Ken Bone's decision not to foul allows Jahii Carson to finish WSU

These are the eyes of a stone cold killer. - Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Was it the correct choice to play that last ASU possession straight up defensively, regardless of the eventual outcome? Kyle Sherwood and Jeff Nusser argue about it.

Like the rising and the setting of the sun, WSU frittered away another second-half lead -- the Cougs have held a second-half lead in every game but Kansas. That's a whopping 20 of 21 games. Ten of those became losses.

Had it happened earlier in the year, I might have characterized Jahii Carson doing what he did as soul crushing. But let's be real: I have no soul left to crush at this point. I'm pretty sure E.J. Singler killed off whatever was still there after Pepperdine, Texas A&M, Gonzaga, Washington and Stanford.

I tell you the truth when I tell you this is how it went down at my house last night while watching the game with my buddy:

ASU hits a 3 to go up 8 7 (sorry, misremembered): "Ballgame."

WSU makes a run to tie it: "Don't get sucked in, Mike. They're only going to break your heart if you think they're actually going to come through."

After Carson's layup with 10 seconds to go: "See?"

That's just the way it is with these guys. I suppose you could point to the result of the OSU game, but c'mon -- are you really going to point to the team in the conference that annually does the least with what it has as an example that it can happen? The Beavers are the only team that can out-derp the Cougars down the stretch of a game. My head would have exploded right now if I was an OSU fan.

Because it's clear that this is just sort of what they do, I really couldn't get too worked up about most of it. There was one thing, though, that drew my ire.

It led to a ridiculously lengthy conversation between myself and one Kyle Sherwood, who thought Bone absolutely played it the right way. Unless you were up at midnight and follow us on Twitter, you missed it.

You actually can read the whole back and forth here (including Kyle's ironic use of "Roll Tide" against me, which makes him the clear winner), but rather than leave you to try and decipher that on your own, I figured we could each distill our arguments down to a couple of hundred words and let you weigh in on the proper decision. Kyle first, then me. Be sure to vote in the poll and leave us your thoughts below.

Remember, this is the game state: Cougs are down two after Arizona State has rebounded a missed Mike Ladd jumper with 42 seconds to go. Seven seconds difference between the game clock and shot clock.

Kyle Sherwood: The Case For Just Playing Defense

I figure now is the time where I need to remind people that just because something didn't work doesn't mean it wasn't the right call. When you're down 2 with 45 seconds left and don't have the ball, the odds are not going to be in your favor. I was poking fun at Jeff last night because the straw that broke the camel's back on his defense of Ken Bone was when Bone chose to fight the panther behind door #1 rather than the cobra behind door #2. Both were probably going to kill him and he's just mad at the way he died.

According to play-by-play, Carrick Felix grabbed a rebound off a Mike Ladd jumper at the 45 second mark, meaning there was a ten second difference between the shot and game clocks. WSU also had a timeout. Ten seconds is plenty of time to get the ball down the court and get a decent shot off.

The key word there was shot. Singular.

How many times since November have you seen this team score in back to back possessions, particularly twice in a 40 second span? Do you need two hands? If we want to play probabilities, I would venture getting a stop and getting one bucket to tie it is infinitely more probable than the scenario my crazy friend is suggesting here. So Carson makes both free throws and you're down four. Now you're running down the court with thirty extra seconds, only you now have to score twice. Even if you score the first time, you've just put yourself into the same scenario you were in before, only now there's 25 seconds left instead of 45 and you're sending Carson to the line again for more points. Then you have to head back down the court AGAIN hoping to score twice more.

If I'm coaching this team, first of all fire me because I don't know anything. But pretending I do, the way my team knows that I believe in them is that I trust them enough to get a stop when absolutely necessary. Even if it didn't work out last night, my team knows I believe what they are capable of and that they'll get that stop the next time we're in that situation. Fouling and just praying they miss their free throws is throwing in the towel and you're relying way too much on things that are out of your control. Getting a stop IS in your control. This is the scenario that makes teams better; not the one where you're praying the other team screws up.

