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Gonzaga Made the Foul of the Year to Secure a Trip to the Championship

The perfectly executed play left South Carolina with virtually no chance

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

I can see it in the “One Shining Moment” montage, right between the shots of players crying, a cheerleader, and a kid playing the tuba. With 3.6 seconds left in Gonzaga’s Final Four matchup with South Carolina on Saturday, forward Josh Perkins made the play that sent the Bulldogs to a 77–73 win and to the national championship game for the first time in school history.

He committed a foul.

The Gamecocks had the ball while down three points with 12 seconds left. They needed to shoot a 3 or go for a quick 2. Instead, they kind of did nothing. Guard Rakym Felder dribbled aimlessly for a few seconds and passed to guard Duane Notice who swung it to SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell, who didn’t seem immediately interested in shooting. And that’s when Perkins sealed his place in March Madness legacy.

What a freakin’ foul. Foul of the year. The greatest foul I’ve ever seen.

It was perfect. He ensured Thornwell wasn’t shooting and couldn’t be awarded three shots. He did it with little enough time that South Carolina was virtually hopeless. Some argued the foul was too light and shouldn’t have been called, but after watching Seton Hall get called for a flagrant foul on an intentional foul attempt, I’m not blaming Perkins for not tackling Thornwell.

After the game, Gonzaga coach Mark Few revealed the team had practiced fouling in this situation, and intended on waiting until the clock went under six seconds. South Carolina was more or less doomed, left with two equally unlikely options. Either:

  • Hit the first free throw, intentionally miss the second, get the rebound over Gonzaga’s best rebounders in perfect position, and tap that into the basket, or …
  • Hit both free throws, foul Gonzaga immediately, and then go the length of the court and hit a 3

Either one of those has, what, a 3 percent chance of happening? As opposed to having Thornwell, a 39 percent 3-point shooter, attempt a 3.

Let me be clear: This was a really depressing end to a game. We watch sports for highlights, and this was a strategy designed to avoid making one, taking the ball — and control — away from the team that needed to make magic happen.

This tournament has had one buzzer-beater, and it was the result of complete improvisation. That’s often how incredible plays happen, especially when one team is desperate. But highlights are good for only one team — and millions of viewers. If you can foul while up three, do it — unless you like being in somebody else’s highlight.