OK, let’s be real.
When anyone makes a shot from 70, 80 or 90 feet away to win a game, that shooter has beaten severe and extreme odds. There are promotional contests across the US (and probably the globe) that offer crazy prizes (cash, free tuition, car, etc.) for anyone who can make a halfcourt shot, and that’s just 47 or 42 feet away in most gymnasiums and arenas.
According to SCA Promotions in Dallas, the odds of making a halfcourt shot are 1 in 50. That’s 2 percent. That’s a lot higher than I expected, but I’m not totally surprised. You’ve probably made one if you’re a player or former player. But that’s while everyone’s goofing around before or after practice. Or while you and your friends are just shooting around at the park or gym.
When Kala‘i Santos launched his 74-foot game-winning bank shot to give Punahou a nutso-crazy-unbelievable 59-58 win over Saint Louis, he defied those odds. If a halfcourt shot is a 1-in-50 probability, then a near three-quarter court shot under that kind of duress — there was just 1.7 seconds on the clock when he caught the pass from Micah Ma‘a — has to be at least 150-to-1 or so. My gut says 200-to-1. That’s not a professional guess, of course.
I’ve seen someone make two halfcourt shots in a row, not in a game, of course, but that’s pretty good. I still think, though, that all bets are off (figuratively) when you are shooting — and I mean an actual shot like the one by Santos, not a heave or Hail Mary throw — from 74 feet.
No doubt, there have been questions about the way Saint Louis handled its 13-point lead and the way that was frittered away by Punahou in the final minutes on Wednesday. Now, a one-point loss by the No. 3 team in the state to the No. 2 team is hardly worth whining or fretting over. It’s one game in a long ILH season. But for the sake of those anguished Crusader fans who walked out of McCabe Gym wondering, ‘What the heck just happened?’, well, let’s rewind the tape.
>> False security. Saint Louis is up 40-27 after three quarters. A 14-5 run during the third stanza, including seven points in a row to end it, came mostly on fairly high-percentage shots. Reserve swingman Jaymason Nunuha hit a corner 3, then a follow shot. Jimmy Nunuha III made a free throw, then cut for an easy layup on a pass from Lance Sataraka. You could call them defensive breakdowns by Punahou, but when Drew Kobayashi went the length of the court for a layup, it was clear one team was fresh and the other was not.
Later, Buffanblu coach Darren Matsuda alluded to Punahou’s fatigue during the third quarter, noting that it has been (and still is) a tough finals week on campus. Whatever the case, the lead was 13 points and, seemingly, quite healthy.
>> And this. During the run, there was a Saint Louis layup attempt — right after Jaymason Nunuha’s corner 3 — that appeared to touch the backboard before a Punahou player batted it out. Goaltending. But there was no call, and during the dead ball, Saint Louis coach Keith Spencer questioned an official about it. Not enough to delay the game or warrant a technical foul, though. But that’s 2 points the Crusaders earned and never received on the scoreboard. And never will.
>> Buff flurry. The fourth quarter was practically scripted. That’s how fast the momentum changed. The seasoned, senior-heavy squad in navy blue got an easy putback by J.B. Kam. Punahou responded with a nice reverse layup by Kobayashi, who may have played his finest game thus far. Then it was a free throw by Kam,
Then this: with 6:08 to play, forward Jayce Smalley sat with his fourth personal foul. Smalley isn’t a big scorer or highlight-reel playmaker on either end, but his absence may have been the tipping point. His strength and mobility on both ends make him a valuable role player, as we learn soon enough.
After being fouled by Smalley, Dayson Watanabe hits two foul shots with total confidence, all net. (He was 6-for-6 at the line during the fourth quarter). Now the lead is down to 42-32.
During this run, Saint Louis is settling for hard shots in transition rather than running its offense. But even when the Crusaders pull the ball out and run some clock, they’re not getting clean looks, and their best shooters aren’t always the ones taking them.
Kam goes 1-for-2 at the line again, Watanabe sinks two more charity shots, and after Watanabe goes blur-mode to the bucket for a layup, Punahou is within 42-36 near the midway point of the fourth stanza.
Saint Louis is on the ropes.
Jimmy Nunuha drives for a layup and Crusader fans breathe a sigh of relief. Kanawai Noa, who was an offensive-rebounding force in the second half, hits a foul shot. Saint Louis pushed the lead back up to nine points, actually, and seemingly had a lock on their biggest regular-season win since… well, last week, when they went to ‘Iolani and won by two.
But Randon Oda hit a wing 2 to cut the lead to 46-39. Spencer called time out with 2:31 to go. Jimmy Nunuha went to the foul line for a 1-and-1 and missed. Saint Louis finished 13-for-23 at the charity stripe.
Kam again goes 1-for-2 at the line, strange for a good shooter. (Yes, he’s a deadly 3-point shooter and no, he shouldn’t move back 5 feet on his foul shots.)
Riding a fairly hot hand, Spencer still has Kobayashi in the game and the junior delivers on one of his two FTs with 1:52 left. The lead is 47-40 and should be enough for the Saints. But Ma‘a slinks through and gets fouled. He hits both FTs squarely.
Saint Louis gets a layup by Jaymason Nunuha on a pass over the press by Jimmy Nunuha for a 49-42 lead. Punahou burns a time out with 1:27 to go.
Ma‘a comes up big again with a layup on a pass from Jordan Tanuvasa. Jaymason Nunuha hits one of two foul shots for a 50-44 Saint Louis lead with 1:16 to play.
There’s Ma‘a again, sinking a smooth 12-foot baseline J to cut the margin to four. Kobayashi’s layup makes it 52-46.
