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Friday, January 29, 2010
Four on the floor? Try two

By Eamonn Brennan

Wednesday, much was made over Seattle's decision to foul frequently in the second half of its blowout to Washington, a strategy that caused six Redhawks to foul out, leaving four eligible players on the floor for the final 1:27. Turns out, that's not even remotely the weirdest foul-out-related anomaly in the past 20 years.

On Feb. 24, 1989, Indiana State played Wichita State. A brawl broke out in the first half. Indiana State's bench involved itself, and when the dust cleared, eight ISU players had been ejected, leaving the Sycamores to play the entire second half with just four players. Then, as Kevin Pelton explains, Wichita State adjusted its strategy:

Wichita State coach Eddie Fogler told his team to take it inside instead of settling for jumpers, and while that allowed the Sycamores to hang around–in fact, they got as close as four points–ultimately two players fouled out, leaving two on the floor to try to defend five. (That’s a “2- zone”, or a “line” defense.) The Shockers won the game 84-69.

There you have it, a result even more singular in its unusual nature than finishing a game with four players. That result? Finishing with two. Though I suppose the question begs to be asked: Which is more unlikely? Eight players being ejected for fighting, thereby forcing a team to play with a limited roster? Or a coach actively deciding he wants his players to foul for an entire half, thereby chipping away at his roster by choice? The weirdness gap here is not as wide as it seems.