The final 5.7 seconds: Caston players describe buzzer beater against North White
Sectional title and late execution might represent emerging Comet basketball culture
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
FULTON –- In 5.7 seconds, the Caston boys basketball team made a lifetime of memories Saturday.
Trailing by one point and inbounding the ball from the opposite baseline, the Comets broke North White’s fullcourt press and won the game 55-54 on Sam Smith’s short jumper at the buzzer.
The play may well represent Caston basketball culture. They were able to diagnose North White’s defensive plan, adjust given a changing set of circumstances and work together to beat the buzzer.
Here is the view of the play from each player on the floor – Cam Kline, Kade Zeider, Joey Spin, Bryce Rudicel and Sam Smith – as well as coach Carl Davis:
Kline took the inbounds pass. Allowed to run the baseline after a made field goal by North White’s Nate Miller, he took two steps to his left and then threw a bounce pass to Joey Spin to his right.
He then ran up the court, trailing the play just in case the ball got kicked back out to him.
“So I inbounded the ball to Joey, and I was kind of the trailer,” Kline said. “Kind of the last resort of all else failed.”
Kline said the play is something they practice. It’s designed to get the ball to Spin in open space.
“Three defenders came onto him, so he made the right read to give it to Bryce, and Bryce made the right read and found Sam,” Kline said.
Of the five Caston players on the court, Zeider was the lone Caston player who did not touch the ball in the final 5.7 seconds.
After Caston had called timeout after Miller’s basket, North White then called timeout. It was a common press breaker that Caston practices. North White likely wanted to gang up on Spin.
As it turned out, Zeider was open on the right wing. He never needed to touch the ball.
“I was on the opposite wing of Bryce because Joey was supposed to get a full head of steam coming towards me,” Zeider said. “And they triple-teamed him, and that left two to guard Sam and Bryce. And Bryce passed it into Sam when he had (North White’s) Hunter Pogue on him. And I was just wide open on the other side.”
As Caston’s top sharpshooter, the junior guard knew he might receive attention, especially after scoring a season-high 23 points against Tri-County in the semifinals on Friday.
Zeider had hit a 3-pointer earlier in the fourth quarter against North White.
“Hitting seven (3-pointers) and then coming into the next game, I knew they were going to face-guard me and just key in on me because I hit seven the game before,” Zeider said. “And usually, I try to screen a lot more and just facilitate and try to get other guys open, especially Cam coming off how he had been shooting the previous games and Jake (Paschen), I know he can hit seven on any given night if he’s given the opportunity. And just keying on my defense and everything else and just playing my game like normal.”
The teams combined for five lead changes in the final 1:02.
“It was definitely a lot of emotions at once,” Zeider said. “I don’t think anyone really missed in the last minute. We were up by one. We were down by one. And then at the last second, it was the final staple of the game, and it made it so much better. Now that the minute was over, all that hard work the whole season had paid off.”
The press breaker that Caston ran in the final 5.7 seconds was something that they practice. But the play won’t be successful if they don’t read what the opponent is doing in real time.
“We practice it quite a bit towards the end of practice, but it’s just making reads out of it, just seeing where the defense is and just making the right play.”
Spin knew he was going to get a screen from Rudicel, and with the space given from the screen, he was to charge up the floor.
“And it’s just going downhill and seeing whoever picks you up and whoever’s open and just making reads off that,” Spin said.
This time, Spin read that he was triple-covered. He needed to pass the ball to the open man.
“I would say at the halfcourt area, there were two more guys coming and then the one guy behind me,” Spin said. “I knew I had to get rid of the ball somewhere. Bryce just happened to be there, and it worked out after that.”
Spin was able to see Smith’s shot go in the basket.
“When I threw it to Bryce, I could see the scoreboard just a little bit, and I just knew we had time,” Spin said. “I saw it roll in, and we went crazy.”
What was your reaction when the ball went in the basket?
“I don’t even remember,” Spin said. “It was insane. I just remember running towards the team and just jumping like crazy. It was pretty awesome.”
Spin said he was looking forward to playing North White. The Comets lost their regular season meeting to North White 56-46 on Feb. 13.
“I couldn’t wait,” Spin said. “I was hoping from day one that we got to play them again because we just want revenge. They’re a good team, and you always like competition like that.”
Rudicel’s first job was to set a screen to help get Spin open.
“I came over and screened Joey to get him open, and then I ran out to the wing,” Rudicel said. “And then Joey got triple-teamed at halfcourt, and he passed it to me, and I passed it right to Sam.”
