If you follow me on Twitter (@MSUhistory), you may know about my undeniable man-crush on Timmy Bowers. He was always one of my favorites, but that game at Alabama in 2004… it just doesn’t get any better than that. That day, Timmy cemented his legacy amongst State fans forever, and his heroics led to State’s first outright SEC Title since 1963.
But the win was far from guaranteed. Alabama had upset State at The Hump earlier in the year, and after the first half in Tuscaloosa, State was looking up at a 16-point deficit.
Alabama maintained the lead until 9 minutes left, when State began a furious comeback. With 15 seconds left, Bowers pump-faked and hit a three to cut the Alabama lead to two. After a foul, Ernest Shelton was on the foul line shooting 1-and-1. And then, perhaps the most understated, overlooked play happened. I’d like to think Bowers meant to do this, but only he knows…
Shelton was at the FT line, with three MSU players and two Alabama players set on the lane. Bowers was behind Shelton and raised his hands and began to walk toward the lane at the same moment referee Rick Crawford passed the ball to Shelton. Bowers continued to move toward the lane as Shelton received the pass. Now, let’s delve into the 2002 NCAA basketball rulebook, for things than cannot be done during a free throw (thus a violation).
Rule 8-1 (men): …Players not occupying a marked lane space may not line up below the free-throw line extended and also must line up beyond the three-point line…
To me, it looked like Bowers is in violation of the rule. He wasn’t set, and was moving inside the 3-point arc when Shelton initially received the ball. Crawford must have decided that he prematurely passed the ball to Shelton, not giving Bowers enough time to get set. I'm glad there was no whistle, but I'd be furious if State was on the other side of this call.
Shelton was clearly rattled, and missed the front-end of the 1-and-1. After the rebound, Bowers hit a FT-line leaner to tie it and send the game into OT. Another clutch shot with one second left in OT gave State an 82-81 win and the outright SEC Title.
Bowers deservedly gets remembered and idolized by many (including me) for those two shots down the stretch. But don’t overlook his late arrival at the free throw line. If Shelton hits that FT, we would’ve needed a 3 at the end of regulation. Had he hit both FT’s, the game would’ve been over. There may not have been an overtime period, and we may not have won the outright SEC Title in 2004.
So thanks to Timmy, for those two shots and the distraction at the FT line. And to Rick Crawford - thank you, too.