Breaking Down Joe O’Shea’s Three – To Foul or Not to Foul?

To foul or not to foul up three, that is the question. When Sacred Heart elected not to foul, the Pioneers set up the moment that made SportsCenter’s top 10 plays and led to an unlikely comparison between Joe O’Shea and Russell Westbrook.


Despite Joe O’Shea’s heroics, I strongly believe Anthony Latina made the right decision by not fouling.

Awhile back, Ken Pomeroy did some work to determine which strategy was the most sound. Based on more than 800 cases (about three seasons of data), he summarized that defending rather than fouling was slightly more successful for the team that’s up three late. His conclusion:

To me, the only conclusion one can make is that the criticism of coaches that choose to defend appears to be misplaced. A small percentage of the time you’ll get burned no matter what you choose to do.

When teams decided to foul up three, they won the game 92.0% of the time, compared to the alternative of defending, which led to a victory 93.5% of the time. More data is likely needed — Pomeroy suggested at least 5-10 more seasons of data is warranted to truly settle this debate — but the decision to foul shouldn’t be considered as a no-brainer option. It truly depends on each team’s individual situation. And given the circumstances laid out in front of Latina last night, I think he chose wisely for the following reasons:

  1. His best rebounder (Tevin Falzon) and his most athletic forward (De’von Barnett) had already fouled out of the game. Therefore, Latina’s two best options to protect against an offensive rebound were Jordan Allen, an undersized forward who’s only grabbed 11.2% of the available defensive rebounds while on the floor this season, and freshman Filip Nowicki, who spent the entire second half on the bench. Bryant still had players like Daniel Garvin (an awesome offensive rebounder), Andrew Scocca and Bosko Kostur to crash the glass if O’Shea elected to go with the “make the first free throw and miss the second in order to grab an offensive rebound” strategy.
  2. Dyami Starks never gave Sacred Heart an opportune moment to foul. When he put up his desperation three with seven ticks on the clock, he took the fouling option (if Latina wanted to foul) off the table for the Pioneers. Even if you remove the risk of fouling Starks, a 91.3% free throw shooter, behind the arc in the act of shooting, fouling someone with 7-8 seconds left is simply too much time. Especially because of my third point.
  3. Sacred Heart is a poor free throw shooting team (61.6%), whereas Bryant is one of the best in the league (76.5%). Turning the game into a free throw shooting contest isn’t ideal, especially if Phil Gaetano and Cane Broome, Sacred Heart’s best shooters at the line, were denied the ball on the subsequent inbounds pass. Plus, Gaetano is Latina’s preferred choice on critical inbound plays, so that immediately removes your best option. Double team Broome, and O’Shea could force someone like Evan Kelley (61.5%), Steve Glowiak (69.7%), or even worse, Jordan Allen (46.5%) to sink clutch free throws.

Because of these factors, I think Latina made the right call. It simply didn’t work out. If anything, the Sacred Heart blunders occurred during the loose ball chaos that ensued after Starks’ miss. Had Steve Glowiak and Evan Kelley stayed disciplined by keeping their men in front of them, then O’Shea likely doesn’t get a clear look at the basket. Instead, in the heat of the moment, Kelley and Glowiak went for a worthless steal which inadvertently led to the game tying shot.

The bus ride back to Fairfield surely wasn’t enjoyable, but at least Latina can simply shrug his shoulders and say it wasn’t the Pioneers’ night.

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