Sports are great for creating instant, and lasting, drama. Very few mediums can take two individuals, two teams or two opponents, pit them together where neither is a villain and create edge of your seat tension. The NCAA tournament does exactly that and this year did it with great effectiveness. The second weekend of the tournament saw two defensive stalwarts play 40 minutes of nail-biting, pulse-pounding, thrilling basketball.
The lasting image for many fans is going to be that frantic 35 seconds when the West Virginia Mountaineers got two shots off and struggled to get a final shot off before time expired. The image of Jevon Carter, dribbling with three Gonzaga players standing in front of him, as he fought with the mindset of taking an ill-advised shot or passing to any of his teammates was heartbreaking.
As a fan, you could see he wanted desperately to will his team to the Elite Eight. He did all he could for 39 minutes and 30 seconds. Many of his teammates struggled against the tall and lengthy Gonzaga Bulldogs but not Jevon. Those final thirty seconds should not define what was otherwise an outstanding performance.
What stood out to me throughout this game was just how much better Jevon was than everyone else. He is listed at 6’-2” but time and time again, he got around, through and past defenders nearly a foot taller than him. He used his “small” stature to hide in plain sight and steal passes.
Check out this play. This play had me believing. He drives the lane, slips, corrects himself and still makes the basket. I thought to myself, “It’s going to be ugly but we will pull this out because of Carter.” There was a determination on his face that said “I will do this for my team!”
This play epitomizes the game. Carter, after dominating all game, has the ball and passes to a streaking Nathan Adrian for what should be an easy layup. The pass splits two defenders and Adrian should score here and possibly draw a foul. Well, Adrian definitely drew the foul here, despite the non-call, but this should have been two points.
We as fans tend to remember historic performances or historic plays. In football, this is easy. WVU fans can easily recall a streaking Major Harris eluding and running over Penn State players in 1988. Younger fans will remember Quincy Wilson turning Brandon Merriweather into a hurdle as he ran for a game-tying touchdown. Basketball is different. We tend to remember huge point totals or huge blocks. Almost any basketball fan can remember the time Jordan played “The Flu Game”, or nailed a game winning shot on a crossover.
Jevon’s performance against Gonzaga isn’t nearly as iconic as any of those moments but it still should not be forgotten. Jevon put the team on his back. He was the only player with 20+ points. He played 38 minutes, six more than he averaged during the season. He scored 21 points, seven more than his season average. He made 4 of the 5 three pointers for the Mountaineers. He stole the ball off a defensive rebound and dished to Adrian. Adrian was blocked by Josh Perkins. The only two things Carter was unable to do against Gonzaga were earn an assist and get that final shot to go down. Otherwise, his performance is one that should go down as the definition of “heart”.