Play Hard as Long as You’re in the Game

April 8th, 2011
Image © Dade83 |

In most cases, a basketball team leading by five points with 16 seconds remaining is safe. To win, the opposing team would need to hit a three-point shot, foul quickly, and—if the player who was fouled is unable to ice the game by hitting both free throws—score again to send the game into overtime.

Back in February in Piscataway, New Jersey, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights came back from five points down with 12 seconds on the clock. And they didn’t just tie the game; they won the game. And they did it against the Villanova Wildcats, a team that had spent much of the season ranked in the top 10. Watch the highlights here.

Two minutes into the game, Rutgers had a 5-4 lead. The Scarlet Knights wouldn’t take the lead again until the game’s final second. With just under three minutes left in the second half, Villanova led by 10; at the two-minute mark, they led by 8. Rutgers never panicked. Led by senior Jonathan Mitchell, who won an NCAA title with Florida as a freshman, the Scarlet Knights quickly cut the lead and kept the game close as the seconds ticked away. Rutgers twice cut the lead to two. But when Villanova’s James Bell answered the Knights’ rally with a clutch three-pointer, Rutgers trailed by five with only 16 seconds remaining.

Unfazed, the Knights needed only five seconds to set up sharpshooter James Beatty with a three-pointer of his own. Now down by two, Rutgers quickly fouled Villanova star Corey Fisher, who shoots 79 percent from the free-throw line. Fisher missed the first and made the second, giving the Wildcats a three-point lead. Rutgers had nine seconds to hit a three-pointer and send the game into overtime. With one second on the clock, Mitchell launched a shot from behind the arc. A whistle blew and the shot went in. Mitchell had nailed the three-pointer and been fouled by Fisher. He went to the line and hit the game-clinching free throw.

While teams rarely score seven points in a game's final 16 seconds, dramatic last-minute comebacks aren’t unheard of. (Check out Barton College’s last-minute rally from down seven to beat undefeated defending champ Winona State in the 2007 Division II National Championship Game or Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 9 seconds to give the Pacers a victory over the Knicks in the 1995 NBA Playoffs.) These miraculous moments happen just often enough to give us hope. While some spectators file out of the arena when their team trails by seven points in the final minute, faithful fans who have witnessed late-game rallies have hope that something amazing will happen.

Throughout the pages of Scripture we read about God doing unlikely and amazing things. We see God rescue God’s people from the clutches of powerful empires; we see God providing food in a barren wilderness; we see God healing all manner of sicknesses; and we see God defeat death. As people touched by grace, we have witnessed and experienced what God is capable of, and we have hope. When we hear about widespread destruction (such as last year’s earthquake in Haiti and floods in Pakistan) and disease (such as AIDS and malaria and cholera) and hunger and poverty, we can get discouraged. These problems seem too big to solve. But we know not to give up, because God will ultimately prevail.

We also know that God calls us to participate. We can’t be content to stand around and hope for a star player to take over the game; we have to play our roles. In basketball this means playing tough defense, setting screens, and making sharp passes. For Christians it means using our God-given gifts faithfully in union with one another. The work of ministry is often difficult, and sometimes it seems inevitable that our efforts will end in defeat. But we press on anyway, because we’re witnesses. We know what can happen and we want to be a part of it.

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