College Basketball Road Trip: Overtime thriller in Iowa highlights ‘foul’ debate

AMES, Iowa — It’s a classic basketball dilemma and one that can invoke passionate debate. If your team is up three with less than 10 seconds to go and the opponent has the ball, what do you do?  There are two schools of thought, one modern and the other traditional, and each has staunch advocates.

Quite simply: to foul or not to foul.

These end-of-game scenarios come up time and time again, but the debate came to the forefront in Iowa State’s 85-81 overtime victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday.  

With six seconds left in regulation, Oklahoma State was up two when guard Phil Forte stepped to the line for two shots. He made the first but missed the second, leading to a quick scramble down the court by the Cyclones, who had a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer. Instead of intentionally fouling and prevent a long-range attempt, the Cowboys tried to deny penetration and an open look. However, guard Naz Long cut through one defender, rose over another and hit a contested three that caused Hilton Coliseum to explode in celebration.


Oklahoma State was forced to regroup and try to grind out a overtime road win in without their best player Marcus Smart, who had fouled out with 9 seconds left in regulation. But advocates of the "foul" strategy may argue that Oklahoma State had already lost by failing to play the percentages.

Overtime was a back and forth affair that left Iowa State up three late thanks to some clutch foul shooting down the stretch. With the tables turned, OSU had the ball twice with chances to tie, but unlike coach Travis Ford in regulation, Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg went with the modern strategy in the extra frame. He refused the Cowboys a look at a game-tying shot, instead fouling OSU’s Markel Brown not once but twice.

Both times the scenario played out in Iowa State’s favor. The first time through, Brown made both shots and Cyclone Matt Thomas matched. In the second round, Brown missed both attempts, which all but sealed an exciting victory for the home team.

After the game, Hoiberg said the decision to foul is one that his staff believes in, but noted that it doesn’t always work.


"We work on that scenario in practice. We felt that we were small, but they were small too and we were confident we would get the rebound," he said. "We tried to do it in Texas last year and it missed. But you keep going out there and sometimes you whiff but it worked well today."