It's one of the more debated moves, or non-moves, in hoops.
You're up by three points, with hardly any time left. The ball belongs to the other guys. So, do you send someone to the foul line, where there's always a chance, albeit a slim one, that the strategy could blow up in your face and you somehow go down in regulation on an almost-impossible-to-pull-off four-point sequence? Or, do you allow them to get off some kind of a three-pointer that could send things into overtime?
You'd be surprised how often coaches choose the second option. And isn't it strange how many times they wish they hadn't?
That was the situation last night at the Palestra, after Penn freshman Tyler Bernardini, a 79 percent foul shooter, made one of two (the second) with 4.7 seconds to go. The Quakers called timeout. Elon, which was out of them, then inbounded to Montell Watson, who dribbled across midcourt into a double team. The best he could do was heave one off the glass, wide left, from about 35 feet.
Penn won, 67-64, and had its first two-game winning streak of the season.
Truth be told, the Quakers (4-7) planned to foul. It's just that the way the final play unfolded, it turned out they didn't have to.
"Aaron [Cohen] made a real good decision," Penn coach Glen Miller said. "[Watson] wasn't really going anywhere [toward the basket]. He didn't have any momentum. [His shot] was a prayer."
"We inbounded to the wrong guy," said coach Ernie Nestor, whose Phoenix (5-6) was off to its best start since the program moved up to Division I in 1999. "That put us at a disadvantage. The only option [left] was to do what we did.
"We wanted to get it up and kick it to a shooter. We made a mistake. But we created a very small window to be successful."
A year ago, the Quakers won at Elon, 66-64, with a team that went on to win its third straight Ivy League title.
These Quakers are just trying to find their way. They hadn't played since Dec. 8 because of finals.
"I was a little uneasy coming in, because I thought our guys were taxed out mentally and physically," Miller noted. "I imagine they've only been getting 3 to 4 hours of sleep. We tried to keep practice to a minimum, from a time standpoint, try to keep their focus and conditioning.
"It was another night of in-and-out execution. But we did enough to win the game."
The Quakers, who are now off until Dec. 29 (at Florida Gulf Coast), didn't look rusty at all.
"After a while, school is going to get to you a little bit," said Brian Grandieri, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. "But I think we did get better [during the break], which was encouraging. This was definitely one we knew we could get. It was good to do that. Now, we have to take the next step."
Penn went on a 15-2 run, during which Elon went 1-for-12 from the floor, to take a 52-42 lead with 9 1/2 minutes left. Then Elon's top scorer, Ola Atoyebi, who played just 6 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, got his first points. And he added nine of his team's next 11, and it was a three-point game with a little less than 4 minutes showing.
The Quakers never let it get closer than that. Watson could have cut it down to one, but missed the front end of a one-and-one at 1:02. Then Atoyebi missed from in close, and Bernardini converted twice with 16 seconds left. Watson's lengthy left-wing trey set the stage for that closing act.
Bernardini, who has averaged more than 20 points in the last four games, had 23, on 8-for-11 shooting. It didn't hurt that the Quakers had only 10 turnovers.
"I think things are going pretty well," Bernardini said. "I still feel a little behind defensively, and in some of my decision-making. But overall, I have confidence. They're underclassman mistakes. But I'm not worried. Sometimes that just happens.
"If you're not improving, someone else is." *