Story by LeKyndra Duncan
Viking player Ebone Brown stands on the line shooting two free-throws. Brown receives the ball; some players have a unique free-throw routine from circling the ball around their waist to practicing their follow-through on their shot. Brown’s is simple; she takes a deep breath, dribbles the ball twice with both hands.
She looks up at the orange rim which seems so close but yet so far. Game tied 61 to 61. One-ninth of a second left on the clock, in the second half. Inside of Burns gym, fans from both the home and away team cheer loudly. Cheerleaders chant to keep the crowd entertained. The crowd applauds one of the cheerleaders who does front flips the length of the court. No seats visible, it feels like “Black Friday” on the bleachers.
All eyes then focus on Brown. Even if one side of her wants to block the pressure coming from the outside, the other side freaks out, said Brown. She bends and releases. The orange Spalding ball goes up, and lands 2 inches short of the rim. “Air ball” chants the visitor’s side of the crowd. Vikings Coach Jolene Christensen calls a timeout.Many thoughts run through minds, from Brown’s to Coach Christensen, from a viewing fan to teammates. Sophomore Samantha Gilkey said she felt nervous for Brown. Watching a scene which seems to resemble a sports movie, junior Alexis Sweet said, “I knew she would make at least one.”
Coach Christensen knows Ebone is an excellent offensive rebounder and reads the ball coming off the rim really well. However, Ebone has been struggling this season from the line. She only needed one of the two foul shots to fall for the team to win—she’s missed one.
“Air Ball” chants continue from the visitor side of the crowd. Ebone covers her nose to hide her embarrassment. She needed fellow teammate Alexis Sweet’s pat on her right shoulder.
Sweets moves in the team huddle to pat Ebone, giving her assurance.
“She needed time to prepare to take the next shot, and get team support,” Coach Christensen said. Players step closer to to hear the coach’s words.
“We love to play and, at this point in time, we either win from the line, or we go into overtime and get to play a little longer,” Coach Christensen said.
“You got it. Don’t think about your first free-throw bab,” point guard Smantha Gilkey whispers.
`The huddle breaks.
Brown walks back to the line. Anxiety and anticipation from the crowd has reached its peak.
“Don’t worry. She will make the second one. Air balls are always on line, they are just short,” Sweet said to tease the crowd and drop the tension.
There is no lucky factor in a free-throw. It is not really about perfect technique either. It is muscle, brain and confidence that brings the routine. Ebone knows it. She steps on the line. The referee bounces the ball to her. One last shot.
She takes a deep breath, dribbles the ball twice with both hands. “I was in tunnel vision,” Brown said. She looks up, bends and releases. The Spalding ball goes up and falls perfectly like a bull’s eye between the orange rim. Loud, obnoxious cheering comes from the crowd. Teammates jump for joy, hug and high-five another.
Lady Vikings leap into each other’s arms and a smile beams from Brown’s face. “I felt like it was a personal thing. You can mess up, but you always get another opportunity,” Brown said.
Happy for Ebone and her desire to close out the game for the team, Christensen exhaled in half-a-relief. Indeed, the game is not over. The Vikings lead 62 to 61, but the Central Methodist University Eagles still have a chance to take the lead.
The crowd responds positively to the sophomore from Fresno, California, who has now put the team in a position to win. The cheerleaders give rhythm with a defense-and-three-claps type of chant and soon the crowd follows, then overpowers them.
A Lady Eagle point guard receives the ball with one-ninth of a second left. No time to think. No time to pass. She needs to score. She takes a couple of dribbles to lose the Viking defense, then releases. The rock goes up but lands two inches shy to the left of the rim and ricochets off the backboard.
Not this time Eagles, not this time!