Monday, May 21, 2018
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Dear Sean: Pearl does it the right way

COLUMBUS - Memo to Xavier coach Sean Miller: Get a copy of the Tennessee-Virginia game film from yesterday's NCAA second-round game at Nationwide Arena. See what you can do with a three-point lead and mere seconds to play.

You have some free time this week, so go ahead. Ohio State is still playing - your buddy Thad Matta will be getting ready for Tennessee, in fact - but you're just sitting back with your feet up on the ottoman. Slide the tape in and take a Bruce Pearl video clinic.

Pearl's Tennessee team had a 75-72 lead after Chris Lofton made two free throws with 10.2 seconds left. Four seconds later, when Virginia's Sean Singletary crossed center court, JaJuan Smith reached in and fouled him. No 3-point attempt.

Later, after Lofton made two more free throws with 5.7 seconds to play and gave the Vols another three-point lead, Pearl wanted Jordan Howell to again foul Singletary. Since Cavalier coach Dave Leitao is also making the big bucks, he countered with a nice chess move of his own. He had his 6-10 center set a high ball screen to pick Howell off, the Vols were late in switching, and Singletary this time got a decent look, but missed the shot.

OK, so sometimes you're good and sometimes you're lucky.

But Pearl at least understands something that seems to be elementary, but which too few coaches seem willing to buy - don't let an opponent tie you with a 3-point shot when you have a three-point lead.

Miller, of course, saw his Xavier team blow the last three points of a once-substantial advantage when Ohio State's Ron Lewis drilled a trey at the buzzer in a second-round game at Lexington on Saturday. The Buckeyes went on to dominate in overtime and advanced to the Sweet 16.

Afterwards, Miller offered up some sort of mumbled gobbledygook to explain not fouling an OSU player in advance of the final shot.

Why should there be any other strategy?

We'll let Pearl take it from here. It's his clinic, after all.

"You [foul] for four reasons, because they have to make four plays to beat you," Pearl said. "Obviously, they've got to make the first free throw. They've got to miss the second one. They've got to rebound the miss, and they've got to make another offensive play for a score."

If the team with the lead in that situation opts not to foul, then the opponent has to make only one play.

That's what Lewis did for the Buckeyes.

It is what Singletary might have done for Virginia.

"You don't always execute it," Pearl said, "but you have to try. I'll throw Jordan under the bus, I guess, and say he should have [gotten free and] jumped out and fouled [Singletary] before he got to the 3-point line. But I also understand his situation."

That is to say that Howell, by the time he worked free of the screen, was afraid Singletary might be able to get off a shot at the same time he was being fouled.

That's the fear a lot of coaches have of fouling with a three-point lead when the ball is in the hands of a shooter.

You pick your poison and take your chances. Pearl chose to foul with 6.3 seconds left and at least tried to do the same on the game's final play. His team survived.

Xavier's Miller, on the verge of upsetting a No. 1 seed, let Ohio State get off a shot. Now he has time to watch the video.

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