Northern Kentucky needed to inbound the ball from beneath its own basket and run the clock out for a win against Wright State. All five offensive players lined up out of bounds and ran football routes to confuse the defense.
“I’ve already planned on putting it in,” Alesi wrote back to Harris.
On Friday, Baruch finally had an opportunity to use it. Staten Island had tied the game at 74-74 with 4.7 seconds to play in the City University of New York Athletic Conference tournament final.
Baruch and Staten Island, located 17 miles apart, know each other well. They’d played nine days prior when Baruch pulled out a four-point home win. Staten Island’s coach, T.J. Tibbs, is a former Baruch assistant. One of his main responsibilities at Baruch was scripting inbounds plays, the kind upon which this championship game rested.
In the huddle, Alesi threw out his playbook and started sketching the game-winning inbounds play that captivated college basketball fans and went viral over the weekend. The 76-74 win sent Baruch to the Division III NCAA tournament, which begins this Friday.
“One of the things we focused on was not just how good [Tibbs’s] team is and how good of a coach he is, but his familiarity with who we are,” Alesi said in a phone interview. “We really focused on being a bit more random than we usually are. . . . I’m drawing it up and making it up as I go."
Taking a concept from football schemes, he had four “receivers” bunched up at the right end of the baseline and had them run routes across the floor in a staggered pattern, thereby not allowing the defense to pressure the length of the floor.
Each Bearcat broke in a different direction. The team’s two three-point shooters flew down the court to spot up for a shot. One went toward the left wing, the other to the right corner. Benjamin Boateng, the center, ran like a tight end down the middle of the floor trying to draw a defender out of the path of point guard Jack Sixsmith, who broke from the formation last.
Sixsmith caught the inbounds pass near his own free throw line with room to maneuver up the floor.
“Our objective was to confuse the defense,” the coach said, “to not allow them to match up and we talked getting the ball up the floor so we didn’t have to settle for a heave.”
But as Sixsmith neared midcourt, Boateng’s defender left his man and ran at the ballhandler, disoriented by the frenetic pace of play. Sixsmith threw the ball ahead to Boateng, who caught the ball, turned and shot from just inside the three-point line.
“I can’t say I saw what Jack saw, but am I glad he saw it,” Alesi said.
Boateng joined the team three years ago as a freshman walk-on. Alesi held open tryouts to fill a couple extra roster spots and he liked Boateng’s size and energy. He was a rim protector and rebounder who made hustle plays, but his first two seasons, Boateng barely saw the floor, averaging 4.3 and 7.8 minutes per game, respectively.
Now a junior, he’s the Bearcats’ sixth man, playing more than 15 minutes a game. He had 14 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday. And when Sixsmith found him for a jump shot as time wound down, he stepped into with confidence.
“It’s Boateng!” the play-by-play announcer hollered as he let the shot go. “He got it!”
“It’s moments like these that make coaching entirely worth it,” Alesi said.
“It is something that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a little while. I had seen something very similar on social media. The game has gotten to a great place where coaches can share and learn so much on social media,” he said. “It looked like a football play. It was so unique and I saw the value in it. We didn’t run the same play, but it was the same concept. We’re wide receivers, thinking about running your route, and breaking off your route and coming back to the ball. I had it in the back of my mind that in the right spot, it would be a great way to get the ball in bounds.”
It was a well-executed play. But don’t expect to see Baruch run this again during the NCAA’s Division III tournament.
“I don’t know that we can ever top it, so maybe it’s time to retire it,” Alesi said.
That is, until another coach picks it up for himself.