Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was so sure, he had already planned his next move.
With Syracuse holding on to a three-point lead with five seconds left, Rick Jackson stepped to the foul line for a pair of shots.
Jackson has been SU’s most valuable player this season but not for free throw shooting. Coming into the game, he was shooting just 57 percent.
“Ricky, I thought there was no way,” Boeheim said. “You try not to have negative thoughts, but I thought this was not happening.”
By the time Jackson had stepped to the line to attempt his free throws, Boeheim had already instructed his squad to foul Villanova guard Corey Fisher when the Wildcats rebounded Jackson’s eventual miss.
“I watched the DePaul game,” Boeheim said. “We were not going to allow him to come down and shoot a 3 to tie it. We were going to foul in that situation.”
The game Boeheim was referring to was Saturday’s game between Villanova and DePaul. Fisher hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to force overtime, and the Wildcats went on to win 77-75.
But something went horribly wrong with Boeheim’s plan.
“The ball went in the basket,” Boeheim said. “What can you say?”
Actually, the ball went in the basket, twice.
Jackson nailed the first free throw. The next free throw banked off the glass and went straight through the net.
Those would be the only two free throws Jackson would attempt all game.
What was Jackson thinking as he stepped to the line?
“Make them,” Jackson said. “I just took my time.”
Jackson used that time to think about what he had been told during practice.
“Coaches told me to take my time and bend my knees,” Jackson said. “I didn’t feel a lot of pressure because we were up three. I just went up there and I just hit them.”
If Jackson didn’t feel the pressure being up three with less than 12 seconds left, then he certainly felt it in Syracuse’s previous game.
Against Rutgers on Saturday, Jackson was fouled with 10 seconds left and the Orange trailing 70-69.
Jackson saw his first free throw clang off the side of the rim. But Jackson atoned quickly, draining his second free throw to force overtime.
He would finish shooting 10-for-17 from the line as the Orange would go on to win 84-80.
“I’m not a nervous guy,” Jackson said. ” If I make it, I make it. If I miss it, I have to work hard to get it back.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this report.