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College Basketball

This Archaic Shot Beat The Last Undefeated Team In Men’s College Basketball

11:56 AM EST on January 10, 2024

Milan Momcilovic rises up over two defenders for the go-ahead winner

The long two-pointer is dead. Finished. Passé. Donezo. You know this. I know this. College basketball teams know it. We've all understood the logic for a while: Until they start giving out 2.75 points for a shot just inside the line, you should step back and take a three. For one last thread of proof, take a look at the shot chart this season for the Houston Cougars, the best team by Kenpom in men's college basketball, and the sport's last remaining unbeaten heading into Tuesday's slate. They avoid the area between the arc and the paint like it's a crocodile habitat.

Source: CBB Analytics

Under head coach Kelvin Sampson, the Cougs have evolved into not just a consistent tournament presence, but a legit year-in, year-out contender the likes of which they hadn't sniffed since the Phi Slama Jama days. But this regular season, the difficulty level hits a steep incline, because they're no longer hiding out in the American Athletic Conference, which only sent them and Memphis to the tourney last year. They're in a swollen, transitional version of the Big 12, which remains by a clear margin the most competitive basketball conference of them all. The gaudy 17-1 mark that Houston managed in conference play last year looks impossible to match under these new circumstances.

The Cougars breezed through their intro class on Saturday, putting West Virginia to sleep at home in a game they at one point led 68-29. Next, however, they had to travel to Iowa State, where even without a full-scale student section, the building rose up in opposition to this unfamiliar enemy and helped their boys to a hot start. The top-ranked Houston defense cleaned up an early 14-0 hole and did its usual job, but the highly touted Cyclone stoppers matched their effort. Each side hounded the other for turnovers and played tight on the perimeter, until the score was 53-53 with under a minute remaining. Iowa State took the ball down the floor after Jamal Shead's clutch drive into traffic, and for the first 20 seconds of their possession, they looked stalled out. T.J. Otzelberger called time, and from the inbounds they got the ball to Milan Momcilovic with his back to a distant basket outside the paint on the wing.

Momcilovic, a four-star freshman out of Pewaukee, Wisc., has shown length and a good shooting touch in his first handful of games for the 'Clones. But Houston knew exactly what they wanted to do with him. When he got the ball, with time expiring on the shot clock, they zoomed another man to him for the double team. Momcilovic, then, was in the least desirable spot on the whole floor, with little time left to pass to a teammate. But this was one moment where Houston's lack of size came back to bite them.

Showing the quick decision-making skills of a four-year player, Momcilovic pivoted toward the baseline, leaned back even farther from the basket, and created enough space for a shot that Houston couldn't touch. There was the little matter left of the ball actually going in, but the laws of physics took care of that.

Houston set up a three-pointer—modern, mathematically sound—to regain the lead, but they came up empty, and all Iowa State had to do was hit a couple more free throws to take the victory. Just 15 games into his college career, Momcilovic had etched an unforgettable, increasingly rare kind of winning shot into ISU history. But in the postgame, he made the fadeaway from the shadows sound as fundamental as a layup. “It’s a shot I work on every day.” he said.

Two lessons here for Houston: The Big 12 is a grind where none of the road wins come easy, and some nights in college basketball, a teenager named Milan will suddenly wreck you with a highlight straight out of 2002.

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