Nathan Boothe’s coach believes the University of Toledo freshman center is capable of someday making 60 3-pointers in a season.
Such a prognostication is bold considering Boothe has made only one of them 20 games into his first year. But Tod Kowalczyk has a point: His precocious big man is a more adept shooter than anyone realizes.
"One of our best shooters, to be honest with you," Kowalczyk said.
That is why Wednesday, with the Rockets needing to conjure some magic late to avoid a home loss, Kowalczyk had no qualms putting the ball in Boothe’s hands. Not once. Not twice. But three times.
Carrying out orders on a play Kowalczyk learned from his mentor Bill Van Gundy, Boothe escaped to the left wing with 1.4 seconds to go and buried both a 3-pointer and a Miami team that feels it deserved a better fate than a 65-64 buzzer-beating loss.
Boothe had attempted only four 3s before that one, and none since the Dec. 29 Illinois-Chicago game.
"I got it, had confidence to shoot it, and luckily made it," the Gurnee, Ill., product said.
For good reason, Boothe will be praised around campus in coming days as the baby-faced newcomer who beat the clock. But this story gets better with context.
Miami’s Reggie Johnson, flying in from behind a scrum of players, scored on a put back with 3.3 seconds to go, snapping a tie. A disturbing amount of the 3,711 fans in attendance filed to exits, resigned to the notion that a poor defensive showing had cost Toledo a chance to extend its win streak to four.
"They’re upset that they left," Boothe said. "We ended up winning when we thought we were going to lose."
After Miami called timeout, inbounder Matt Smith threw the ball past half court to Boothe, who used his entire 6-foot-9 frame — plus a few extra inches after leaping — to come down with possession. Kowalczyk called timeout, with 2.8 seconds left.
"That was a great coaching call by him," Smith said.
Smith’s sideline pass for Boothe caromed off the backboard, leading to a loose-ball tussle between Boothe and Miami’s Jon Harris. Boothe’s presence forced Harris to travel, giving Toledo (10-10, 6-3 Mid-American Conference) another chance with 1.4 seconds left.
Smith again found Boothe — the third or fourth option — on a play known around here as "Van Gundy." Kowalczyk, who has twice in his career used the set to win a game, said "two of the three options were wide open." Rian Pearson (16 points) was the first choice on a slash, and no one would have argued if Julius Brown (18 points) had gotten the ball. Boothe (13 points on 5 of 10 shooting) was a long shot. So too was the chance of his 3 going in.
"First phone call I’m going to make tonight when I get out of here is to Bill Van Gundy who is a dear friend," Kowalczyk said of the father of former NBA coaches Jeff and Stan Van Gundy. "He was listening to the game, I guarantee it, down in Orlando. He’s going to be awfully proud that we won a second game off of ’Van Gundy.’"
A mob scene ensued, with Boothe’s teammates — even Justin Drummond, whose injured foot is in a boot — swarming him before officials cleared the court to review the play. Moments later one of them emerged from the monitor and flashed three fingers.
"We’ve been through so much adversity," Kowalczyk said. "We’ve had some tough losses. It’s good to be on this side because we’ve been on the other side of it way too often over the past few years."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.