This is not how most close games finish, with both teams in high-pace mode. But it’s a thriller that Saint Louis can close out and win as the clock dips below the 1-minute mark.
But there’s a problem. Punahou reverses the ball and finds Tanuvasa for a wide-open 3 from the left corner. The lead is now down to 52-49 and Matsuda spends his final time out with 55 ticks on the clock.
Crusader fans are worried, but Johnson swishes two foul shots with 31 seconds left for a 54-49 lead. In most high school games, this is not a surmountable situation for the losing team.
Punahou, which invested a sizable chunk of practice the day before on last-minute situational execution, doesn’t waste an iota of energy on the down side. Nobody is stressing. They push the ball upcourt, Tanuvasa draws a foul and hits two foul shots to bring Punahou within 54-51 with 25 seconds left.
Jaymason Nunuha hits one of two free throws and Saint Louis has a 55-51 lead with 23 seconds left. Again, at the prep level, this is very much a probable lock for the team in the lead.
But Watanabe drives, gets fouled again, and knocks down two more free throws. Punahou is within 55-53 with 16.5 ticks left.
“At the end, the refs were calling the hand checks and Punahou hit those free throws, so credit to them,” Spencer said on Wednesday morning.
Johnson came through again, with two probable coffin nails at the FT line for a 57-53 lead and just 12.2 seconds left. Nobody overcomes that margin with just a dozen seconds left. Nobody.
Punahou’s inbounds pass bounces a couple of times before Tanuvasa picks it up. He whips the ball over to Ma‘a, who quickly dribbles to the right wing for a pass to Kam coming off a screen. Kam pump fakes, dribbles left (Ma‘a’s screen doesn’t hinder Kam’s defender) and sinks a 3 over a defender.
“I thought we made them earn their shots, people in their face,” Spencer said.
All this happens even after Spencer had directed his defense to make automatic switches — I think that’s what I saw him say before the pass was inbounded — but Kam is clutch. The lead is now 57-56, but Punahou can’t stop the clock.
This is where a lot of old timers like me wonder. I didn’t get a look at the game clock, but by editing the game video, I could determine that there was between 5.5 and 6 seconds on the clock when Kam’s 3-pointer went through the net. Jaymason Nunuha promptly picked up the ball and passed it in to Johnson, who was fouled with 1.7 seconds left.
1. Old farts in makule leagues would do this: take their sweet ol’ time picking up the ball after it goes through the rim. Let it bounce once, twice, three times maybe. The referee might have to blow his whistle and put a few seconds back on the clock, but the onus of getting the ball inbounds is not on the offense. The official in this game situation didn’t start counting (arm motion) until Nunuha set his feet and started looking for teammates.
2. If there had been less than 5 seconds on the clock, of course, Nunuha’s move would’ve been to simply hold the ball. Every good coach teaches this to his players on any level. Not that young hoopsters remember this in a very thick, high-stress scenario.
(Note: Matsuda said he saw roughly 5.5 seconds on the clock when the shot went in.)
3. With more than 5 seconds on the clock, had Nunuha held the ball, he would’ve been whistled for a 5-second violation and Punahou would’ve had a chance to inbound the ball under its basket with, probably, 1 second or a half-second to play.
Johnson stepped to the foul line and missed the first of his double-bonus foul shots. (He had made six in a row to that point.) This brings up the next scenario.
1. Make the shot, get the lead to two points.
2. Miss the shot, force Punahou to heave a 90-foot attempt in less than 2 seconds.
3. Miss the shot forcibly, using a low trajectory for a long rebound that would possibly land outside the key where Punahou had nobody to rebound.
Johnson hit the foul shot. Saint Louis wisely covered every inch of hardwood downcourt, protecting against an easy 2-point shot by the visitors. Ma‘a opted to pass to Santos, who was parked on the right sideline by the wing. Ma‘a had been directed earlier by Matsuda to just get the ball in for any kind of open shot rather than force a pass deep downcourt as he did a few weeks earlier in a very similar situation against Kalaheo. That time, the pass was intercepted easily near the left corner.
This time, Punahou beat the odds. There’s a final note here. Johnson, who had played a brilliant game with 15 points, only one turnover and steady defense, had initially picked up Santos after making the free throw. But he was either directed by the bench to get back behind the halfcourt line, or he descended back on his own. That left Santos all by his lonesome,
“He dropped on his own, but I told them I didn’t want any contact just in case,” Spencer said.
As Santos stepped into his shot next to the hash line in front of Saint Louis’ bench, all that remained was the sound of 500 fans in locked, unified anticipation — mostly anticipation of another prayer shot unanswered.
It was one game in a grind of a season for both teams. Two evenly-matched teams. For Saint Louis, there is room for improvement. After going 13-for-15 at the line in the win over ‘Iolani, they were just 13-for-23 against Punahou. There were 14 turnovers, too.
“We’ve got so miuch more basketball to play. It’s the 24-hour rule,” Spencer said. “There’s no time to dwell. We’ve got Mid-Pacific next and they’re on a high. They just beat Maryknoll.”
All those pre-practice, long-distance, buzzer-beater shot contests — who knew there would ever be a reward like this for the Buffanblu? Santos was 2-for-4 from the arc before the buzzer beater and finished with 12 points.
There were many branches on this tree. One slightly different tangent in any situation would’ve altered the final result. But it all comes down to this: Saint Louis played its cards in a traditional way. The odds were in the Crusaders’ favor. And Kala‘i Santos’ prayer was answered.
Sometimes, there’s simply no earthly answer for a gift from above.