ATHENS – Basketball coaches get accused of over-coaching. That includes Mark Fox. In this case he did the opposite. And it burned him.
Georgia had two choices with 12 seconds left in its 61-60 loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday night: Call a timeout to get a play set, preferably in the hands of Yante Maten, its best player. Or let it play out and hope to catch the defense off guard.
Fox chose the latter. The result was a painfully low-percentage shot: Guard Juwan Parker, with two men on top of him, holding the ball for two seconds near the corner before throwing up a 20-footer that missed. Game over, and close to season over, as Georgia (16-13 overall, 7-10 SEC) is almost certainly out of NCAA contention, barring an SEC tournament championship.
Georgia didn’t just have a timeout. It had three. Why didn’t Fox use any in that moment?
“I elected not to call a timeout late because we felt like we could play from a miss and just attack without them setting their defense,” Fox said.
Parker’s miss came after point guard Teshaun Hightower briefly had trouble with the ball near midcourt, before getting a handle on it and passing to Parker.
“When we mishandled the ball, obviously I can’t call a timeout when the clock’s running,” Fox said. “In hindsight if I knew we were going to mishandle it we maybe would’ve called a timeout. But we thought we could play from a miss and attack the basket.”
Fox is correct. He couldn’t call a timeout himself in that situation. A Georgia player had to call timeout. According to recent rule changes in college basketball, a coach can only call timeout after a made basket. Since this was after a missed free throw, a player had to call timeout.
But obviously Fox could have instructed a player to call timeout. And before the double-teamed Parker hoisted the ill-fated jump shot, Fox could have instructed a player to call timeout.
Fox was asked about not ordering a timeout right away in order to make sure Maten touched the ball. Fox began by pointing out that Maten rebounded the missed free throw and then threw the outlet that began the frantic final sequence.
“We wanted to get it to the rim. That’s something we’ve practiced,” Fox said. “Teshaun is great at getting to the basket. I thought he had a really good game so I wasn’t taking him out.”
There was also a spacing issue on the play. Parker and guard Tyree Crump were on the same side, drawing defenders to the same side.
“I’m not sure if they saw each other. So it was a little crowded. But it was something that quite frankly we’ve done in practice,” Fox said. “We just felt – I felt – it was best not to let (Texas A&M) get organized, and play for the miss.”
Fox didn’t say this, but they also may have not wanted to give Texas A&M a chance to set its inbounds defense, what with Georgia’s problems inbounding the ball. That said, Fox did say that if Texas A&M had made one or both of the free throws that he probably would have called a timeout.
Players weren’t available after the game. Fox sent them home rather than have them endure questions about the loss.
“They’re upset. Very difficult loss in their last game,” Fox said. “I made the decision. I apologize to you guys.”
There were plenty of errors down the stretch:
Hightower also threw the ball away with Georgia up one with 1:09 left. That led to Texas A&M taking the lead 11 seconds later.
Georgia didn’t answer that with a good shot: Rayshaun Hammonds, a 26-percent 3-point shooter this season, missed a 3 from the top of the key with 41 seconds left.
There was also some good: Georgia rallied to take the lead after trailing since early in the first half. Hightower played very well until the late turnover. Crump again hit some big 3s.
But all anyone will remember from this is the final sequence, and not calling the timeout. There may have been some valid reasons for not doing so, but the result was Georgia lost.
And this is a results-oriented business, as Fox is painfully aware.