Every one of the 4,103 under those baby blue rafters thought they knew whose hands would be trusted with the final shot: Zack Rosen.
It was Rosen who got the ball with time expiring in regulation, drove the lane, drew contact and sunk the requisite free throw to force overtime. It was Zack, who, the night before, nailed three after three after three to bring Penn back into the game and beat Cornell.
For four years, it has been Zack who gets the ball when the situation is the most dire.
So, of course, it was Fran Dougherty, sweet baby Fran, who caught the inbounds pass from Miles Cartwright in midair and delicately kissed it off the glass for two points as the clock wound down to 0.5 seconds Saturday night against Columbia.
The Doc doesn’t always have the surest hands. This season, the layups and hooks have rolled off the rim more frequently than in. The glaring memory from Dougherty’s freshman campaign is a missed uncontested layup in overtime against Princeton that would have tied the game with six seconds remaining.
But with Penn’s season on the line and no margin for error Saturday, the Doc executed with surgeon-like precision.
He was not alone.
It started with Miles Cartwright’s speedy dribble up the court, allowing coach Jerome Allen to use his 30-second timeout with 1.5 seconds remaining. In that half-minute, Allen pulled a play-call out of his back pocket that he had been holding since September. Allen freely admitted that he stole the play from coach Brad Stevens’ Butler team. Assistant coach Dan Leibovitz tweeted Sunday that the Quakers had never practiced the play.
It was a game of speed chess. From the first pawn’s movement to Allen’s checkmate, only four seconds of real life had elapsed, and only one second of basketball time.
With Cartwright inbounding from the scorers table, Rosen set a screen for Steve Rennard, who was headed for his favorite spot in the corner. Rosen then broke for the sideline — where everyone and their mother expected him to take the pass and shoot.
Instead, Rosen, always the benefactor of the pick, set one of his own on Columbia’s Brian Barbour. Before Rosen had planted his feet, Cartwright sent the ball flying, high and to the far side of the backboard. Rob Belcore, standing a few feet above the arc, flashed toward the ball, further freeing up space on the far end of the court.
Dougherty curled around the double team Rosen had drawn, planted under the basket and jumped.
The pass was timed perfectly by Cartwright, and as Dougherty hit the top of his leap, he caught it with both hands and banked it in. 61-59.
Allen, standing motionless on the sideline, gave a fist pump. Cartwright raised two hands in the air and skipped back on defense. On the bench, senior Mike Howlett jumped and hugged Larry Loughery. The Penn policeman on duty in the corner of the arena threw a wild punch into the air and clapped up a storm.
Columbia coach Kyle Smith could only call a timeout before the inbounds, but with five-tenths of a second remaining, it was futile.
Cartwright had the biggest assist of his career, and Doc had — in one second — made up for all the missed gimmes of his career.
Allen always wants to see his team execute for a full 40 minutes. If Penn had done that Saturday night, there would have been no overtime, no need for back-pocket plays, no buzzer beaters.
But if the events of 9:02 p.m., Saturday can teach us anything, it’s that on a Saturday night in the Ivy League, with title hopes in jeopardy, four seconds are all you really need.
CALDER SILCOX is a senior science, technology and society major from Washington, D.C., and is a former Senior Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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