NEWARK, N.J. -- It seemed everyone knew where the ball was going. A few seconds left, destiny there for the grabbing, and there was no question Brandon Knight was getting the shot.
The play started deliberately, with almost an innocence to it, coming after Ohio State tied the score at 60 with 21 seconds left. Knight took the ball and immediately Ohio State's Aaron Craft guarded him. Josh Harrellson tried to set a pick but Knight ignored him. At this point, Knight was a freshman, but as the seconds ticked away, he was aging in dog years.
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Calmness, dribble-dribble, calmness ... this was Knight. Clock ticking, the Prudential Center loud and obnoxious. “Everything was in slow motion,” said Kentucky guard Darius Miller. “He was calm.”
Calmness, dribble-dribble, calmness. Initially, as Knight’s mind formulated a plan of attack, he wanted to come off a screen and shoot, or at least quickly break left, but Craft forced him right. Near the top of the key. Eight seconds. Sprinting right past Craft. Seven seconds.
Knight had respect for Craft’s lateral quickness so whatever he was going to do, Knight thought, he needed to do it fast. So he did. Knight stopped short, two steps inside the arc, and pulled up for a jumper with about 6.9 seconds left. The indelible image: Knight’s feet up high in the air, spread wider than shoulder length apart, his technique perfect, and Craft helpless.
“I knew it was going in,” said Kentucky’s Doron Lamb.
“People are going to say they knew it was going in,” said Wildcat Eloy Vargas, “but I really knew.”
Five seconds. And some change.
Of course it went in. Kentucky 62, Ohio State 60.
You see, they knew, because Knight has done this before. He did it earlier in the tournament, against Princeton, which is why John Calipari was so comfortable calling on Knight again.
“... when it comes to crunch time,” Knight said, “a couple of seconds left and the game on the line, I focus in, and make sure I am making the right decisions.”
Oh, he makes them alright.
“Yeah, he made a heck of a shot,” said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. “Aaron, you know, he is a tremendous defender. He had his hand in his face and he just rose up and made a great shot. And you know, those are the type of shots that we said we wanted them to make were challenged twos. To his credit, he made a big-time play.”
Believe what you will about Kentucky. They fit into many different pegs, raising both ire and inspiration.
Yet what they are doing now is undeniable. This is a gritty, hardworking team that believes. Excuse the putrid cliché but it’s the truth. Something about them should scare the rest of the tournament, including North Carolina, their next opponent, who beat the Wildcats earlier in the year.
This game saved what was an otherwise atrocious day of basketball here. North Carolina’s bombastic beat down of Marquette was the sort of thing that causes coaches to either seek counseling or reach for a six pack. The early Friday portion of the Sweet 16 was shaping up to be the worst part of the tournament thus far, making the eyes wince, and the poles shift. Then, as the night deepened, came this physical gem.
There were other heroes for Kentucky, most notably Harrellson, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Without Harrellson, the Wildcats would’ve lost. They would have been no chance for Knight heroics.
The big issue for Kentucky was supposed to be their youth. The Wildcats aren’t playing young, though. They’re playing with a level of maturity we haven’t seen from such a young bunch in some time.
“That’s the best team we played this year,” said Matta.
Knight’s shot will go down in Kentucky lore, and that’s saying something considering Wildcat lore is thick and entertaining.
Everyone on Kentucky knew where the ball was going and they wouldn’t have it any other way.