Ray Allen brings back memories of 1996
So I was watching the Indiana Pacers somehow defeat the Miami Heat earlier this week when Ray Allen made this ridiculous, off-balance, falling out-of-bounds, heavily guarded 3-point shot to keep the Heat close.
My first thought: How in the world can Ray Allen still be playing this game?
My second thought: Back to the day when Darryl Wilson solidly outplayed Allen and Mississippi State knocked off heavily favored Connecticut 60-55 en route to the Final Four in 1996.
That’s right, 17 years ago. Allen was a first team All American, Big East Player of the Year. He had a jump shot so smooth, you could have spread it on ice cream. He was the best player on a team of great players. UConn, under Jim Calhoun, entered the game at 32-2.
Wilson had almost none of Allen’s notoriety. He was an undersized shooting guard. But Wilson had something else. He had “it.” What I mean is, Wilson was that rare athlete who was at his best when it mattered most. He was a 45 percent shooter for 39 minutes and and an 80 percent shooter when the game was on the line. He was a 45 percent shooter in December and a 60 percent shooter when the season was on the line.
That day, in Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky., Wilson came out both fearlessly and on fire. Running off about three set picks per possession in Richard Williams’ precise offensive sets, Wilson would work himself open, take a pass, square up to the basket and then swish one. Much of the time, Allen was the guy trying to chase him through all those screens.
WIlson hit five straight treys at one point. He scored 17 points in the first 11 minutes as State took a 16-point first half lead.
As a sports writer, covering the event, it was only then it dawned on me: This team may go all the way to the Final Four. Still, they had to hold on against UConn and then beat powerhouse Cincinnati in the round of eight. But right then, you could see that State had what it took to get there.
Wilson was a special player, a joy to watch. His jump shot was not pretty and text-book perfect like Allen’s. You wouldn’t teach kids to shoot that way. He didn’t have the size to go on an play in the NBA. But Wilson had “it” whatever “it” is. And he had some teammates that all meshed at the right time: Erick Dampier, the defensive stopper; Dontae Jones, the uber-talented wild card; Marcus Bullard, the tough guy point guard; Russell Walters, who set so many picks and did all the dirty work. They joined Wilson in the starting five.
Whit Hughes, Tyrone Washington and Bart Hyche were the three-deep bench, who plugged the holes and played valuable minutes.
Allen scored 22 points that day, but he hit only 3 of 14 shots in the second half when UConn closed the gap but never could get over the hump. Wilson led the Bulldogs with 27 points. Remember, that’s 27 of 60.
Ray Allen has gone on to a fabulous NBA career. He is the league’s all-time leader in made 3-point shots, a 10-time All-Star. In the immortal words of Spike Lee, He Got Game, which, by the way, Allen starred in.
All of which serves to make what Darryl Wilson and Mississippi State accomplished back in 1996 all the more remarkable.