Growing up in Cary, N.C., Ian Boyd acted out those perfect basketball scripts countless times at the community park near his home.
“I was on the court by myself,” he recalled Monday, “counting down and shooting.”
Last week, he lived the fantasy. Twice. Seventy-two hours apart. In the stretch run of a heated Division I basketball season.
“Pretty good week for him,” George Mason Coach Dave Paulsen said with a grin.
“We were calling him ‘Mr. SportsCenter,’ ” teammate Otis Livingston II said after Boyd’s highlights went nationwide.
Boyd said he remembers making a winning shot for Apex High but wasn’t sure if any time remained. “Can’t think of any others,” he added, running through middle school and AAU games.
His reaction to back-to-back game-winners? “It doesn’t strike me at all,” he said with a shrug. “We’ve just got to keep playing, keep winning.”
Said Livingston: “He’s a real humble person and player. So he doesn’t let any of that stuff get to him. He’s a hard worker. He’s always going to be that way, no matter what.”
Asked to recount all of the buzzer-beaters that went in his team’s favor during 24 years of college coaching, Paulsen scratched his head and stared at the ceiling of the practice gym.
He came up with two: the 2003 Division III national semifinals when his Williams College squad defeated Wooster in overtime and, eight years later during his Bucknell tenure, when Mike Muscala (now with the Atlanta Hawks) caught a length-of-the-court pass and hit a turnaround jumper against Richmond.
This season, Paulsen and the Patriots have enjoyed three stunners in 46 days. Before Boyd’s heroics, Livingston made a last-gasp three-pointer from 28 feet to defeat that same Saint Joseph’s team, 81-79, on Jan. 10 in Fairfax.
“It builds confidence, knowing we can stay poised under pressure,” Livingston said. “Next time we’re in that situation, we know we can win the game.”
They won at Saint Joseph’s when, with the game tied and 5.6 seconds left, Livingston dribbled across midcourt and encountered a roadblock.
“I see two dudes running at Otis,” Boyd said. “They tackled him, actually.”
Boyd was trailing the play as Livingston ran into trouble. As he was falling, he flipped the ball to Boyd for a high-arcing 24-footer.
Said Paulsen, “We’ve been working on the fumblerooski.”
Three nights later, the Patriots trailed by three when Goanar Mar was fouled while attempting a three-pointer with nine-tenths of a second left. The freshman forward made the free throws to force overtime.
In the extra period, the Minutemen tied the game with five seconds left. Instead of calling a timeout, Paulsen implored his team to push the ball upcourt. Livingston penetrated the lane.
“Time was like in slow motion,” he said. “No one stopped me. I saw Ian coming.”
And so he flipped the ball to him for the winning basket.
“It was just a regular layup,” said Boyd, who ranks fifth on the team in scoring with eight points per game.
Did he know how much time was left on each of the game-winners?
“I knew,” he said.
You glanced at the clock?
“I didn’t look at the clock. Just have to have a feel for it.”
Despite Boyd’s expertise under stress, Paulsen insisted Saturday’s winning formula was not designed with him in mind.
“Take it out, race it up, get it in Otis’s hands and see what you can get,” he said. “Don’t let them set their defense, don’t let them calm down.”
With no scholarship seniors, the Patriots have been as erratic as one might expect. An inability to preserve big leads has left them in those precarious, late-game situations. At Saint Joseph’s, they squandered a 20-point edge in the second half. On Saturday, a 16-point halftime lead fizzled.
“When you’re dog-piling and throwing water on the guy in the locker room, all of that stuff helps the guys feel connected and adds excitement,” Paulsen said. “I’d feel better if we didn’t [throw] away a 16-point lead, but what can you do?”
Hit another buzzer-beater, of course.
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