Think high school basketball needs a shot clock? It’s not that simple

  • Alex Eddy is hoisted up by his Merrimack Valley teammates after he scored the winning basket in the final seconds of the D-II preliminary game against Lebanon on Wednesday night, March 1, 2023. GEOFF FORESTER/Monitor staff

  • Tim LaTorra talks to his team during a timeout in their game against Manchester Memorial on Feb. 14, 2023. Chip Griffin/Photos by Chip

  • Merrimack Valley guard Trevor Simonds grabs a rebound over two Lebanon defenders during the second half on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. concord monitor — GEOFF FORESTER

Concord Monitor
Published: 3/22/2023 4:34:59 PM
Modified: 3/22/2023 4:34:58 PM

The Merrimack Valley boys’ basketball team stood locked in a 34-34 tie with 1:22 to play against Lebanon in its Division II quarterfinal matchup on March 1.

The Pride’s Logan Gabour had just blocked a shot attempt from the Raiders, and head coach Tim Mucher called a timeout after MV dribbled the ball up the floor. The Pride then tried running a play: Gabour attempted a floater that missed with 20 seconds remaining, but MV grabbed the offensive rebound. Mucher called timeout again with 11.7 seconds left.

On the ensuing play, senior Buddy Eddy drove to the basket and forced in a layup a second before time expired. The Pride survived and advanced. But Lebanon didn’t have a chance to touch the ball for nearly 90 seconds of game time.

“Lebanon didn’t lose the game,” Mucher remarked after the win, “they just ran out of time.”

With no shot clock enforcing pace, MV was totally fine to sit on the ball and hold for that last possession, though Mucher said that wasn’t the intention. The Pride just didn’t execute the play he wanted to run.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Lebanon’s season came to an end without having a possession for 1:22. Could the Raiders have grabbed the defensive rebound on Gabour’s missed shot? Sure. Could they have fouled and put MV at the free throw line to ensure a possession? Definitely. Still, preventing a team from having a possession for as long as MV did – resulting in the end of a team’s season – seems problematic.

Of course, New Hampshire high school basketball doesn’t have a shot clock, so it’s surely part of the game at this level. It doesn’t become apparent much, with most teams eager to take shots well before a 35-second shot clock would expire.

But that instance, in a playoff game with two teams’ seasons on the line, it begs the question: Would a shot clock make the game better?

Not a huge necessity

Only eight states across the country have shot clocks for high school basketball, including three in the Northeast: Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. Connecticut high schools will have them starting in the 2023-24 season as well. On the grand scale though, New Hampshire is by no means anomalous in not having this pace-of-play mechanism.

And making such a change wouldn’t be so simple.

“It certainly has been a conversation, but one of the initial challenges has always been financial,” said Bow athletic director Mike Desilets. “It’s difficult to put forth an unfunded mandate on schools that will have a difficult time to find the money to purchase all the equipment required and update scoreboards and things like that so that it works properly.”

More specifically, schools would need to add shot clocks to the top of both baskets, possibly also add a clock to the main scoreboards and pay an extra person to work at games to operate the shot clock. That’s in addition to the technical aspect that would require the new shot clocks to sync up with the main scoreboard.

Desilets said that if the NHIAA wanted to move to add shot clocks, schools would ideally need two to three years’ notice so they could adjust budgets accordingly and make sure that all schools with basketball teams had uniform setups in their gyms.

But right now, the cost might outweigh the benefit. While a situation like what arose in the MV-Lebanon game stands out as a clear argument for adding a shot clock, it’s not all that frequent.

“I don’t know that it’s a huge necessity at this point,” Desilets said. “It would change some games, yeah, but I think the percentage would be pretty low. If we watched tape from this year, I don’t know that there would be a whole lot of shot clock violations.”

‘I think it comes in the future’

Concord boys’ basketball head coach Tim LaTorra used to think no shot clock could work to his advantage.

As a young coach leading a rebuild of the boys’ program at Sunapee High, he viewed the ability to grind the game down as a potential way to keep pace with more athletic opponents. But as he later realized that if his team’s offense wasn’t super efficient playing that deliberate style of basketball, he might be better off having his team play fast and take more shots, maximizing their chances to score.

LaTorra also cites the current swath of thrilling March Madness games and how the shot clock impacts the tense nature of how coaches and players strategize, especially in the final few minutes of action, as an argument for how a shot clock improves the quality of the game.

“If you have two minutes left in a game, and it’s a six-point game, and that other team tries to hold it down for the full two minutes, I don’t know how I really feel about that,” he said. “Having the shot clock and being able to play out those situations would create some other exciting experiences for players as well.”

LaTorra recently stepped down as the vice president of the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization, but the role brought him to various conferences with coaches around the country where discussions of implementing shot clocks came up frequently.

From the perspective of the state organizations that would have the final say, like the NHIAA, LaTorra said it hasn’t progressed past much more than just that: discussion.

But if more teams replicate Merrimack Valley’s strategy in the biggest moments of the biggest games, perhaps the question will be revisited with a greater sense of urgency.

“We’ve had conversations about it, but I don’t know that we’ve ever come close to saying, ‘We need to move on this now,’ ” Desilets said. “I think it comes in the future, but I don’t know that it would be what we would consider the near future.”

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