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Analysis of a comeback: The final 5 minutes of CSU-TCU

January 17, 2012

So CSU pulled out a thrilling Double OT win over TCU on Saturday night but in doing so threw away an 11-point lead late in regulation. It has sparked a lot of discussion about CSU’s inability to close out games when they have healthy leads. Similar patterns emerged in earlier games against Manhattan, Colorado, and Denver.

With 5 minutes to go on Saturday, CSU held a 5-point lead but it was extended on the next possession when Will Bell dunked. TCU countered with an Amric Fields jumped from the elbow and the Rams led by 6. A Wes Eikmeier miss was followed by three consecutive TCU misses. On the Rams ensuing possession, Kaipo Sabas was fouled late in the shot clock and the teams headed to the Under 4:00 media timeout.

And that’s where the end game began.

Sabas made his two free throws. TCU missed at the other end. And when Wes Eikmeier drained a long three-ball, the lead was pushed back up to 11. But that lead would rapidly evaporate as TCU scored 9 points in the next minute.

How does that happen you ask?


6 of the 9 came from the free throw line with the clock stopped. The first two free throws came as a result of a Hank Thorn drive to the basket where he was trying to draw contact. It worked. That stuff happens. The benefit of the foul goes well beyond scoring with the clock stopped. It allows the team shooting free throws to see up their press easily as long as they make their second free throw. A player is substituted in and CSU has to wait to inbound the ball.

CSU handled the pressure the first time. They held the ball for 25+ seconds until Pierce Hornung missed a short jumper in the paint. And then the first major mistake occurred. Pierce Hornung fouled Amric Fields going for an offensive rebound he had no chance getting. Clock stops, Fields walks to the line, TCU gets to set up their press.

CSU followed with their only turnover against the press (Eikmeier stripped nd the ball went off his knee)and when Hank Thorns drained a three-ball off the inbounds the Rams lead was down to 4.

CSU inbounded the ball, killed some clock, and Dorian Green missed an open 3-ball late in the clock. Not a good shot in that circumstance but the killer came when Pierce Hornung once again committed a foul over 75′ from TCU’s basket going for a rebound. Clock stops, TCU gets free throws, gets to set up their press (they chose not to). The lead is down to 2 points now.

Wes Eikmeier inexplicably misses a layup and the follow, TCU comes down and misses and now CSU is left with a two-point lead and 45 seconds of game clock. And they fritter the possession away by letting the clock pretty much expire.

A major crew-up on the inbounds play allows Hank Fields to immediately get the ball at speed in the open court. At that point, TCU was 4 on 3 and CSU needed to catch a break. They didn’t. A Pierce Hornung foul was required to keep Amric Fields from scoring an easy layup off the feed by Thorns.

Game goes to OT.

SO what’s my point you ask?

CSU wasn’t great against the press but they weren’t horrible either. They only turned the ball over once in those final 2:30 against the press. Where the Rams failed was that they committed stupid fouls 75 feet or more from the basket that allowed TCU to score uncontested free throws (they call them free for a reason!) with the clock stopped. When you lead, a running clock is your friend. Sure the offensive execution wasn’t great down the stretch. But part of that is that the other team was defending without fouling! Everybody is tired at the end of games. Both mentally and physically.

Force the other team to make field goals from the outside and the problem gets smaller. CSU was doing a great job forcing TCU to make elbow jumpers with their zone. They had them exactly where they wanted them and then they stopped doing it! They miss you rebound, they make and its as simple as taking the ball inbounds against a less organized press. The opponent is forced to use timeouts to get their press set up and sooner or later they run out of those.

And keep the clock running for Gods sake by not fouling!

I’m done. And I’m worn out from having to replay those final 2:30. minutes.

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