At The Buzzer

Thursday night, the Maryville boys basketball team played in the semifinals of the Cameron Tournament.  Something significant happened when the Spoofhounds met Bishop LeBlond for the second time this season.

I coached for 39 years, 33 as a head coach.  In all those years, this significant event only occurred maybe in five or six games I coached.  That includes my time as a junior high coach, high school assistant, high school head coach and as a collegiate head coach.

It’s something you often see on ESPN’s Sports Center, but very seldom in person.  What I am referring to is a made bucket that is in the air when the final buzzer sounds.  A real buzzer beater is seldom accomplished.

With just over 13 seconds, Eli Dowis, Maryville’s junior guard, took the ball the length of the court.  As he crossed midcourt, he methodically angled to his right.  Time was running out as he turned the corner.  Any hope of reaching the bucket was gone.  There just wasn’t enough seconds left on the clock.

Eli was aware of the time.  From about 10 feet, Eli went up for a jump shot.  A Bishop LeBlond defender was in his face, but didn’t want to foul.  The shot didn’t look like it was on-target as the buzzer sounded.  Then suddenly the ball banked off the board and snuggled into the net.  Maryville was a winner.

Did Eli mean to bank in the shot?  It really doesn’t matter.  The shot clearly left his hand in time.  The ball went through the basketball and the scoreboard read 45 to 43 in favor of the Spoofhounds.  That shot won’t soon be forgotten.

In my wins or losses to buzzer beaters, the most memorable came from a six foot forward from Glenwood, Iowa.  Her name was Meghan Brue.  Meghan wasn’t the most dedicated player I ever coached, but she definitely was one of my favorites.  I would say that even if she had not won a game for Northwest on a buzzer beater.

Northwest had won the MIAA Tournament in 2008.  It was the only way we could possibly qualify for the NCAA Tournament.  It hadn’t been a great season for a team that returned most its players from an NCAA Tournament team the year before.

Going into the NCAA Tournament, the Bearcats had the lowest winning percentage of any tournament team.  That put us at eighth seed and a date with the host school, West Texas A & M.  The team from Canyon, Texas hadn’t lost at home in almost 4 years.  It had a 42 game win streak.

Despite the momentum of winning the MIAA Tournament, we played a very average first half.  The gym was packed with only about 30 fans rooting for the green and white.  They weren’t disappointed as West Texas led by 13 at half.

Northwest was far from finished, though.  Led by Brue, Mandy Shoemaker and others, Northwest actually took the lead. However, after 40 minutes, the two teams were tied.  The Bearcats jumped ahead early in overtime, but fell behind and things seesawed.  The score was tied when West Texas hit a rebound shot with two seconds remaining.

My point guard, April Miller, called a time out.  The team knew exactly what we would do.  We had practiced the last second, full court play at least two or three times each week.  I just made sure everyone knew where they would go but I never drew anything on the white board.  The team knew what to do.

Meghan Brue was supposed to cross from left to right into a cleared out area.  April was to give her the ball near half court.  I told Meghan she had two dribbles.  I hoped she could get near the three point line.

Meghan did get the ball at half court, but fumbled it briefly.  She could only take one dribble, square up and cast a 45 foot shot from half court.  As the ball approached the basket, the light around the bank board came on.  Then miraculously, the ball went through the basket.

Meghan Brue had just won an NCAA Tournament game with a 45 foot buzzer beater.    I later found out it was her second buzzer beater.  She had hit a half-court shot to win a game in junior high.

Neither Eli nor Meghan’s buzzer beaters compare to the shot made by a small Nebraska guard against the mighty Kansas Jayhawks and Wilt Chamberlain almost sixty years ago to the day.

A couple of weeks earlier, Kansas had beaten Nebraska 102 – 46 in Lawrence.  Wilt the Stilt scored 46 points.  The headlines read Nebraska 46, Wilt 46.  Now it was Kansas’ turn to go on the road.  I’m sure they weren’t worried about winning on the Nebraska campus.  Though they should have been.

Jerry Bush was the Nebraska coach.  Bush had been very successful at Toledo before moving to Nebraska.  He decided to slow the game and force Wilt away from the basket.  He accomplished both and the low scoring game ticketed down to its amazing conclusion.

Jim Kubacki was a 5-9 senior guard.  He hadn’t practiced all week with a swollen knee.  He felt better on game day, but Tony Sharp, the Nebraska assistant coach who also was Nebraska’s baseball coach, talked Bush out of suiting Kubacki up for the game.

After all, Kubacki was an excellent baseball player.  Scouts from the Los Angeles Dodgers were visiting Lincoln in a week just to look at Kuabcki.  I’m sure Sharp thought a 5-9 back-up guard would have very little effect on the game against the Jayhawks.

When the score stayed close the entire second half, Kubacki started to lobby Bush to allow him to put on his uniform.  With just under seven minutes to play, Gary Reimers left the game with leg cramps.  At the time, he was Nebraska’s leading scorer in the game.  Bush gave in and sent Kubacki to the locker room to change into his uniform.

Kubacki was back in a hurry and Bush put him right in the game.  With just over two minutes to play, Wilt tied the game at 41.  Bush told his Huskers to hold the ball for the last shot.  There were no shot clocks in 1958.

As the seconds ticketed down, the Huskers tried to get the ball to their first 1,000 point scorer, Herschell Turner.  The trouble was Wilt was lurking and Turner knew Wilt would swat away any possible winning shot.  Turner found Kubacki on the wing.

With two seconds to go, Kubacki put up the shot.  The buzzer sounded as it settled into the basket.  The Huskers had done the impossible.  They had defeated Wilt Chamberlain and the number one ranked Kansas Jayhawks.

What made Kubacki’s appearance and eventual hero even more amazing is he probably shouldn’t have been allowed into the game.  You see, no one knows for sure if Coach Jerry Bush even had Kubacki’s name in the official score book.  He wasn’t going to play.

Even if Bush had put him in the book, he probably should have been given a technical foul the second he entered the game.  You see, Jim Kubacki did suit up at the last second to be the hero of the Kansas upset.  However, Kubacki didn’t wear his normal uniform.  Instead of putting on his normal number 12 jersey, he wore number 14.  There’s no way Bush would have known about the switch.

It will forever go in the record book as the greatest buzzer beater in Nebraska basketball history.  It probably should not have counted.

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