The free-throw line appears the same from an NBA arena in Los Angeles to Indianapolis high schools to a college in Coral Gables: a line 15 feet from the basket, the one place from which you can score with time stopped and completely control your always-uncontested shot.
That’s where the plot line of Saturday’s 60-56 University of Miami win at BankUnited Center against Boston College kept returning.
The final time would be when UM junior center Tonye Jekiri sank the front end of a one-and-one with 4.5 seconds left after grabbing his game-high 15th rebound, this one off BC junior guard Olivier Hanlan’s try at a game-tying three-pointer. It mattered not that Jekiri clanked the second free throw. With the Eagles needing two possessions, they were done.
Jekiri also put up 13 points, tying his season high after exhortations from his teammates to be a tad more selfish. He came into the game averaging 7.4 points and 2.0 assists per game. Assists Saturday: zero.
“We’ve watched so many videos where if their bigs aren’t worried about me, then it makes their job more difficult,” Jekiri said. “So, a couple of practices we had before this game, I had guys telling me ‘You’ve got to start dunking the ball. You’ve got to start being aggressive. We know you can pass the ball, but there’s some [plays] you don’t have to pass. Look to score for yourself.’”
Hanlan’s miss ended a fatally fruitless final minute for BC’s leading scorer, who still wound up with a game-high 19 points.
With BC down 59-56, Hanlan saw a driving one-handed scoop layup over Jekiri tantalizingly roll away. A rather rash three-point try by Angel Rodriguez on UM”s possession clanked away to Hanlan, whom Rodriguez immediately fouled with 15.5 seconds left.
Given a second chance to put some pressure on UM, Hanlan bricked the front end of his one-and-one.
Sheldon McClellan rebounded for the Hurricanes and was immediately fouled by BC’s Eddie Odio, son of longtime Barry University men’s basketball coach Cesar Odio.
McClellan blew the front end of his one-and-one, Odio rebounded, and the Eagles called timeout with 8.9 seconds left. Nice tic-tac-toe passing off the inbounds play got Hanlan the wide open three-pointer to tie that he missed.
UM goes to 11-4, 1-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. BC is 7-7 and 0-3.
“These type of games, the free-throw line is huge,” Boston College coach Jim Christian said. “We missed four of our last five free throws. You can’t afford to have that happen on the road. That said, we had a pretty good look from three that could’ve tied it. Again, we can’t start the game like that against a good basketball team like Miami.”
The Eagles finished 5 of 10 from the free-throw line. All of that came in the second half. UM was 9 of 14.
Rodriguez felt similarly about his first half. In the second half, he played that swaggering small-guard game to perfection, hitting the lane for double pump layups and fouls. Of his 17 points, 10 were the Hurricanes’ first 10 points of the second half, a personal 10-2 run that took UM’s lead from 29-24 to 39-26.
“I thought the first half, maybe sometimes I settled for the three,” Rodriguez said. “But in the second half, I saw some gaps [in the BC defense]. I made some plays. Nothing changes. Maybe the way I read their defense. To me, they were better in the first half at covering the paint and making me shoot threes.”
Said UM coach Jim Larrañaga: “In the first half, we had nine assists. In the second half, we had two. Finding the open man was a little bit more challenging for us in the second half.”
From 41-31, the Hurricanes’ lead started to shrink on the unlikely happening of Boston College firing in three-pointers. The Eagles came into the game hitting only .288 from three-point range.
Yet with Odio leading the way (3 of 4 from three-point range), the Eagles fired their way into a 50-50 tie on second-leading scorer Aaron Brown’s only three-pointer and second of two baskets in the game.
Lecomte answered quickly with a three-pointer to put UM back up 53-50.
But what happened at the free-throw line kept UM in front all the way to the end.