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There will be no dribbling out the clock to collect $2 million when the fifth edition of The Basketball Tournament wraps up Aug. 3 in Baltimore. Nor will there be an endless foul fest by the trailing team in the effort to mount a comeback.
In watching Greenfield product Aaron Rountree’s Gael Nation play in the second round of TBT on Sunday, my eyes were introduced to an innovative way to wrap up basketball games. Rountree, who is now playing professionally in Austria after collegiate stints at Wake Forest and Iona, joined a group of mostly Gael alumni in the effort to take down the winner-take-all prize in the four-region, 72-team tournament. Their run came to a premature end Sunday with a 75-73 loss to Armored Athlete, a final score that would suggest the potential for a thrilling outcome. The result wasn’t thrilling for Gael Nation’s large collection of 3-point shooters, who lapsed defensively in the second half after leading by as many as 17 points.
However, do-or-die possessions littered the closing moments of play — without the need of one second ticking off a game clock. Armored Athlete’s Julian Gamble, a former Miami Hurricane who played at Southern Durham, hit what amounted to a walk-off free throw to end the game and move his team into next weekend’s Super 16 in Atlanta.
Technically, games can end on free throws if a shooter is fouled at the buzzer. But the only buzzer to be concerned with in the waning minutes of a TBT game is that of the shot clock. How is that possible?
It’s thanks to the “Elam Ending.”
Devised by basketball superfan Nick Elam, the crux of the idea is to eliminate late-game fouling, speed up the end of play and curtail the sloppiness that can creep into the closing moments. TBT decided to implement the Elam Ending for all of its tournament games this season.
With TBT instituting nine-minute quarters and college rules with the exception of players being allowed to pick up six fouls before disqualification, the game clock vanishes at the first dead ball with under four minutes remaining.
From there, seven points are added to the leading team’s score, and that becomes the “target number” that will win the game. If a team leads 60-50 at that point, then 67 points finishes play. As such, the trailing team will need to go on a 17-6 run or better to complete the comeback. In the event of a tie game, it’s simply a race to which team can collect the next seven points.
More or less, it assures someone will have to bucket a shot to win $2 million in August instead of running the clock out.
Watching the Elam Ending play out between Gael Nation and Armored Athlete made for some dramatic viewing to see if Rountree’s squad would reach the Super 16. When the Elam Ending arrived in Sunday’s game, Gael Nation trailed 68-62.
Thus, the target was 75 or better. Gael Nation needed at least a 13-6 spurt to advance.
They almost got it.
A defense that had struggled in the second half suddenly locked in once more, knowing that without a game clock, a minimum of three possessions stood between it and elimination.
But still, the score moved to 74-69. Teetering on the brink, Gael Nation got a 3-pointer to go from A.J. English at the top of the key. Suddenly, the comeback was in sight and could be completed with a defensive stop and one more trey.
Gael Nation got the stop, forcing Gamble into a contested fallaway jumper in the lane. However, David Laury, who defended on the play, fell awkwardly and had to be helped off the floor.
Refusing to be beaten by a 3-point shot, Armored Athlete committed the foul and put Gael Nation on the line for two foul shots in order to get the ball back. The latter made one out of two, ensuring the next field goal for either team would win the game.
After getting a turnover along the sideline, Gael Nation received one more shot at it. But they missed an open 3-point try, and the ball was worked to Gamble on the baseline. But there, Sean Armand was whistled for a foul, putting Armored Athlete on the foul line in the bonus. One free throw later, Gamble had produced the Elam Ending.
At the least, it made for compelling television. But such a process in the NCAA and NBA ranks would end buzzer beaters forever and send any and all overtime to the dustbin of history. That’s not something most purists will part with willingly.
Extend the game, indeed.