All college basketball coaches will face this decision late in a game: If your team is leading by three points, do you commit a foul and let the other team shoot two free throws to eliminate the possibility of a tying 3-pointer? Or should you simply play defense? Here are some examples of how complicated that decision can be:
- In December, Michigan State lost to Maryland in double overtime after Dez Wells made a tying 3 for the Terrapins at the end of regulation. Up by three against Minnesota a couple months later, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo again chose not to foul - but the Spartans did, accidentally. Carlos Morris made a 3-pointer while being fouled, but he missed the ensuing free throw. Minnesota won in overtime.
At Indiana just over a week later, Izzo decided he would foul with the Spartans up three. James Blackmon Jr. made both free throws to cut the deficit to one. Michigan State's Travis Trice was then fouled and made only one of two free throws, so Indiana actually had a chance to win the game in regulation, albeit with very little time to get a shot off. As Yogi Ferrell rushed the ball up the court, Denzel Valentine inexplicably bumped him for another foul, leaving Izzo standing on the sideline with a look of complete disbelief. Ferrell missed his second of two free throws, and Michigan State won.
''At Indiana, we were trying to foul with seven seconds left - twice,'' Izzo said. ''I wish it was as easy as you'd think.''
- Kansas State managed to fail with both strategies during a memorable NCAA Tournament game against Xavier in 2010. Up by three near the end of regulation, the Wildcats tried to foul Terrell Holloway as he raced down the court, but he flung the ball toward the hoop. Officials ruled he was in the act of shooting, and he made all three free throws to force overtime.
Kansas State again led by three toward the end of that extra session. With a bit more time on the clock, the Wildcats just played defense, and the best Xavier could manage was a 35-footer by Jordan Crawford. It went in to force a second OT.
Kansas State did eventually win that game. Frank Martin was coaching the Wildcats that day. He's at South Carolina now, and trouble found him again this month at the Southeastern Conference tournament. Leading Mississippi by three, the Gamecocks attempted to foul in the final seconds but couldn't. Jarvis Summers ended up with the ball for the Rebels, and with South Carolina scrambling to contest his shot, he sank a 3 while being fouled.
The four-point play put Ole Miss ahead, but the Gamecocks drew a foul of their own at the other end and won in a wild finish. Martin blamed his team's fouling mishap on a lack of preparation.
''I learned a valuable lesson today that we've got to cover every single moment of every play in that last minute of the game so our kids are better prepared to manage that situation,'' Martin said. ''And that's a play at the end, that's a play that we practice.''