The best move coach Brad Autry made all night was one he didn’t make.
With Marquette trailing 69-66 with 5.9 seconds to play, Autry, filling in for the suspended Buzz Williams, opted not to call a timeout and draw up a potential game-tying play, instead allowing his players to stay in rhythm and play on.
The result was a Junior Cadougan buzzer-beating 3-pointer from 30 feet out to send Tuesday night’s tilt with Connecticut into overtime, and an eventual 82-76 win in the Golden Eagles’ Big East opener.
“I think the best play to make is something where you just get it and go,” Autry said after the game. “Buzz, I think, has a tendency maybe to call a timeout in that situation; I may or may not. I thought about it, it was 5.9 [seconds], and I just thought that Junior had a good head of steam and that he’d get a good look, and he did.”
Autry’s debut as a Division I head basketball coach went about as well as it could have, with Marquette shooting 43 percent from the field, allowing seven offensive rebounds and committing just seven turnovers. And postgame, Autry, like Williams, sent all the praise to his team.
“As much as the win was important, I thought that the way we came out was the way that we built what we’ve built here, what coaches build here, the mentality of toughness,” Autry said. “And we talked before the game about what is toughness? Define what a tough play is. Define what a difficult play is. What are those things?”
Williams, whose suspension will remain until midnight Tuesday night, told Autry his familiarity with the team — all other assistants are in their first year with Marquette — was the main reason he would coach the Golden Eagles, and Autry said he appreciated Williams’ confidence in him to get the job done.
But he wasn’t alone.
Shortly before tipoff, Autry was sitting down and saw Jerry Wainwright, a head coach of 16 years for three different teams, pacing the sidelines.
“I said, ‘Hey, you just want to do this or what?” he said laughing. “We were laughing, talking about, we’ve got about 125 years of coaching experience on the bench, so it wasn’t like I was up there by myself. Obviously coach Wainwright was a huge part, coach Chew was a huge part, so it wasn’t a situation. We had talked about it as a staff before Buzz had to do his deal.”
Even without Williams on the sideline, Marquette flowed similar to if he had been there, thanks in part to Autry speaking about toughness with the team before the game.
“During shoot-around today, I went down the line saying, ‘Do you know how to win games in the Big East?’ Yes, yes, yes, yes, just all the returning guys who have been a part of what we’ve done. You haven’t forgotten what it’s taken,” Autry told the team. “It takes players making plays and making play after play after play. And I thought we had a lot of guys that made really big plays when they had to be made and Junior had to make a shot and did.”
Autry’s debut also will always be remembered for the bizarre event at the start of overtime. The referees accidentally lined up the teams going the wrong direction to begin the overtime period. During the sequence, Jamil Wilson goaltended a Shabazz Napier attempt, but head referee Karl Hess ruled the shot a no-basket after realizing the mistake, and the period essentially started over, with Marquette retaining possession.
Head official Karl Hess said after the game that Connecticut’s basket should have counted, per Rule 5, Section 1, Article 3 of the official NCAA rule book.
“I had it worked out where we were gonna get the ball and the points on our goaltend,” Autry said, joking, “and they didn’t see it that way. So what they ultimately told me was that you can’t goaltend an illegal shot, and I said I’ve been around enough basketball that when kids go the wrong way and score a basket for the other team it counts.”
Because Williams’ suspension means zero contact with any players or staff members, Autry hasn’t had a chance to speak with Williams since the win. But when the two do speak, there’s likely to be a second celebration.
“I think Buzz and I are close on exactly how we want to play and how we think guys should go at it from a philosophy standpoint,” Autry said. “We don’t differ a great deal on anything, but anybody in this room that was in this position, you’d have a different opinion of what you wanted to do.”
Tuesday night it was Autry making the calls, and the one he made to allow his team to play out the last six seconds was the correct one, and it gave Marquette a significant win in its Big East opener.