The refs headed to the monitor, Northwestern's players headed towards their bench, and Chris Collins gathered them together. Somehow, someway, Northwestern was down 3 with 7.7 seconds on the clock in overtime, and was about to get the ball on the sideline with a chance to tie the game. Chris Collins convened his players, and then turned to his trusty assistant, Brian James. He had one simple message.
"Hey," he said to James, "you gotta get us a three here."
"And I just gave him the board," Collins says, "and let him work his magic."
It's usually Collins in the center of the huddle at the ends of games trying to formulate something that will get Northwestern a bucket. But Tuesday was a unique situation--it was a sideline out-of-bounds situation. And it's one for which James was especially prepared.
"The NBA is a side out of bounds league," Collins said. "So because of his experience when the ball is on the side, he's got a million of those kind of plays. Because that's [the NBA guys'] game, especially late games. They call timeout, they advance it, you've got to have all kinds of side-out plays."
James, who was an NBA assistant for 18 years, initially started drawing up something the team had practiced before. But then he had a change of heart, and turned to the play that would eventually send the game to double-overtime. Northwestern's players had never seen it before
"I had used it before in the pros," James said, "but hadn't really tried it yet here."
So here's how Northwestern set up coming out of the timeout:
The cool thing about this is that everybody knows the ball is going to Demps. Every fan knew it. John Beilein knew it. Michigan players knew it. What makes the play so well-designed is that it looks initially like James has set it up to get Demps the ball right away too. Demps (along with McIntosh, probably NU's second option at the end of games) starts low. Everybody on the Michigan side is probably thinking that he'll come off a down screen. And that's sort of what he does.
Demps darts to the top of the key, but doesn't actually get a screen. Instead, McIntosh waits for Demps to clear out and then sets a cross screen for Cobb. Cobb catches with his back to the basket about 15 feet out on the ball-side, which is roughly where he was supposed to catch it.
(Note: James says that if NU had only been down 2, a Cobb drive would've been option 1b. But since the Wildcats were down 3, Cobb had to wait for the backside action)
When the ball is inbounded, naturally all the attention shifts to Cobb and to the ball. All five Michigan players have their heads turned in that direction. Fortunately for Northwestern, Tre Demps' man, Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, is perhaps the guiltiest of the five. Not only is his head turned, he isn't tight enough to Demps. He has surrendered the two tools with which he can keep track of Demps: his eyes and his arms/body.
This is also when deception comes into play. "Deception is huge in basketball," Demps says. "[James] mentioned that, to make it seem like I wasn't involved in the play. To get your defender to relax just a little bit makes a huge difference."
So when Cobb catches, and when Abdur-Rahkman momentarily falls asleep, that's exactly when Demps makes his move. The amazing thing is, the double screen actually isn't very well executed. To be fair to Olah and McIntosh, they had to be sure to hide the fact that the screen was coming. But once Abdur-Rahkman becomes aware, he pretty easily evades Olah and McIntosh. But that split second that he was unaware makes all the difference.
The amount of separation Demps gets on the back side is incredible. Now it's up to Cobb to find him. On the catch, Cobb immediately takes two dribbles to the baseline. Perhaps we would've been better served to take his time, take one dribble baseline and then make the pass. But he is able to get it past Spike Albrecht, who had Cobb on a switch.
From a Michigan perspective though, the most confounding part of the play is why Albrecht doesn't foul. If he brings his arm down on Cobb as Cobb initially puts the ball on the floor, there's no shot at continuation and a three-point play, and Demps' shot never happens. Apparently Beilein even said he knows it's a good idea to foul in that situation. But Albrecht didn't, and Demps received Cobb's pass in the corner with ample space.
If the play didn't fool Michigan, or if the backside screen wasn't successful, the second option was apparently McIntosh on a kick out. But everything worked to perfection. Here's the full play from start to finish:
A lot of things came together to make Demps' shot possible. But there were two things that above all made the play successful. One was James' design. He took the fact that Michigan was keyed in on Demps and turned it against the Wolverines. The play fools Michigan into thinking they've taken away Demps as the primary option, and it's at that exact moment when the Wolverines think that that Demps and NU pounce.
Secondly, there is the deception factor. Northwestern's five players do a tremendous job of concealing the play's intention. Here's another angle from the opposite end of the floor. Watch how Demps acts like he's totally out of the play, and then in an instant sprints to the corner:
A truly brilliant play, and a truly brilliant end to a game.