Friday, February 26, 2016


Anyone who ever played basketball seriously has spent time in the gym imagining what it would be like to be on the foul line shooting one and one with no time on the clock and your team down by a single point.

One and one, for the uninitiated, means being entitled to a single foul shot, but if that shot goes in, getting an opportunity for a second one.  In a one and one situation, if your team is losing by one, and you are on the foul line with very little time to go, the pressure is on.

If you miss the first shot your team loses and you are the goat.

If you hit the first one your team has at least tied. And if you make the awarded second shot by virtue of having made the first, you become a hero.

Last night the Northeastern men's team played an important game in the Colonial Athletic Association conference. The College of Charleston was in town and the victor would likely get a first round bye in the upcoming CAA tournament.  The game was a thriller, both teams playing very good defense. There were multiple lead changes.  With about twenty seconds left a player for Charleston hit a jump shot to put the South Carolinians ahead by one.

Northeastern called a time out to set up a play.   When action resumed Northeastern had some difficulty finding a rhythm that would allow for a decent shot.  Eventually the ball wound up in the hands of Quincy Ford-- one of the two main studs on the team. Ford is very important for the Huskies. How important is he? When Ford couldn't play for a spell after suffering a head injury, Northeastern lost six consecutive games.

Quincy Ford, whom his coach referred to as just Q in the post game press conference, had about six seconds left when he made a strong drive to the basket. During the drive he was fouled.  The foul did not occur in the act of shooting, and it was not the tenth foul against Charleston. By rule then Ford/Q would go to the foul line for one and one with 4.7 seconds left with his team losing by one, very much needing a victory.

What happened next is the kind of thing that typically happens when you are the visiting team.  There was moisture on the court so a janitor of some sort was asked to come out to dry it off.  When you are waiting to take a foul shot that will determine the outcome of a game, you do not want delays. Opponents will often call a time out before a crucial shot to try and "ice" the shooter. That is, make him feel nervous so he might miss the shot.  Typically your own janitor does not try to ice the shooter, but this guy was taking a month to get the court dry all the while Quincy Ford was waiting to get the basketball for a shot that, essentially, could end the season.

Ford waited for the janitor to get done.  He received the ball from the referee and with 4.7 seconds left made the first foul shot.  Nothing but net. The game was tied. The Charleston coach called a time out to indeed try to ice the shooter so that the game would remain tied and there would be an overtime.  Ford made the second free throw.

A Charleston player took a desperation shot at the buzzer, but he was off balance and missed the long attempt.  Northeastern won.

We all have moments at work where we have to come up big and do something well in a crucial situation. I have had to write sensitive letters, draft position papers, edit books, and prepare programs for key audiences.  All readers have had to do similarly challenging things that, if not done well, could have taken us down an unattractive path.  But we typically don't have people screaming at us while we are doing whatever it is that we do.   And maybe we might have help or feedback and time to revise what we intend to do.  If you miss the first end of a one and one with 4.7 seconds left, that's it--no edits, feedback, revisions or do-overs--your team will lose.

A basketball game is not the Cuban Missile Crisis, so the ramifications of missing a shot are relatively minor. But players are not thinking about the Cuban Missile Crisis when the game is on the line. It says something about athletes who--when they have one shot to be--will be--successful.

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