Located in the Karakoram Range in Pakistan, K2 is the second-highest peak in the world. It is also, in terms of difficulty and mortal risk in summiting, challenged by only Annapurna as the world's most threatening mountain. In the summer of 2008, 10 groups of climbers were strung out on its slopes, waiting for suitable weather to make a rush to the top and safely return to camp, base camp, and ultimately home.
On Friday, August 1, just such a weather window had opened. Helping fix the ropes was a team of high-altitude porters (HAPs), Pakistan's answer to the more famous Sherpas of the Himalayas. One such HAP was Jehan Baig.
Baig was an experienced porter who had worked the mountain in the past; on this expedition, he was working for a French team to assist in preparing their path to the summit by securing ropes and laying caches. When his work was done, in the mid-morning, he prepared to head down the slope.
A lot has already gone wrong at this point, as teams had duplicated one another's efforts with ropes, making many paths double-covered while leaving a vital stretch unsecured. In the confusion around the ropes, a Serbian climber had already fallen, and a team was descending to him to ascertain his condition. As Baig came upon that team and the Serbian, now confirmed deceased, he, too, started sliding down the slope.
The technique for arresting a slide like the one Baig was in is not complicated. The climber rolls onto his belly and digs in his axe, his knees, his elbows, and his toes - anything to slow his momentum. Every climber knows it and knows to do it; it would have been as natural as breathing for Baig, and it would have saved his life.
Only, he didn't. Some combination of fatigue, disorientation, and altitude sickness robbed him of his wherewithal, and his companions watched in shock and horror as he slid to and then over the edge of the mountain. Somehow in slow motion and too quickly for anyone to react, he was gone.
Nothing anyone could have done would have helped. Baig needed to do what he knew to, and, for reasons lost to the tragedy, he wasn't able to.
Fast forward 11 1/2 years and some small version of this played out last night at Cintas. With the season sliding toward the precipice, the solution was achingly simple: make some free throws.
A total of 25 times, Xavier had an uncontested set shot from 15 feet for a single point. Naji Marshall and Jason Carter, good for almost 3 of every 4 on their combined careers, racked just 3 of 10. Tyrique Jones, a 60% shooter, hit 3 of 7. Zach Freemantle split a pair. Q went 4 of 6.
Time and again, guys who have been doing this since they could walk, who shoot thousands of free throws a week, who practice them fresh, tired, in stocking feet after a workout, stepped to the line and failed to convert one of the sport's simplest tasks. In a game that was tied at the horn twice and separated by just two points at the last, you don't need to be Russell Crowe's character from A Beautiful Mind to see that Xavier's 11-25 from the stripe as a team cost them the game.
With the season's hopes sliding towards the edge, Xavier was unable to self-arrest.
Baig's death was just the opening act of the tragedy on K2 that August. By dawn on August 4th, four serac falls and two avalanches had left 11 climbers dead. Incredible acts of heroism all across the very high reaches of the mountain kept the death toll from being even higher.
Xavier's story isn't done yet. There's a scenario circulating Twitter - I think it was started by Xavier Grit, but I'm not sure - showing X losing last night and again to Seton Hall and still making 9-9 in the league. I don't know if that will happen.
What I do know is that right now it feels like last night we watched the season slide to the edge, needing only the simplest of acts to rescue it, and then watched it plunge out of sight.