Stepping up and making plays is what builds good teams. Hoping the other team screws up shows you really don't think your team can get it done, making it a self-fufilling prophecy.

It was the right call. It didn't work. Roll Damn Tide.

Jeff Nusser: The Case For Fouling

Some of you are probably going to assume results-based analysis on my part for arguing against Bone's decision (i.e. "it didn't work, therefore he should have done something different").

Nothing could be further from the truth. My wife and my buddy were both sitting in the room with me as we watched the game on the DVR (I was at a high school game earlier in the evening), and I paused it before the final sequence had even played out to rail against the inanity of the decision to play it straight up.

My thought process was simple.

  1. What was the probability the Cougs were going to get a stop? (Low)
  2. What was the probability the Cougs would secure the rebound if they did get a stop? (Probably still pretty high, despite what seemed to be a rash of offensive rebounds by ASU)
  3. What was the probability that even if they got a stop, they could advance the ball up the floor in less than 10 seconds and get a decent two point look? (Also low -- none of WSU's guards would ever be characterized as fast)

Taken together, that seemed to create an incredibly low probability scenario for WSU, which should have sent them into a strategy that seeks to maximize possessions and thus the chances that the Cougs can get themselves into a position where they can tie the game.

Consider that Carson had already dropped 21 on the Cougs in the second half alone. He had gotten pretty much any shot he wanted at any time he wanted and made the majority of them -- he was 6 of 8 on his twos. There's no possible way the coach should have felt confident about getting a stop there, especially when you consider that the defense is probably going to be hyper sensitive about not fouling after all that time ran off the clock.

Here's a comparison I used to try and make my point last night.

Playing that possession straight up is like in football when you throw a fade to the corner of the end zone on fourth and goal needing a touchdown. Sure, there's a percentage of the time it's going to work. But you're putting all of your proverbial eggs in one basket, and so many things have to go right for it to work out -- the throw has to be in the right spot, the receiver has to get his head around and hands up, the defensive back probably has to make a mistake. Rather than giving your team multiple options for punching it in the end zone, you've reduced your chances of success to needing precise execution of two guys (with a little luck from the third probably necessary, too). In situations like that, I want my QB with multiple options to throw to and possibly even the opportunity to tuck it and run. In my mind, it seems the probability of one of those options coming free is almost always going to be higher than your best receiver winning a jump-ball battle against their best corner.

Last night's scenario was similarly all or nothing: Either you get the stop and you've got a chance, or you don't and the game is over. The game ended when Carson did what he'd done relentlessly for the previous 19:50.

But what if you foul? Whoever you send to the line (probably Carson, but Carrick Felix rebounded Ladd's miss and also could have been fouled, if it was done immediately) goes with the opportunity to stretch the lead to four. But that's no guarantee. Carson had just missed two free throws, and ASU is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country -- 63 percent, 326th.

If he hits them both, yes, you're down four. But you're down four with 30-plus seconds to go and not 10, and you've still got a chance to come down immediately and hit a three to pull within one, making it a one-possession game regardless of the outcome of the ensuing free throws. Or you can come down and try and get a quick two, and take your chances with them missing a free throw again. If done properly, you could get two, maybe three cracks at tying the game up -- never mind all the wacky stuff that can be introduced by making them inbound the ball after you make it.

Simply, you're just introducing more potential paths to victory rather than relying on something that seemed to me to be a lot less than a coin flip proposition.

Is this a strategy that was certain to get them into position to tie or win? Of course not. And if there's a little bit bigger difference between the game and shot clock, or if WSU is playing Utah or USC, I probably feel differently.

But in the specific situation the Cougs found themselves in? There's little question in my mind that maximizing possessions would have increased the probability of them having a shot to tie or win the game.

What about you?

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