(This post is from my coverage of the North Shore AA Playoffs in February 2011)
You can’t teach a player how to perform in clutch situations.
There are no practice scenarios, no drills that imitate the raw passion and adrenaline that occurs during the final seconds of basketball game when winners and losers are separated by one single possession.
Fortunately for the Elphinstone Cougars, their senior floor-general Patrick Ellison possesses that ability to come up big in the clutch.
He hadn’t performed particularly well during the first 39 minutes and 57 seconds of Elphinstone’s first round match-up against their long-time rival Seycove Seyhawks. In fact, he had just made two field goals and connected on only one of four free throws prior to what would become the biggest shot of his high school career.
With Seycove up 61-60 and just over five seconds remaining in regulation, Elphinstone head coach Mike Sopow called a timeout and drew up his go-to last minute play; a play specifically designed for this situation.
“It wasn’t the first option we were looking for either,” explains Sopow. “Patty comes and screens away, then seals, but he’s definitely not the first option. It was an unreal shot.”
The ball was advanced to the frontcourt after the timeout, with star guard Mackie Gregory (the play’s first option), inbounding the ball. He fed Colin McGillivary, who then in turn lobbed the ball over two Seyhawk defenders, and connected with a wide open Ellison right beneath the hoop.
The unthinkable happens. The impossible prevails. 62-61 Elphinstone.
Why was the result considered unthinkable? Check the stats.
After going up 7-5 in the opening minutes of the first, Seycove retained the lead all the way up until midway through the fourth quarter. They had built a 17-point advantage halfway through the third, and entered the final frame up 11 despite an 8-2 run by the Cougars to finish the third.
But Elphi built on that momentum and churnd out a 16-4 to begin the fourth quarter, including nine straight points to put them ahead one with only 11 seconds remaining.
Seycove guard James Manalo hit a desperation reverse layup with 5.5 ticks left, forcing the pivotal timeout and eventual game-winner.
“All season long we usually let teams hang around and they usually bite us at the end to win the game,” said Sopow. “But it’s good to be on the other side and do that to another team.”
Gregory had a game-high 20 points, while senior guard Jason Chung chipped in with 14.
Arman Mazhari led the Seyhawks with 16 points.
Despite the huge leads and late game heroics, this game came down to one simple, yet glaring stat. Seycove went just 2 for 21 from the free-throw line, including an 0-10 showing in the final quarter.
You just can’t teach clutch.