.

A lot of people on Saturday night were asking about how you violate and what the officials will do if you keep doing it.  The first time we ever did this in a game was in a semi-final game when I was at RIC against Keene State.   We had practiced it the day before and I told my guys to step in early and make it obvious.  We were up 3 with 2.1 seconds to go and we fouled on purpose.  After they made the first free throw we made it very obvious to the official we were violating on purpose.  Our guy stepped in the lane as the official was delivering the ball to the shooter and then stepped back out.  The official actually got anxious and wasn’t sure what was going on.  He called the violation, but the clock ran after the miss incorrectly and the game had to be stopped to reset.  This happened 3 times in a row.  Finally, before the 4th attempt, the official came to me and said we could’t keep doing it.

He said if we did it again he was going to give us a technical foul.  My response was “for what?”  There’s a penalty in the book for a violation, and that is they get another free throw attempt.  He said to me “this game is never going to end.”  And my response was “tell him to make the free throw, the game will end.”  He said to me “they are just trying to win the game,” and I said “So am I.”

Now I had asked some friends who were officials what they would do in that situation, and I usually got different answers.  Most of them had never really thought about it.  Some of them said eventually they could give a technical foul for making a “mockery” of the game.  I don’t think violating on purpose makes any more of a mockery of the game than missing a free throw on purpose.  But all of them said they’d come talk to me before they would assess a technical.  They wouldn’t just call a T without a warning.  So I felt comfortable with committing the violation.

To this day I still don’t have a great answer on what the right call would be.  Mike Stephens, who is officiating the national title game tonight, told me that technical foul is the wrong call.  There is no way one should be assessed.  But the truth is, most officials don’t know exactly how to respond.

So on that night, after the 3rd time we violated and we got threatened with a technical foul, we didn’t go in early.  We just tried to block out.  Of course, Keene St. missed the free throw, got the rebound, laid the ball in and sent the game to overtime.  When people asked why I was violating it’s very simple – did you see what happened when we didn’t?  Ironically we were down 3 at the end of the first overtime and we had to miss a free throw on purpose and hit a 3 to tie the game, and we did just that to send the game to a second overtime.  We won the game in double overtime in still the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.  Both teams had to miss a free throw on purpose, get the rebound and score to extend the game, and both teams did it.  I’m not sure how many times that has ever happened in a basketball game.

Since that night, we’ve changed how we violate in that situation.  We don’t just step in early and make it obvious.  But we make sure we block out early.  We get in the paint as the shooter brings the ball up to shoot.  The violation gets called, but we aren’t making a “mockery” by being obvious.  If the officials ask we can just say we are trying to get the rebound.  And you have to tell your guys to still block out and get the rebound – you don’t know if the officials are going to call it.  And if they don’t call it, they almost never call a foul.  In a situation where there is going to be an intentional miss, it becomes a free for all.  They let the offensive team get away with going through the defense on that miss.  So there is no reason to leave that up to chance.

We’ve won 3 games in 3 years at Maine with an intentional foul followed by a violation.  Generally the 2nd or 3rd time they try and miss, the ball will go in, they will freeze, and you can just enter the ball and the game will end.

I’m a big believer in fouling up 3 under 10 seconds because it gives you the best chance to win.  And if you have the possession arrow you should violate the lane.  There is no reason to allow them to miss and create a free for all when going for the offensive rebound.

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