Four minutes into this contest, fans were wondering if the final scores might be somewhere in the 20's.
That's because both teams, having never dealt with a shot clock, were not prepared for the game conditions due to a pre-tournament communications snafu.
The coaches had decided that all tournament games would be played under modern rules, most important among those being the 3pt line and shot clock. Apparently Coach Iba misunderstood, thinking that if teams that had played without those rules met, they could play under the old regulations.
Catch All The Tournament Action
Catch All The Tournament Action
So, while both teams were informed of the rules prior to the game, neither had practiced sufficiently for the impact, and wow, what an impact.
The last wild card match up started with 5 consecutive shot clock violations. Subsequent possessions resulted in frantic last second shots to beat the buzzer. Both teams were packing in the defense, with no expectation of 3pt attempts.
But the first possession after the under-16 timeout changed that very thing decidedly in A&M's favor.
With the score reading 3-2 in favor of State (courtesy of a James King 3pt play just prior to the break), the Aggies settled in to run their offense. With about 5 seconds left on the shot clock, Jack Shelton found himself expectedly wide open just outside the arc. Somebody in the capacity GIA crowd yelled "SHOOT IT," and Shelton, much to Coach Iba's surprise, obliged.
It touched nothing but twine. The Aggies would never trail again.
It was such a shock that the normally grandiose Voice of the Cowboys, Larry Reece, sounded ill-prepared for the moment, exclaiming "THREE POINTER" more like a question than a declaration.
The moment, however, was very real for A&M standout Joe Bradley:
"When Jack chucked it, all I could think of was the ass-chewing he was going to get at the next timeout. When it popped the bottom of the net, I started thinking 'this is once in a lifetime tournament. What's the old man gonna do, kick me off the team?' I've always been a pretty good shooter, but that was never our game. Guess what...now it is, and to win this thing we have to adjust or we'll get run out of this gym by those more recent teams. So I guess you could say I took matters into my own hands."
Shelton would attempt only one more shot from beyond the arc.
Bradley, on the other hand, would finish 6-8 from deep, and helped create a lead that withstood a late rally once the Cowboys found their range.
More importantly, Bradley's barrage opened up the floor for the Aggies, whose precision passing, motion, and screens constantly created open looks and easy baskets. The lead swelled to 20, at 45-25, with a little over 12 minutes left in the game.
State was not done, however, as substitutes Freddie Moulder and Paul LaBrue discovered some gold beyond the arc, which likewise opened up the lane for James King, who had been stymied up to this point by Bob Harris and the sagging A&M defense. The next 10 minutes were frantic, with the Cowboys jacking 3's and the Aggies trying to run clock. A Larry Hawk three pointer cut the lead to 54-48 with just under 2 minutes left, but State would fail to score another point while A&M hit 4 consecutive FT's to put things on ice.
Bradley predictably led the Aggies in scoring with 25 points, along with 5 rebounds and 4 steals. Bob Harris and JL Parks would both add 10 points, and Harris would also have a game high 13 rebounds. No points, however, were larger than Jack Shelton's lone 3pt FG of the game, which opened Joe Bradley's eyes to the possibilities, or maybe the necessities.
The Cowboys were led by James King, who scored 14 of his 18 points in that late 10 minute span in the second half. Moulder and LaBrue added 9 pts each. Skip Iba, Coach Iba's nephew, also took advantage of the arc to notch a career high 8 points, with Hawk posting the remaining 4 pts for State.
The game was impeccably "clean," as in there were very few fouls and only 10 turnovers combined, not counting the shot clock violations. In fact, both teams became extremely efficient at running their offense as the game wore on, and both used the shot clock like teams who had been playing under those rules all along.
Things change dramatically now for Iba's NCAA runners-up, as they must face the two-time NCAA champs from 1946, led by All-American Bob Kurland. When asked if they might have an advantage now that they've actually played with the 3pt shot and the shot clock, Bradley replied:
"You can bet Coach Iba won't make that mistake again. I can promise you he'll have them boys chuckin it from behind that line, and if you can make it, you're gonna play. If they find that range and force us to guard all the way out there, Kurland will be a handful in the middle."
Let it be noted, Bradley played for both teams...
Stay tuned for the Oklahoma State All-Time Basketball Tournament Elite Eight, starting next Tuesday.