File this one under the "you'll never see that again" column.
The UC San Diego Tritons defeated the Cal State San Marcos Cougars, 69-65, in a California Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball game Sunday night.
What's significant about the feat is that UCSD played the final 14 seconds of the game with four players. Yes, there were only four players available because every other Tritons player was either hurt or had fouled out. Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune set the stage:
[UCSD forward Drew] Dyer, who had just put the Tritons ahead on a fallaway jumper, was the fourth UCSD player to foul out in a whistle-plagued game (there were 62 total fouls and 73 free throws). Olen already lost two players before the season with injuries, lost two more during the season and had two freshmen redshirting. Then senior center Zach McMillan rolled an ankle early in the second half and was sitting on the end of the bench in a protective book.
That left four guys to play the final 14 seconds: Koree Cox, Kenny Fraser, Chris Hansen and George Buaku. And Buaku had four fouls; if he fouled again, they’d be down to three.
What a time to be alive.
The Tritons led 66-65 with 14 seconds left, when Drew Dyer fouled out. CSSM guard Nik Brown went to the line for two free throws. The team with five players had a chance to tie or take the lead against the team with four players.
He missed both free throws.
George Buaku grabbed the rebound and was fouled, which sent him to the free-throw line. He made both, putting UCSD up 68-65 with eight seconds remaining. Deciding not to allow a potential game-tying three-pointer, UCSD coach Eric Olen ordered the Tritons to foul on the inbounds pass to play the free-throw game.
San Marcos center Ben Dickinson missed both free throws, and UCSD hit one more at the end to pull off the improbable win.
“I turned to my assistant and said: ‘What are we going to do if this goes to overtime?’" Olen said, per Zeigler. "He said: ‘We’re gonna lose.’ So I said: ‘Well, let’s try to find a way to win now.’”
What if it did go to overtime, though? Zeigler explained:
One was to play four-on-five knowing that it very well could be three-on-five if or when Buaku was whistled for another foul. Another was to send one of his two redshirts to the locker room to put on a uniform. That option, however, would have cost the Tritons a technical foul because neither was listed in the score book.
This was the first time these two teams had ever met. Dyer's 19 points led the Tritons, and somehow Division II's No. 11-ranked team escaped with the win despite shooting 25-of-39 from the free-throw line.
It's baffling that CSSM could not pull out the victory. Even if Brown had only split the free throws, it would have taken the greatest play in basketball history for UCSD to score while down a man, and the Cougars probably would have prevailed in overtime.
But as former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards says, "You play to win the game." Or, in this case, you play to survive with only four players left on a basketball team.