Slow-down basketball. The four corners offense.
North Carolina Coach Dean Smith utilized such tactics to build Tarheel dynasties in the 1970s. His strategies inspired the two biggest rule changes in college basketball in the last ten years, the three-point shot and the 45-second shotclock.
Slow-down basketball can be a highly-effective strategy, even in the days of the 45-second clock, but you have to know how to play it right. Smith knows how to play it right. Princeton Coach Pete Carrill knows how to play it right. Brandeis Coach Kevin O'Brien doesn't.
O'Brien's Brandeis men's basketball team attempted to stay close to a much-stronger Harvard squad by killing the clock in last night's game in front of 200 fans at Briggs Cage.
But O'Brien better work on his four-corner offense a little more. The Crimson (1-3) humbled the Judges, 79-54, winning its first game of the season after losing its first three.
Why coach? Why'd you do it?
"Harvard is much more athletic than us," O'Brien said. "We wanted to stay in the game, six to eight points back until the final five minutes, and then we'd see what would happen."
But Brandeis (2-4) didn't just slow the pace of the game down, it kept the ball at halfcourt until there were only 15 seconds left on the shotclock. It's hard for any college basketball team to beat another team when it only has 15 seconds to get a good shot off.
"The slowdown really surprised me," Harvard Coach Peter Roby said. "I'm really happy that we didn't lose our composure. We still have to learn that every possession is crucial. It's like a mental exercise, and this game helped us do that."
O'Brien's tactic took his team right out of any offensive flow, relying mostly on the outside shooting of guards Stanley House and Mark Peabody--although House and Peabody combined for 36 points in the game, they only shot a combined 10 of 26 from the field--and offensive rebounding by center Michael Swell, who finished with a game-high eight rebounds.
A slow-down game usually works against a fast-break team like the Crimson, but only if that same team is having trouble hitting the outside shot. Harvard had only shot 38 percent from the field in its previous three contests, but the cagers were torrid last night from outside, hitting 11 of their 17 shots in the first half as Harvard maintained a 34-28 halftime lead despite several turnovers which once-again plagued the Crimson.
Co-Captain Neil Phillips, starting his first game of the season, hit six of his eight shots en route to an 18-point effort. Dana Smith, who failed to score a point in Harvard's loss to Lehigh on Friday, pumped in 10 points of his own.
Most importantly for Roby, Co-Captain Mike Gielen finished with 27 points, nailing five three pointers, hitting nine of his 14 shots, with three steals and only one turnover.
"Their style of play helped us a lot and will, hopefully, help us in the future," Gielen said. "We had to be mentally tough, because every possession means so much more in such a game. We have to develop that mental toughness. We have the talent to win games, it's just a matter of playing strong defense and keeping our confidence."
O'Brien's biggest mistake was waiting until his team was behind, 10-2, before employing his slow-down tactics. He may have kept the Crimson from scoring 100 points, and he may have kept the game close, pulling to within seven points with 14 minutes remaining and six with 10 minutes remaining. But O'Brien never allowed his team to pressure Harvard, which had lost its last three games by an average of 19 points.