Time of possession is a statistic normally reserved for football analysts grasping for some kind of trend. Rarely is it mentioned in connection with a basketball game.
But last week, when St. Bonaventure played Santa Ynez in an important Tri-Valley League matchup, ball control became uncharacteristically important. And so was the opening tip-off.
St. Bonaventure was given a minimal shot at winning the game since Santa Ynez, ranked No. 4 in the Southern Section 1-A Division, had won 15 consecutive league games over two seasons. The Pirates also were playing on their home floor, where they had lost only one league game in four years.
Those things considered, Marc Groff, St. Bonaventure's coach, thought desperate measures should be taken. If only his team could get the ball first by winning the tip.
That in itself figured to be no easy task. Santa Ynez had a 6-8 center and a 6-7 forward. St. Bonaventure's tallest player was 6-6 Andy Wagoner.
As it turned out, Wagoner lost the tip--but St. Bonaventure came up with the ball. So it was show time. Or, in this case, slow time.
St. Bonaventure held the ball almost four minutes--or half of the first quarter--before James Bailey swished a jump shot. It was one more basket than Santa Ynez would make in the entire quarter. Poor shooting? Not exactly. The Pirates only got off three attempts as the Seraphs continued to hold the ball on offense.
"We caught them off guard," Groff said. "I don't think they had a clue we were going to do it."
St. Bonaventure led after the first period, 7-0, on its way to a 30-26 victory. Chalk it up to a touch of coaching wizardry along with great execution. "We won, so it's a stroke of genius," Groff said. "If we lose, I'm a chump."
The four-corner offense is not the only gimmick St. Bonaventure used with success. The Seraphs also instituted a triangle-and-two defense that worked to near perfection.
The triangle-and-two is not nearly as complicated as it sounds, but it effectively shut down Santa Ynez guards Craig McCullough and Jeff Miller, who came into the game averaging 32 points a game between them. St. Bonaventure played man-to-man defense on the guards and a zone with its front line. McCullough and Miller each finished with eight points.
"It's tough to run your man offense against it and it's tough to run your zone offense against it," Groff said. "I think we kind of through them off tempo. And as the game went on, I think they got tired."
Groff estimated that St. Bonaventure had the ball about 25 minutes compared to seven for Santa Ynez.
"They were bigger and I wanted to neutralize that," Groff said, "but I knew they weren't quicker. If we let them play zone, they pack it in and we don't get any rebounds at all."
But by spreading the floor, the Seraphs forced Santa Ynez to defend all the way out to the mid-court line. "We wore them down," Groff said.
And in doing so, St. Bonaventure also forced some fouls. The Seraphs outscored the Pirates, 14-5, at the free-throw line. Santa Ynez was whistled for 20 fouls on its home floor to St. Bonaventure's 5.
"They had to pick us up at mid-court," Groff said. "And when you do that, you're going to commit some fouls. We picked up their two guards at the three-point line. That's a big difference over 32 minutes."
The biggest difference, however, is shown in the league standings, where for the first time in two years Santa Ynez has fallen from first. St. Bonaventure, ranked sixth, is 12-2, 4-0 in the Tri-Valley League. The Pirates are 9-5 and 3-1.