As I sat and covered the boys’ basketball game between Northeastern and Eastern York a few weeks back, I began to look around the Northeastern High School gymnasium and observe the fans.
The Golden Knights were giving the then-undefeated Bobcats all they could handle in a game that I’m sure many didn’t expect to be close. As the fourth quarter began, Eastern held a slight advantage, forcing the Northeastern fans to rally behind their team in an effort to will the Bobcats to victory.
Sure enough, the Bobcats went on an 8-2 run, erasing a five-point deficit and taking the lead. The excitement and energy level of both the players and the fans during that run was nothing short of electric. Northeastern fans were euphoric at the run their team was making, while the Eastern fans were doing whatever they could to keep their team in the game. And then, it all just stopped.
Donovian Maxwell brought the ball over midcourt after a steal and just held the ball. With more than four minutes to go in a one-point game, the Bobcats, with momentum fully on their side, were content in taking the air out of the ball. And the worst part? The Golden Knights were letting them.
Both teams sat there and just looked at each other, while fans around me grew restless and irritated at the lack of action. Here was a good game that had the makings of a great finish, only to be stalled by the fact that there was nothing preventing the two teams from simply not playing.
No shot clock: In high school basketball in Pennsylvania, there is no shot clock. It allows teams to possess the ball for, sometimes, minutes on end without even sniffing a shot attempt. It’s a rule that puts the winning team in the driver’s seat and forces the losing team to make a decision: start fouling or pressure and try to cause a turnover.
The end result of that odd sequence wound up playing out like this: After about two minutes of holding the ball, Northeastern called a timeout. Out of the timeout, both teams went back to what they were doing before and just stood around. Then, with Eastern pressuring, the Bobcats turned the ball over, then got it right back after forcing a turnover of their own, made a few free throws and the game ended with Northeastern still unbeaten. It was about as anticlimactic a finish as you could’ve had in a game that saw the home favorite erase an 11-point deficit and hold on to win.
Afterward, Northeastern coach Jon Eyster said: “We wanted them to come out and play us man-to-man. They would have trouble matching up with us.”
It was an understandable response, playing on the idea of match-ups and trying to force the opposition to do something it wasn’t comfortable doing.
Fast forward ahead two weeks and the same thing happened in another Bobcats game, only this time Eyster’s team was on the wrong side of a team sitting on the ball and killing the clock.
Down by as many as eight in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s game at West York, the Bulldogs chose to eat away at the clock, just in a less blatant way. Rather than simply holding the ball, they passed it around, forcing Northeastern to chase and start fouling with about 2 1/2 minutes to play. It extended the game for the Bobcats to the point where they cut the deficit to as little as four points, but ultimately suffered their first defeat of the season, 63-58.
After the game, West York coach Bill Ackerman said: “All we wanted to do was make them play defense … and let their aggressiveness hurt them in the end.”
I have no problem with the concept that Ackerman used. All he was doing was using the lack of a shot clock to his advantage.
Hurting the game: Unfortunately, this type of tactic is hurting high school basketball in Pennsylvania. While this isn’t a new thing — the non-existent shot clock — it might be time for the PIAA to think about putting one into play and I’d be hard pressed to believe that I’m the only one who thinks this. A number of states do use a shot clock for high school boys’ and girls’ games, including California, Massachusetts and New York. Most states, however, do not.
Fans in that Northeastern-vs.-Eastern game were just as emphatic in their cries of “let’s play basketball,” as they were when they were cheering on their teams. It’s a simple rule change that could greatly benefit the high school game. While many may believe that the lack of a shot clock now allows the kids more time to get better shots, by adding a shot clock, you’ll most likely get better basketball during crunch time.
And to be honest, the shot clock doesn’t even need to be as long as the one in the college game. In my opinion, 35 seconds is too long at that level. A 30-second clock could at least allow a team a couple more minutes before having to foul, while it also prevents teams from holding onto the ball.
Leagues and other sports organizations are always looking for ways to improve their respective sports. Implementing a shot clock is the next step that the PIAA needs to take if it wants to continue growing high school basketball in the state. It can’t hurt the game, even if it’s a failed concept that doesn’t wind up working.
But, for now, just like myself and all the fans did at the end of the Northeastern-vs.-Eastern game two weeks ago, we must sit around and wait for some sort of action to happen.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.