Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jazzmin vs. Trey - Who ya got?

Maybe it's something about the date.

On March 25, 2008, Jazzmin Walters buried a 3-pointer that lifted Old Dominion's Lady Monarchs to an 88-85 overtime victory over Virginia and into the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.

Seven years later to the day - March 25, 2015 - Trey Freeman played hero for the ODU men, nailing a one-legged 30-foot runner (!) as time expired to lift the Monarchs past Murray State 72-69 and into the NIT semifinals.

We don't think we're going out on a limb by calling these the two biggest, most impactful shots from the home team in the history of Old Dominion's Ted Constant Convocation Center (opened in 2002).

But which one's No. 1?

Let's check the tale of the tape:

Degree of difficulty - Upon receiving Jordan Baker's inbounds pass some 60 feet from the hoop, Freeman snaked past Murray State's T.J. Sapp along the baseline and kissed a parabolic 30-foot runner off glass and through as the buzzer sounded.
   Now, given the circumstances, the 5-foot-2-inch Walters' "onions" were every bit as big as Freeman's. But let's face it, she essentially hit a spot-up 3-pointer.
Advantage - Freeman.

Opponent factor: What's in a name? Well, quite a bit for those who don't follow college basketball (and much to our dismay, the world is full of such creatures). Don't believe us? Well, Old Dominion fans, try this exercise. Call up a friend who doesn't follow sports and, without even telling them what event or even sport you're talking about, simply say, Hey, we beat Virginia!" We're betting just that fact alone will leave them impressed.
   Then call up another non-sports friend and repeat the routine, only this time replace "Virginia" with the words "Murray State." See how much explaining you have to do before they understand why you're so excited.
Advantage: Walters, big (No disrespect intended, Murray State)

Protect our house factor: Jazzmin's jumper capped a season in which the Lady Monarchs went undefeated at home (16-0). Trey's trey capped a season in which the Monarchs went undefeated at home (20-0).
Advantage: Even

Fantastic finish?: While both shots broke ties and accounted for the winning margins, only Freeman's was actually a buzzer-beater that ended the game. Nearly five seconds remained after Walters came through, and ODU's victory wasn't secure until Lady Monarchs center Tiffany Green blocked Lyndra Littles' 3-point attempt and a second try went way off target.
Advantage: Freeman

Surprise, surprise: Freeman admitted his shot was one he can't even count on making in practice (with Jeff Jones quickly adding that Freeman's attempts come after practice, lest anyone think the the coach earmarks valuable workout time to honing such a low-percentage heave). On the other hand, Walters drilled a shot she'd spent years perfecting. So this one has to go to Freeman, right?
   Not so fast. Because you see, before Walters could make the shot, guard Shadasia Green had to pass her the ball. Now, Green would develop into a quite willing passer, but in 2008, the fact that the then-freshman Green averaged less than one assist per game indicates that early on, she pretty much had eyes only for the rim. Or so we thought, especially with so few ticks remaining. So while most people remember this as the night Jazz made that shot, we often think of it as the night a young Shay Green actually gave up the rock.
Advantage: Walters, in an upset

Defining post-game image: Freeman wound up at the bottom of a classic dogpile of jubilant Monarchs, and naturally, ESPN's cameras ate this up. But hey, guys, the man has a bum ankle, remember? How 'bout carrying him off the court? (In fact, Wood Selig, can we get a scooter for this guy to tool around campus on for the next few days? This NIT ride ain't over yet.) Also, the joy of the moment was mitigated somewhat by the sight of two policemen subduing one overly aggressive civilian.
   By contrast, the joy of the Lady Monarchs' triumph was best captured in the sight of guard T.J. Jordan celebrating atop the scorer's table with her right index finger pointed toward the heavens - a (Michael) Jordan-esque pose, if you will. It was powerful, iconic - and certainly a lot safer
Advantage: Walters

By the way, loved it that ODU students didn't feel the need to storm the court after Freeman's big shot. Judging from the way folks were going nuts in the stands, it certainly didn't seem as though anyone felt they were being deprived of anything. Hope students at a host of other schools picked up on this.

Men vs. women: Ah, the elephant in the room. Yes, men's basketball is a whole lot more popular than women's basketball, and yes, there were a near-capacity 8,161 fans at the Constant Center Wednesday night and "only" 5,989 in the building in 2008 when the Lady Monarchs outlasted Virginia. But as someone who was in the house both nights can attest, the euphoria and electricity generated by a big-time shot in a big-time spot isn't gender specific. The roof nearly came off the place both times.
Advantage: Even

National impact: Both shots were replayed on a seemingly endless loop via the national airwaves, but Freeman's reached the gold standard in sports buzz by ranking No. 1 in ESPN Sportscenter's "Play of the Day" countdown. Walters peaked at No. 2, and it wasn't even for her heroic shot. The self-professed Worldwide Leader was even more mesmerized when, earlier in the game, Walters threaded a pass through the legs of Virginia center Aisha Mohammed to a wide-open Jessica Canady for a layup.
Advantage: Freeman

Tournament status: For some, the fact that Walters delivered in the prestigious NCAA tournament and Freeman's heroics came in the off-broadway NIT will trump all. But as a lot of ODU fans now realize, there's quite a bit of magic in personally witnessing your team win three games, two dramatically and one of those spectacularly, for $11 a pop without missing a day's work.
   Ultimately, though, Walters' shot left Old Dominion in contention for the title of best Division I team in America. For all of the winning that's followed, Freeman's team's bid for that distinction died the night they were denied entry into the 68-team NCAA field.
Advantage: Walters, but closer than the experts think

Destination desirability: Freeman's shot earned the Monarchs a trip to New York, New York, and if you can make it there, you're gonna make it anywhere.
   Walters shot earned the Lady Monarchs a trip to Greensboro, N.C. to play UConn, and if you can make it there, you're probably gonna lose by 30.
Advantage: Freeman, big

Note: On March 30, 2008 - in Karen Barefoot's final game as an ODU assistant - the Lady Monarchs fell 78-63 to UConn. This actually qualifies as a competitive showing against the mighty Huskies, then and now.

OK, this was fun, but clearly we're settling nothing. Obviously fans of each individual team are free to see it any way they want. But why does everything have to come down to an "either/or" situation? Who do we look like, Skip and Stephen A.?

Besides, all this data-crunching has merely confirmed what we believed all along:

Two great shots

No wrong choice.

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