Bill Hass on the ACC: So-Called 'Small Plays' Have Big Impact in Close Games
March 15, 2008
By Bill Hass
CHARLOTTE - There's no such thing as a small play in a close game.
Overlooked plays during the course of the game, perhaps, but not small plays.
Case in point: The two semifinal games of the ACC Tournament at Charlotte Bobcats Arena Saturday. Everyone will remember the big plays at the end - Tyler Hansbrough's baseline jumper that propelled North Carolina past Virginia Tech 68-66 and four straight free throws by notoriously poor-shooting Cliff Hammonds to help Clemson fend off Duke 78-74.
Lost in the shuffle, at least in the memory banks of most fans, will be contributions made by role players earlier in each game. Without them, the Tar Heels and Tigers wouldn't have been in position for the highlight plays at the end.
In the Clemson game, for instance, a key play was a 3-pointer by Terence Oglesby over the outstretched arm of Duke's David McClure with 3:40 left. That pushed the Tigers' lead to 67-60, providing just enough cushion for the rest of the game.
Those were the last of Oglesby's eight points that he logged in 19 minutes off the bench. He also added an assist, two rebounds and one play that made him particularly happy.
"Coach (Oliver) Purnell has been on me about being tough defensively all year," Oglesby said. "I've been tough, but I haven't always been in the right spots. I took a charge for him tonight, so I imagine he's pretty happy about that."
Everyone knows that Oglesby, a freshman, has tremendous range on his 3-point shot, and he has hit 5-of-12 behind the arc in two tournament games so far. But you can't play for Purnell if you don't play defense, so that's what Oglesby thinks about first when he comes in.
So does another Clemson freshman, Demontez Stitt. Although he missed his five shots and committed four turnovers in 20 minutes, Stitt stayed on the floor 20 minutes because of his defensive effort.
"I focus mainly on defense because that's where we start everything," said Stitt, who chipped in with a point and an assist. "Defense turns to offense. That's where I come in."
Purnell said his team goes 10 deep and he's not afraid to use any of the five players off the bench. He has the flexibility to go with a smaller lineup when he needs three guards or a larger one with Raymond Sykes and David Potter up front.
"We've been developing our bench all year long and they're very important to us," Purnell said. "We'll go in with an initial rotation, and then (playing time is) dictated by match-ups, dictated by foul trouble, dictated by who's playing well and time of game."
Oglesby said the distinction between starting and coming off the bench is irrelevant.
"We look at it as one cohesive thing," he said. "You could switch up everybody. We could start six or seven different lineups. It's the whole team, not just the starting five, that's how we look at it."
If Oglesby's contribution was more obvious, few will remember what Will Graves did for North Carolina. His lay-up with 10:30 remaining in the game cut Virginia Tech's lead to 50-48. He later missed a shot that Hansbrough cleaned up with an offense stickback.
In all, Graves played 10 minutes and finished with two points, two rebounds and a blocked shot. Not to mention something else that won't show up in the box score - rolling an ankle that required an ice pack at the end of the game.
"I'm just trying to contribute in any way possible," Graves said. "If we need a big rebound, I want to be in position to get a big rebound. If we need a stop, I want to be in position to help us get a stop. I bring energy to the game and try to give the team a boost.
"I just try to go out there and play basketball. I don't really think about statistics or what can I do for myself. I just think about what I can do for the team."
The same can be said for Mike Copeland, who hit a little hook shot in the second half and added four rebounds in six minutes. Even starter Deon Thompson, who failed to score in 16 minutes, made a significant contribution at the end.
After Hansbrough's basket with eight-tenths of a second left, the clock stopped and Virginia Tech called time out. On the ensuing play, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams assigned Thompson to guard the inbounds pass.
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg had told his team "Let's pull a Minnesota," referring to a buzzer-beater by the Gophers against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament Friday.
Thompson didn't let it happen. Delaney broke to Thompson's left, looking to throw the ball deep, but Thompson deflected it into the air and the horn sounded.
"Coach told me don't cross over the line and be long (defensively)," Thompson said. "I moved with Delaney and he threw the ball right into my hands."
Sunday's championship match-up has the earmarks of another game that could go to the wire. After all, in their two meetings this season Carolina beat Clemson in overtime and double overtime.
Watch carefully as the game progresses. Even if it ends in dramatic fashion, try to remember what happened during the course of the game. After all, there's no such thing as a small play in a close game.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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