Define comeback. Qualify it.
What is the more daunting prospect for a basketball team? Having just 5 minutes to make up an 11-point deficit that’s been a game in the making? Or being a point down with 4 seconds remaining, having just squandered that 11-point lead?
Which is the starting point for the greater comeback? The recipe for greater despair? “It’s kind of equal,” guessed Cameron Carstensen. “But they won.”
Abstract questions can be the worst, especially if they can’t be answered with a jump shot. For a brief time Thursday, it didn’t appear Carstensen or his Almira/CouleeHartline teammates would have to deal any at all.
They had spotted second-ranked Adna as many as 14 points in their State B quarterfinal, but the last of that disappeared when Carstensen sent a shot shimmying through the net with 14 seconds to play. Giantkillers of undefeated Curlew last week, the Warriors had climbed off the canvas against another heavyweight - Adna and its 7-footer, Jeff Ellis - and now that comeback was complete.
But the scoreboard and the clock are never in cahoots.
And by now, the ending is already slipping into lore - Adna prevailing 57-56 on an improbable layup by Bryon Humphrey as the final seconds ticked away.
Thursday games at the B are pretty much disqualified from the Top 10 list, but this one surely had the heartstoppingest finish this side of Doug Way.
For it finished twice. Flushed and frantic, the Pirates pushed the ball across half court after Carstensen’s shot. Adna coach Jeff Beasley hollered for time - and heard it whistled nanoseconds before Sean Burdick let fly from 28 feet.
Unswish. The timeout stood. Four seconds remained - precious little time for a team with so many options.
The Pirates could go to Joel Humphrey, who had made three of four 3-pointers. They could go to Mike Brown, who’d been a terror from 10 feet. Most obviously, they could go to Ellis. Did ACH have anyone who could block his shot?
So, of course, Beasley dusted off a play the Pirates hadn’t tried all season. Something called “Bearcat” - borrowed from a bigger school down the road.
“We practiced it 50 or 60 times this year,” Beasley offered.
“Once a day,” reported Joel Humphrey.
“At least once a week,” weighed in brother Bryon.
Well, at least Beasley didn’t just draw it up there on the Coliseum floor.
You’ve seen it. Out of bounds in front of the bench. The two players come hard to the ball as decoys, clearing the lane. One guard back-picks for the other, who loops around the foul line and cuts to the basket to rendezvous with the tricky lob over the top. This time Joel threw and Bryon caught, the shot taking an agonizing hop or two off the rim before falling through.
“It doesn’t always work quite like that,” said Joel. “But it went in. That’s all that matters.”
Marveled Bryon, “I never thought we’d have to use it at a time like that.”
Conditions certainly called for it.
ACH had played itself back in the game with pressure defense and decided not to back off even at the bitter end. It was a decision so easily second-guessed that Warriors coach Jim Wacker did it first, but he couldn’t get a timeout called before the play began.
“In the huddle, we all expected the big guy was going to get the shot,” said Pat Andersen, who banged on Ellis all game. “But when he went out past the key, I knew he couldn’t do anything out there with the ball. Then I saw the guy backdooring and lay ‘er in.”
Added Carstensen, “We probably should have sagged back a little, put someone in the key. But we didn’t know what they’d do for sure.”
Suddenly, ACH’s remarkable fourthquarter comeback - especially a couple of high-guts 3s by Carstensen - was forgotten. Beasley slumped to the floor with face in hands. Adna’s topless rooters - all-male, thank you - rushed the court.
“I feel for ACH,” said Beasley, his team assured of its highest finish in school history. “We got lucky at the end. The way they played in the fourth quarter, they deserved to win, too.”
But the seconds ran out. What remained were 22 hours to apply a new game face for today.
Different day, different kind of comeback.