Did Rudicel know he had time to make a pass?
“No,” he admitted. “As soon as I touched it, I wanted to get it out of my hands as fast as I could. So I gave him an opportunity, and he made it.”
Rudicel said as soon as Smith’s shot went in the basket, he looked at Zeider.
“Me and Kade looked at each other, and we just ran to each other, and we gave each other a fist bump, and then we just went and celebrated with the team,” Rudicel said.
Like Zeider, Spin and Smith, Rudicel is also a junior. But of the five on the floor, he had the least amount of career playing time coming into this season. Rudicel said he found time to work hard on his game over the summer, even during the pandemic.
“It feels good,” Rudicel said. “Last year, I really didn’t get to participate because I didn’t play as much. But this year, I got to participate and contribute, and it feels good.”
Having practiced that play often, Smith thought about the possibility he would be the one to take the game’s final shot.
“I had a feeling,” Smith said. “I was thinking to myself what I was going to do if I got that ball in that situation. Four people touched the ball, so it was a real big team effort there, and I’m glad I was able to execute there in the end.”
Smith was standing at halfcourt when the official handed the ball to Kline.
“So basically, Bryce is going to screen for Joey to get him open,” Smith said. “And then Bryce is going to downcourt, and I’m going to set a screen for him to get him open.”
But then North White sent three defenders at Spin. So the players had to adjust on the fly.
“And it ended up North White just went up on Joey pretty crazy, so he dumped it off to Bryce, and Bryce was able to find me in the middle because I rolled to the basket pretty hard there trying to get an offensive rebound if it was in that situation.”
When Rudicel caught the ball, North White’s Bentley Buschman and Jeffrey Stevens flew at Rudicel. He quickly found Smith in the lane. Pogue was in front of him.
“I got it, and I knew it had to be close,” Smith said. “So I put it up as fast as I could.”
Pogue brushed up against Smith’s chest. He released the shot with 0.7 seconds left. Nothing but net.
“It feels great,” Smith said. “Being able to do it twice in a row, that’s something special there. I’m just glad we were able to execute that last minute going back and forth like that.”
The Caston fourth-year coach called timeout with 5.7 seconds left after Miller’s basket gave North White the lead.
North White coach Matt Sipkema then called timeout when he saw Caston’s alignment. Davis decided to stick with the original play that he called.
“We just made sure that we knew that if we didn’t get it into Joey that we had another option on the other side,” Davis said. “They gave Joey the space to catch. Typically when we run it, we get outside and go hard down the sideline. But they turned us back inside. Joey made a great read and got it opposite sideline to Bryce.
“Sam did exactly what he was supposed to do – run down the middle of the floor and look for it. The kids deserve all the credit for it. They made the right reads, and if anything, we gave them a spacing template and let players play. And that’s what they did. They made perfect reads and finished it off at the end with a make.”
This wasn’t Caston’s first buzzer beater of the season. Caston had already beaten Culver 45-42 on Jan. 8 on Spin’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. In that game, they had to traverse the length of the court in 3.9 seconds.
Davis considered calling that play but decided against it, wondering if North White had remembered seeing the video of Spin’s shot circulate on social media.
Instead, he decided on the press breaker that they ran often.
“That was something we talked about in the huddle,” Davis said. “Just make sure we have plenty of time. 5.7 seconds is a long time, plenty of time to get the ball down the floor. And they were extremely poised and acted like they had been there before and made the right reads and didn’t get in a rush.
“That was the key.”
Winning that game in that fashion might symbolize Caston basketball culture. What might symbolize it even more is that last year’s four seniors – Hunter Schanlaub, Mike Rans, Luke Lowe and Wyatt Brumett – who won the sectional and who didn’t get a chance to play in the regional because of the pandemic came back to Tri-County to see Smith make his shot in person.
“That just solidifies the culture and the bond that Caston basketball builds together,” Kline said. “Obviously, they’re not our teammates this year, but we look up to them as mentors now, and they’re still our friends.”
As for the current players, they validated a long summer and offseason of work in 5.7 seconds.
“It feels amazing,” Kline said. “All the work that you put in in the offseason, and you see all your teammates grind with you every day, and you see that bucket go in, and everything’s worth it.”
The Caston boys basketball team won the Class 1A, Sectional 52 title with a 55-54 win over North White Saturday. Kobi Martindale holds the trophy.
Cam Kline Joey Spin Bryce Rudicel
Kade Zeider Sam Smith