With the Seattle University down 51-48 with under 14 minutes left against Montana State last night, forward Aaron Broussard tied the game with what is probably the least common, toughest three point play you might ever see.
The 6'5" junior grabbed an offensive rebound in traffic off a Cervante Burrell miss and got fouled on the putback attempt. After making his first free throw, he missed the second but avoided a weak MSU box out to get his own rebound and go back up to make the layup in traffic this time.
Broussard is an absolute warrior. And that's why it's so strange to see moments like the one before his go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:38 left in the game to put the Redhawks up by two points and ultimately a 72-70 win.
When he initially received the ball wide open on the right wing, he almost looked like he really wanted to swing the ball instead of shooting it. After searching everywhere for a pass with the clock running down - and not finding one because the fact that he was so open meant that others had to be covered - he resorted to taking the open shot.
And he was about as unsure of the shot after he released it as he looked before he decided to take it.
"It didn't look like it was going in at first and then it went in," said Broussard with a chuckle after the game. "It was kinda a relief. I knew it was a big shot, the shot clock was running down after Cervante gave me the pass. And I just stepped up and shot it and it went in."
The weird this is that Broussard certainly doesn't lack confidence - clearly the player who threw his body around in the paint with an almost instinctive aggression earlier in the half and finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds is not lacking for confidence. It's that this player who has the ability to do the unexpected - whether against bigger, stronger, or quicker players - can fluctuate between supreme aggression and an almost passive desire to make the routine play when the moment seems to demand aggression.
"I call him the reluctant warrior," said Dollar. "I think he obviously has a world of potential that he's starting to tap into more and more as we play. I think he's becoming more and more comfortable with being aggressive and kinda what that feels like."
It's just part of the emotional roller coaster that Seattle University basketball can sometimes feel like with high moments of supreme confidence in their ability to hang around mixed with low moments of doubt about how they're even in the game. And last night was no different.
As might be expected by now, there were long stretches of poor shooting interspersed with freshman guard Sterling Carter suddenly catching fire from beyond the arc. Brief periods where they could neither stop nor even cover the opponent mixed with moments of stifling pressure defense. And times when they seem to respond to it all by reducing the game to something resembling a scrum after showing signs of being capable of beautifully patient offensive execution.
But the one thing you will see consistently from Redhawks players is the toughness that Aaron Broussard showed on his extended "three point play" - this team simply doesn't seem to have "quit" in them even in moments of "doubt".
"I just told our guys that we just gotta keep scrapping and fighting," said Dollar when asked about the first half when MSU was hot from the 3-point line. "So we've been having a close couple of games here and there and we didn't have a good effort in - mental effort in Davis (on Saturday) so it was good for us to come back, be home, and to play with some energy and life."
And in a sport predicated on ebbs and flows, that's exactly what makes Seattle U an exciting team to watch - somehow throughout games that can keep fans as off-balance as opponents, the Redhawks manage to continue scrapping to keep themselves handing in the game. And it's in the moments when they bring together that scrappy play with good basketball that they manage to win games.
"We just kept getting the ball inside, trying to get to the free throw line," said Broussard. "Everyone was aggressive but smart at the same time. And I think just doing that just helped to keep us calm and relaxed in the situations and we were able to get key baskets down the stretch."
Seattle Statistical MVP: Aaron Broussard
Aggressive and smart generally describes Broussard's game. While aggressively getting to the line at a high rate, finding his way to nearly 16 percent of the offensive rebounds available to him, and willing the team to victory he was also very efficient in shooting 8-for-12 from the field and didn't use up a lot of possessions to get the job done.
And maybe the efficient or "smart" part is something Dollar would exchange for more of the aggressive part.
"Honestly, I want him to shoot even more," said Dollar, when asked about Broussard's performance. "There's a comfort level that guys who can get 20 have - they're going to get their shots. Like had Bobby Howard played, he gonna put his shots up - he's not worried about whether he's going to miss or not. And AB still kind of worries about that a little too much. He's not settled in about being that aggressive guy every night."
It's not that this was Broussard's best game, but it was probably the game in which his unique blend of aggression and patience stood out more prominently than any other. He's a player that can go to the block and score on a drop step, fly in for offensive rebounds, or hit the go-ahead three to get his team a win. He's a competitor, but hardly an overbearing one.
