Updated: Feb 17, 2013, 11:55 AM

The art of hitting game-winning daggers

By Robbi Pickeral | ESPN.com

As Illinois forward Tyler Griffey was being hoisted atop shoulders Feb. 7 in the aftermath of his game-winning layup over top-ranked Indiana, teammate Brandon Paul was watching the replay, giddy but still a little stunned about how it had all come together.

Damen L. Jackson/AP PhotoTyler Griffey's open layup knocked off Indiana.

"With only 0.9 seconds left, I had made up my mind beforehand,'' said the senior guard who threw the game-winning inbounds pass. "Rather than look for a desperation 3, I'd look more toward the basket, hoping that a player would bust a switch or something like that. I didn't expect Tyler to get as open as he did, but he did.

"We practice that [inbounds play] every day in practice, and it's something we do at a high level."

But never quite that high.

For the mere seconds of highlight film borne from a game-winning jumper, tip-back or layup -- and there have been plenty of all of those this season -- there are days, weeks, even months of preparation that go into that moment.

Florida State associate head coach Stan Jones -- whose team has won three games this season on last-second shots from senior guard Michael Snaer -- calls prevailing in those nail-biting situations "more of an art than a science."

Practice may not always make perfect in these cases, but it's still key.

"There's not a coach or a program of any merit that doesn't spend time every week, almost every day, working on those last-second situations ... so players have some kind of recognition of how to handle it,'' Jones said.

At FSU, that means spending time during the offseason evaluating personnel and determining which players the team would want on the court if it needs a last-second 2 or 3.

The Seminoles then practice all sorts of situations -- full-court, from the sideline, after a made basket, out-of-bounds under the basket -- in the days leading up to each game.

And if a contest is close, you'll likely see Jones whip out an index card that lists multiple options of down-to-the-wire scenarios, in case he and head coach Leonard Hamilton need to draw something up on a timeout grease board.

Every once in a rare while, one of those plays might turn out just like it's drawn up -- like at Duke last season, when FSU forward Bernard James' just-right screen in the backcourt freed up point guard Luke Loucks to run the floor, draw defenders and find Snaer in the just-right place for the game-winning 3.

"Just like we practiced it,'' Jones said.

More often, though, coaches count on players to read the situations they've prepped for and make clutch decisions.

AP Photo/John BazemoreLast-second shots have become a habit for Florida State's Michael Snaer.

Like when Snaer caught the ball going the wrong way on an inbounds pass, misused a screen, but still buried a 25-foot game winner against Clemson on Jan. 24.

Or when UCLA point guard Larry Drew II ignored clapping teammate Shabazz Muhammad and instead buried a fall-away jumper of his own to beat Washington 59-57 on Feb. 7.

Or when Butler's Roosevelt Jones stole an inbounds pass with 3.5 seconds left and drove into the lane for a buzzer-beating floater to beat then-No. 8 Gonzaga 64-63 on Jan. 19.

"I do think the biggest thing is, some guys really love that moment and excel in that moment,'' said Butler coach Brad Stevens, whose team has won on three last-second shots this season (against Marquette, Indiana and the Zags), and lost on another (at La Salle). "But I think for most, it's more about, 'This is the job, this is the task at hand,' and I feel like the reason we've had three guys make those shots, instead of one guy make all three, is we have a pretty task-oriented team.

"We talk about this all the time: Sometimes you have to give everything you have for 40 minutes, one possession at a time, just to have a chance to win. In those three games, because of the level of competition, because of our complete and total focus on trying to win that game, I just think you play that possession like all the other possessions, you're just trying to figure out a way to win and win that possession. So your work, the 39 minutes and 58 seconds before that, kind of prepares you for those moments."

Usually at the end, the shooter gets most of the credit if his shot swishes through, but so many others often deserve kudos for making it happen.

Like Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz, whose on-the-money pass put teammate Ben Brust in position to hit a running 3-pointer that forced overtime, and an eventual win, over then-No. 3 Michigan on Feb. 9.

"Without that, the shot doesn't get off,'' Brust told ESPN.com's Andy Katz after the game. "If that thing gets tipped, then that's the game. Mike put it right where I needed it.''

Or Paul, who knew exactly what he needed to look for with 0.9 seconds left against the Hoosiers -- and found it.

Just before the crowd closed in.

"Everyone had a hand in that...