Singletary delivers ending for the ages
Story by Chris Graham
Listen to today’s “SportsDominion Show” for our postgame report from Monday’s College Basketball Invitational quarterfinal game between Virginia and Old Dominion. Show Length: 18:56.
Old Dominion was ahead 74-70 and had point guard Brandon Johnson at the free-throw stripe shooting a one-and-one.
He makes the shots, and the game is probably over.
This is what I was thinking from my perch on media row. Singletary had other thoughts coursing through his mind.
“Anytime you get somebody missing free throws down the stretch, it gives the other team new life, so to speak. So it’s up to us to go out there and make the plays,” said Singletary, who got the ball after Johnson missed the front end of the one-and-one and sank two free throws after being fouled hard on a drive down the lane.
And then, after Brian Henderson made 1-of-2 from the line to extend the lead to 75-72, Singletary nailed a three from beyond the top of the key that found glass before net to tie the game at 75.
The next play was one that I know I won’t forget. ODU coach Blaine Taylor had told his team during its walk-through on Monday that he would not call a timeout if the Monarchs were to have a situation where the game was tied in the final seconds and they had the ball with a chance to win on the final shot. And so it was that Johnson had the ball near the midcourt stripe trying to run clock while Henderson, who had scored 26 points on a dizzying array of runners and three-point jumpers, worked his way around a double-screen from the right corner to the wing.
“I was kind of playing off and worrying about everything below the paint, and I look up, and he’s running downcourt with the ball. It was just amazing,” said Mamadi Diane, the he in this case being Singletary, who stripped the ball from Johnson on a crossover dribble and scored on a layup that turned into a three-point play when Johnson fouled him and he made the ensuing free throw.
“I keep saying it. Everybody can have who they’ve got, and I’ll take Sean Singletary. He just continues to rewrite a story that’s already a bestseller in the annals of Virginia basketball,” UVa. coach Dave Leitao said afterward.
I asked Singletary to place those last 30 seconds – which capped a 22-point, 10-assist night – in that bestseller.
“I wouldn’t know. It’s up to you guys to do that,” Singletary told me.
“I think it was a team effort. We’re not even in that situation if Jamil (Tucker) doesn’t hit all those threes, or if Mamadi (Diane) doesn’t finish under the basket, or if Lars (Mikalauskas) doesn’t make plays out of the post, and if we don’t get defensive stops. It definitely was a team effort,” Singletary said.
OK, so it was a team effort – but those last 30 seconds were otherworldly, even for Singletary, who had ostensibly finished out his John Paul Jones Arena career a couple of weeks ago against Maryland with a 27-point, 8-assist effort in a 91-76 win that sent the faithful home happy and contented that they had seen the best out of #44.
And that it came in the College Basketball Invitational, the poor man’s NIT, if we can even give it that much credit, basically nothing to play for except the next game, if you want it, makes it that much more noteworthy.
“I don’t think a competitor differentiates competition,” Leitao said. “(Singletary) wants to beat you probably in anything. If you’re playing a card game in your room, there’s no difference between that and the biggest stage to perform on. Competition is competition. That’s what competitors do. You come to practice, and see him going full speed when he’s in there, he’s trying to beat somebody’s brains out. That’s just him. He doesn’t know any other way.”
Not everybody was on that same page regarding the endgame. Taylor, for one, talked around the big three that knotted the score.
“We’d give him the same shot again. He missed it so bad, he made it. He’s a really fine player, but the old joke in H-O-R-S-E about calling bank … if he’d have shot that ball from any other angle that poorly, it wouldn’t have gone in. He was just fortunate that it was from straightaway. If it had been from the side, it would have been an airball,” Taylor said.
Singletary admitted to me that he did not, in fact, call bank.
“No, I didn’t call bank,” he said, then laughed sheepishly. “I just felt as though it was going to go in because I was able to get it up, I was able to get the shot out of my hands, and I knew in the first half that a lot of my shots rimmed in and out, and I felt as though I had a feel for it. So I thought if I got it up, it was going to go in.”
Leitao dismissed the notion that the shot that turned things around for his team – and added to the Double-S legend – was nothing more than a lucky shot.
“Luck is a byproduct of hard work. You put yourself in a position to be lucky. So I don’t think it was a lucky shot. I think when a guy has done what he’s done in preparation for big moments, then those shots do go in,” Leitao said.
“The three – probably at any other angle would have probably missed, but he banked it straight on. And then the steal was something that you ought to be able to tell your children about 10 or 20 years from now,” Leitao said.
“He gave us a chance. He gave us a chance. And he’s given this team, this family, this program a chance for four years and made all of this possible,” Leitao said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.