"For most of his career he's been like the third or fourth guy on his team, so he's gotten comfortable with that and I think at times he wants to draw back and do that," said Dollar. "But no question that we play our best when he is being extremely aggressive. So we run plays for him, try to encourage him to do it off the fly, play through mistakes. So it's good to see him just keep kind of forging forward and doing what his talent says he can do."
The thing that stood out as most significant in last night's game was Broussard's offensive rebounding, ultimately what might have most helped the Redhawks win the game.
Key statistic: offensive rebounding
As much as shooting is a concern for the Redhawks, it's clear that they're just going to be out shot on a number of occasions this season. So in their wins, offensive rebounding has been a key and winning that battle was crucial last night.
In the second half, they outrebounded MSU by 45 percent to 21 percent margin, which helped them to a 9 to 0 differential in second chance points.
And as much as Broussard stood out last night for his outstanding play and team-high six rebounds, Jones also went to work on the offensive boards last night.
Key player: Alex Jones
Jones got a game-high 21 percent of the offensive rebounds available to him and finished the game with eight rebounds total to go with his 13 points. His rebounding and scoring efficiency in the post was a big factor in getting the win.
And Jones' tenacity inside also contributed to putting MSU star Bobby Howard in foul trouble, which made it far easier to hold him to four points on 1-for-6 shooting.
"We wanted to go inside - we thought that we had some advantages there," said Dollar, when asked about defending Howard. "Then we were fortunate that he got banged a couple of times and got some fouls early, so he was out most of the first half. And then the second half the emphasis was to try and go at him because either he'd move out of the way, which he did a couple of times, or he'd get tangled up and he'd get fouls.
"And there ain't no question the best way to guard him is for him to be sitting over there on the bench."
However, the biggest thing that stood out in shifting the momentum of the game was defense. And although it doesn't necessarily show up in the box score stats, the Redhawks decision to switch to a trapping half or 3/4 court 1-3-1 zone completely shut down MSU and helped the Redhawks slowly chip away at the lead.
Montana State statistical MVP: Shawn Reid
MSU finished the game shooting an impressive 12-for-29 from the 3-point line (41.4 percent), including 3-for-6 three point shooting and 23 points from reserve Shawn Reid.
But where they really did their damage from the three point line was in the first half when they shot 8-for-14 from beyond the arc and 53.6 percent overall.
"We knew that was one of their strengths," said Broussard. "We just wanted to make sure we got a hand up on 'em. And, by the numbers, they shoot it good but we knew they were going to miss at least half. So if they're going to shoot 'em all night, we just gotta keep gettin' our points the way we get 'em and hit the rebounds when they do miss."
Broussard was right - in the beginning of the second half, the Bobcats did start missing more often but had still made 3-of-6 (42.9 percent) after star Bobby Howard hit his first 3-pointer - and only field goal of the night - with 8:57 left.
But having fallen down by 10 points at the time, Dollar decided to switch a 1-3-1 zone that essentially shut down the Bobcats offense and gave the Redhawks time to claw back into the game.
"Obviously, we had fallen behind a little bit and they were in rhythm running their offense," said Dollar. "They run their sets really well and they had a comfort level going at it. We kinda wanted to get 'em out of that, but generate energy on our end more than anything as well."
After Mark McLaughlin created a turnover before a media timeout with 7:48 left, MSU went on to shoot 2-for-10 from the field for the remainder of the game and one of those two was a meaningless three pointer from Reid at the buzzer. It wasn't that they weren't getting shots off or even turning the ball over, but they just never figured out how to effectively handle that zone.
"They didn't really know what to do as far as how to attack it," said Broussard. "They were trying to drive it into the middle and that was kinda what we wanted them to do - take 'em off the three point line and really just kinda wanted to mix it up a little bit, keep 'em on their toes so they're not really getting too confident coming down getting wide open threes."
Even with MSU unable to figure out the 1-3-1, it took essentially an eight minute MSU scoring drought for the Redhawks to even pull even while they tried to find an offensive rhythm of their own.
So ultimately, imposing chaos on the opponent has not proven to be a consistently successful strategy for 3-6 Seattle U this season if they can't make shots. But they did continue to show last night that they are tough, resilient, and have the ability to lock a team down until they do find a way to score.
"Man, it's exciting we won," said a laughing Burrell, who finished with 10 points and five assists. "So you can't be mad or quiet about that. You gotta take it how you can get it. We just gotta continue winning."