The Basketball Tournament has provided plenty of chaos on courts across the country, but in 2018, it introduced a major change that aimed to change the sport.
In an effort to eliminate the late-game fouling that slows down the action in close contests, a man named Nick Elam developed the concept of an ending that concludes at a target score rather than a time limit. At TBT the target score is set with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter at eight points above the winning team.
On the surface, it seems like an easy transition for basketball players who grew up playing on the playground. Still, all of Best Virginia’s new additions have expressed that it will likely be their most challenging adjustment to TBT’s style of basketball.
“It throws more gas on the [fire] that you know that you’ve got to get stops, or you need to score here, so it makes every possession important,” said Devin Ebanks. “So that will be a difference for me.”
The Elam Ending changes the very psychology of the game in the end. Instead of trying to chaotically stall until the end of the game, the leading team is forced to keep its effort up to score on at least three more possessions. Likewise, the trailing team needs to tighten its defense rather than scramble to maximize its possessions.
Similarly, that target score adds a psychological response in both teams, especially the one that’s ahead. Eight points doesn’t seem like that much if you’re winning, so Kevin Jones said it’s natural to want to “get it over with.”
“You’re so focused on getting it over with and trying to shoot five-point shots instead of doing what got you there and moving the ball and passing, not playing one-on-one basketball,” Jones said. “I think we ran into that sometimes at certain points [in the past].”
To combat that, Jones says it is key to stick with the schemes laid out by coach James Long, in whom he has instilled his confidence.
“It’s amazing, first off,” Long said of the Elam Ending. “I think more leagues should do it.”
Scheming for the Elam Ending is a difficult challenge, though. A one-bucket lead warrants a vastly different strategy than a one-bucket deficit, as each situation is unique.
Long researched the Elam Ending leading up to TBT 2021, his first year coaching Best Virginia. He even went so far as to learn about the format’s history to figure out how to crack it. He eventually concluded that there is likely no way to master the Elam Ending.
His best learning tool wound up being his first experience with the ending. He coached Best Virginia to two wins in TBT 2021, including a close call in the first round against WoCo Showtime — Best Virginia had a nine-point lead when the Elam Ending went into effect but barely squeaked a win out by a score of 70-67.
“I just got caught really off-guard in that WoCo game,” Long said. “I felt like I put us in a little bit of a bind there.”
Year two, he hopes, will go much better. When it comes down to it, though, he says all he can do is set the team up from the sideline and it’s up to the players to execute and make plays.
“I have a better feel this year of what I would like to do and things to think about, things to think about during,” Long said. “I’ve thought on it, and I hope it’s better. We’ll see.”