Imagine you're Dailyn Swain.
With 35 seconds left in the game, you're in the right corner - right in front of your own bench - at the Cintas Center. For the last week or so, you and your friends have played your guts out to try to revive a season that was approaching room temperature. You went to Providence and won, largely on the back of an incandescent second half from your fellow freshman Trey Green. You then convincingly defended the home court against a Butler team that had been getting some rumblings about its bubble potential.
In those two games, the narrative around your team has been changed. You're hearing a 9-5 finish to the season might be enough for an at-large bid. That doesn't seem out of reach, right? The only qualifier - and it's a qualifier that's mentioned every time - is that you can't lose to DePaul or Georgetown.
You're losing to Georgetown.
It's no mystery why. The rebound you just pulled down - the last of your career-high six - sealed what was just the third stop Xavier had gotten in the last nine minutes of game time. Georgetown scored 25 of their 91 points in those 9 minutes, staving off every Xavier run with a bucket or a pair of free throws. Yes, always a pair; Georgetown was a sterling 20-21 on the night.
You raked down that board and fed man of the moment Des Claude. He had left some points on the floor earlier, but, from down 87-82 with 3 minutes to play, he had scored or assisted every Xavier point that brought the game to the current 91-90 scoreline.
Now Des drives the lane from the left channel and collapses the defense. Surrounded, he kicks to you behind the arc in the corner. There's space, but there's also a Hoya closing quickly. Is this the three-point line's final say in tonight's game?
It has certainly been the story so far. Coming into the game shooting less than 30% from deep in Big East game, the Hoyas - underdogs by 17 per KenPom - shot themselves to a 14-point first half lead by making 8 of their first 10 from behind the arc. They cooled significantly, shooting just 3-12 from three in the second half, but reversion to the mean doesn't take points off the board. No, the three-point arc hasn't been your friend on the night.
Your head fake sends the defender into the front row, where he will effectively be a spectator for the remainder of the play. Why he was closing out that hard on a career 16.7% three-point shooter probably doesn't cross your mind.
Now you have space but precious little time. Des has continued his cut and is back behind the arc on the right wing now. He hasn't set a foot wrong on this end during crunch time; should you return his pass? No, a Hoya is closing out on him, opening the lane.
It's just you and 15 feet to the rim. Coming across to cover is Supreme Cook. He has a couple of inches and thirty pounds on you and entered the game in the top ten of the league in block rate. He hasn't blocked a shot tonight, but it has seemed like he has been everywhere, dropping 13 and 8 in just 18 minutes and drawing countless fouls on the post. Can you climb him with the game on the line?
Two media timeouts ago, Sean Miller had questioned your toughness in the huddle. "This is the Big East," he yelled. "You get out of the way, you lose!" Was it you he was challenging? It feels like it when he makes that eye contact, but he did that to everyone.
It doesn't matter; there's only time to act, not think. You go up; Cook rises with you. Can you draw contact and trust the refs to do the right thing? Probably not. Twelve game minutes ago, you put your defender on the seat of his pants in front of God and everybody at the top of the key before running down the lane and getting slapped across both wrists by a flailing Drew Fielder. If they wouldn't call it then, they're surely not calling it now.
You took off a long way from the rim, and Cook is challenging with both hands. You cock it back farther. What was once 5'2" of shooting guard is now 6'7" of wing, flying through the air at full stretch with the ball and Xavier's season clutched in your hands.
You punch it home. The roof comes off the gym. Ed Cooley calls timeout.
Is Ed Cooley a good coach? Sean Miller is. With Georgetown holding 1 possession to attack your team's 1-point lead, Miller throws a curveball from the defense that had allowed 1.2 points per possession that game. He tasks you with being the second man on a run-and-jump double to get the ball out of the hands of the red-hot Jayden Epps. It works, forcing Jay Heath - who was 1-8 in the second half - to take and miss the final shot.
Xavier survives Georgetown’s final possession: pic.twitter.com/4rnINrycBQ— Paul Fritschner (@PaulFritschner) January 20, 2024
It wasn't a work of art. In a lot of ways, it represented a step back in performance for you and your team. It didn't matter. With the season hanging in the balance, you rose to the occasion, made the right decision, and finished the play.
Xavier 92 - Georgetown 91. Call an ambulance, but not for me.