Having the best player ever to come out of Section 1 on his roster for four years was a blessing and a curse for Ossining girls basketball head coach Dan Ricci.
Saniya Chong helped lead the Pride to three section titles and one state crown before heading off to UConn as the section’s all-time leading scorer, but with many of the Pride’s 83 victories during her tenure coming in lopsided affairs, some fans frowned upon the Ossining program.
It didn’t seem to matter that Chong rarely, if ever, played in the fourth quarter, or that she played sparingly in the third quarter. Yes, she scored at least 40 points 19 times in her career, but how much tighter could Ricci have kept the leash on her?
Chong graduated in 2013, but Ossining has kept winning — two more state titles, in fact. Ossining is averaging more points per game (78.6) in the 76 games since Chong’s departure than it did (77.2) in the 97 with her. The Pride have also allowed less points (49.0) than it did with Chong (55.2), creating an even larger margin of victory.
One could argue that the Pride are better now than they were during what is commonly referred to as, “The Chong Years,” but that just means Ricci’s job of keeping games to a respectable margin has only grown to be a more difficult task.
“Last year, people took offense when we started taking shot-clock violations not to score at the end of games, so we stopped doing that,” Ricci said. “Coaches told me I was embarrassing them.”
It also didn’t help matters that the Pride were so deep that several of their bench players earned college scholarships. Ricci said it is common practice for him to pull off the press when things start getting out of hand, but the team still has to do something on offense.
“I’ve gotten better with it over time. You learn different things you can do,” Ricci said. “Last year was hard because we’d have 55 points at halftime, and we’re like, ‘OK, where do we go from here?’”
Ossining isn’t the only team that catches flak for its heavy victory margins, but it is the most notable.
After Woodlands drubbed Hastings in a Section 1 Class B first round game Wednesday, 76-11, fans took to social media to express their displeasure with the blowout score.
Section 1 girls basketball coordinator Steve Young said he does his best to interject when a score raises eyebrows.
“As (athletic directors), we talk about it once in a while,” he said of a possible rule change. “If my team was on the losing end of game by like 50-60 points, I might call the other AD and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”
Some coaches don’t mind the lopsided score, so long as opponents aren’t actively trying to make the other team look bad.
“As long as the other coach you’re playing is respectful, I think you have to have your kids play,” said White Plains coach Tara Flaherty, a Hastings alumna, whose team went 1-17 during her first season in 2014. “The only time I would get upset is if a team was still pressing in the third or fourth quarter when we are clearly down by 20-ish points and we’ve got one kid that can dribble up the court. That kind of makes me mad.”
White Plains doesn’t isn’t on the wrong end of a blowout too often these days. The Tigers finished with a 13-7 mark this season, and hosted a playoff game in the Section 1 Class AA tournament.
There is currently no penalty for a team winning in an egregiously-lopsided fashion, whether there is intent to run up the score or not; but that’s not the case in other parts of the country, such as Nevada, where coaches can be issued suspensions for one too many blowouts.
Coaches must explain their actions if they win by 50 or more points, so to circumvent that threshold, teams do whatever they can not to score; and it’s exactly as cringeworthy as you imagine it would be. Personally, I’d rather take an 80-point shellacking than be patronized with a glorified game of keep-away.
There doesn’t seem to be any rule change on the horizon, but one fans should not get their hopes up of ever seeing is a mercy rule.
Although sports like softball have one in place (games are called if a team is winning by 15 or more runs after four and a half innings), it’s highly unlikely it will ever make its way to the basketball court in Section 1.
“I’ve (played in) tournaments that do that — AAU tournaments do that, as well — and they call it being ‘gonged,’” said Ricci, who has been on the losing end of the “gong” rule at AAU tournaments. “It’s embarrassing when you get gonged, I can tell you that. You don’t even get to finish the game.”
So if it’s not self-imposed shot-clock violations, and it’s not a mercy rule, what is the best solution to lopsided scores?
Is there even such a thing?