LEXINGTON, Ky. With Marquette roaring back, with the crowd in a frenzy, with the ball in his hands, with a one-point lead and with six seconds to go, De’Mon Brooks saw the double-team coming.
Brooks is one of Davidson’s best players. He is also one of their worst foul shooters, having made only 5 of 11 free throws in a wrenching NCAA tournament game that the Wildcats were about to lose, 59-58.
Brooks had inbounded the ball to Jake Cohen, who threw it right back to him deep in the backcourt. Now Marquette sent a screaming double-team toward Brooks. All the Golden Eagles wanted was to foul him. That was the goal. Marquette had no timeouts and no other way to stop the clock.
“I went to go foul 24,” Marquette guard Junior Cadougan of Brooks’ jersey number.
Brooks then decided to make a pass that will haunt Davidson fans for years – a well-meaning, badly executed pass that, if completed, would have ended the game.
Brooks saw Nik Cochran – the nation’s leader in free-throw percentage who had made two crucial shots just 14 seconds before – sprinting down the left sideline. Cochran was uncovered. Brooks raised the ball over his head and fired it with some serious velocity.
“I could have let them foul me,” Brooks said. “But Nik was so open. Two guys were coming at me and I see the No. 1 free-throw shooter in the country. Of course I’m going to pass it to him.”
Davidson coach Bob McKillop was standing right in the path of the ball. He saw Cochran coming toward him, and the ball coming as well. He thought the two were about to successfully intersect.
“I thought he had it,” McKillop said of Cochran. “I didn’t realize there was such spin on the ball. You want to talk about the highs and the lows – you’re thinking as that clock is ticking away, there’s Nik. He’s going to dribble it down to the end of the court. Game over. And then suddenly – wow.”
“I tried to hit him in stride and I just overthrew it,” said Brooks, who was the Most Outstanding Player in the Southern Conference tournament that Davidson won 10 days before to qualify for the NCAAs. “Just a tad bit.”
And Davidson’s worst-case scenario became a reality. Ahead by seven points with 1:49 to go, Davidson was about to pull off the tournament’s first major upset – a No. 14 over a No. 3 seed.
Instead, Marquette converted that turnover into a contested layup by Vander Blue with one second left and won by a single point.
As the game ended, Brooks stood alone at midcourt, then reached down and smacked the floor in frustration.
“The opportunity was in our hands to play Saturday,” Brooks said quietly. “Just to see it just taken away like that, in six seconds, is heartbreaking. It’s all about our four seniors. I’ll have another chance at this.”
Brooks felt awful about it, you could tell, but he patiently answered every question about his miscue in a mostly silent locker room, taking the blame over and over.
Meanwhile, his teammates and coach kept saying it wasn’t his fault. McKillop praised his team for a “sensational” season and wondered if he should have played a zone on Marquette’s final possession after the turnover. Cochran said of the pass: “I might have curled it too tight, made it kind of a tough pass to get there.”
Senior Clint Mann was asked by a reporter if the loss was Brooks’ fault.
“Obviously not…. He pretty much took us here [to the NCAA tournament], so for him to say it is his fault we lost the game is preposterous.”
The Golden Eagles made one three-pointer in the game’s first 38:57 and then made three in the final 63 seconds – all of them contested. Then Blue made a big drive from midcourt for a left-handed layup over the taller Cohen, who came within inches of blocking the shot.
That’s 11 points in 63 seconds for a Marquette team whose own coach Buzz Williams likes to say can’t shoot.
And yet the play Davidson players and fans will remember for a long time is Brooks’ pass. When the other team is making every shot – you can’t control that.
When you turn the ball over with six seconds left, though, that’s devastating.