LAS VEGAS — It’s a moment every basketball player dreams of: Having the ball in a close game with the shot clock turned off, sizing up a defender as the seconds expire, then heaving a dramatic, off-balanced jumper at the last possible moment. The crowd erupts, then the buzzer sounds. That’s game.
Few players get to be in that moment, much less make those clutch shots. But for Saint Mary’s senior guard Jordan Ford, Monday night’s 17-footer to beat 3 seed BYU in the WCC Tournament semifinals was his second clutch performance in a row.
Less than 48 hours removed from eliminating 6 seed Pepperdine with a turn-around, 30 foot three, Ford’s late heroic set up another Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s WCC Championship game.
For those who didn’t stay up to watch it — or are unfamiliar with the two-time WCC All First-Team Selection — here’s a primer on one of the nation’s most exciting point guards.
What did Jordan Ford do against BYU?
At first, things were ugly.
Ford entered the underbelly of the Orleans Arena at halftime with six points on 2-6 shooting. For a player averaging 21.7 PPG on 49.3% shooting, this was a letdown. Furthermore, his Gaels made only eight field goals, but they only trailed BYU 26-20.
Then the fun began.
Midway through the second half, the senior from Folsom, Calif. chipped in eight points — including a personal 6-0 run — that sparked 14-0 blitz to get the Gaels back in the game. As fouls accumulated, BYU’s composure unraveled with two technical fouls and Malik Fitts spearheaded the Gaels’ defensive charge, the Gaels found themselves trailing 50-49 with 7.2 seconds left. SMC head coach Randy Bennett called a timeout, then the Gaels set up this play with the shot clock turned off:
First ya read it, now ya see it! @jordan_ford_ hits a game winner, AGAIN, to advance @SaintMarysHoops to the #WCChoops tournament finals for the second year in a row! pic.twitter.com/e2MHR2NjOk— WCC Basketball (@WCChoops) March 10, 2020
Here’s another angle, complete with an enthusiastic radio call:
Jordan Ford is OUT. OF. HIS. MIND. #GaelsRise #WCCHoops pic.twitter.com/o0CUTCRSC0— Saint Mary's Gaels (@smcgaels) March 10, 2020
And here’s another one that shows a) how much space Ford created, b) how simple, yet effective that play-call was and c) his subtle flex, then unassuming walk back to center court after he hit the shot. This is cold-blooded.
JORDAN FORD, HELLO pic.twitter.com/0dJmjda0jj— Kyle Cajero (@kylecajero) March 10, 2020
“In my head I was kind of thinking I wanted to get to a jumper, get [Barcello] downhill a little bit and stop on a dime a bit,” Ford said. “I liked the matchup. [He’s] a little smaller defender, so I was able to get a shot off. I knew I was going to be able to get a clean look.”
BYU head coach Mark Pope could only tip his cap to the star guard.
“He’s a really talented player,” Pope said of Ford. “He got downhill and stopped on a dime and collected himself. [Barcello] was guarding him well and just got his balance off a little bit. It was huge. It was good defense and better offense.”
What’s so special about Ford’s WCC Tournament performances?
Ford is in the midst of one of the most clutch stretches in recent memory. Over the past two games, he has scored 60 points, shot 53.3% from the field (including 41.2% from three) while only committing one turnover and four fouls. This year’s WCC Tournament Most Outstanding Player award should be his regardless of the championship game’s outcome.
This unforgettable run started when Ford put the Waves’ double-overtime comeback hopes to rest with this bonkers shot:
FORDy points!— WCC Basketball (@WCChoops) March 8, 2020
The @jordan_ford_ shot that clinched the @saintmaryshoops win in double OT. #WCChoops pic.twitter.com/CsIZN6ZTvy
For the record, also scored 42 points in that game, which is not only his career high, but also the third-highest single-game effort in WCC Tournament history.
“We decided to play [Ford] straight-up,” Pepperdine head coach Lorenzo Romar said, recalling Ford’s double-overtime dagger. “To see the shot clock winding down, I thought we couldn’t have defended him any better. Then he turns around and I thought, ‘That can’t have the distance, can it?’ And it did.”
Ford and the Gaels could’ve folded after the emotional high of that double-overtime game. Instead, the star senior finished with 18 points — including a 5-9 shooting performance in the second half — against a NCAA Tournament-bound BYU team.
Few could blame Bennett for taking out Ford with 5:33 to go in the first half; even with one day between the Pepperdine and BYU games, Ford was playing nearly 65 consecutive minutes before he got a breather.
“We actually started getting going offensively,” Bennett said of the move to take Ford out of the game. “We were so preoccupied with getting him the ball, and we weren’t playing well offensively. So one, we thought he could use a rest and two, sometimes it helps us just to get other guys involved, to get them moving the ball and looking to score. And they did. I think we had 10 points, and the time we put him back in, we had 20.”
When all was said and done, Ford returned to start the second half en route to playing 86 of a possible 90 minutes in a two-game stretch. A third 40-minute game against Gonzaga is a strong possibility.
How does Ford score when he’s not making clutch shots?
“Crafty” is the most common word to describe Ford, who’s been one of the trickiest defensive assignments in the WCC. Listed at 6’1 and 175 pounds, he’s not the most athletic guard, yet he makes up for it with an uncanny ability to maneuver around screens, make runners at tough angles and finish at the rim.
Jordan Ford's spin move to reject a ball screen is still one of the best things in college basketball: pic.twitter.com/F4467VfwuK— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) December 16, 2019
Built Ford tough @jordan_ford_ has @saintmaryshoops ahead of the Waves midway through the 2nd half.— WCC Basketball (@WCChoops) March 8, 2020
As for his shooting, well, of course a guard in Saint Mary’s offense is going to be an elite shooter. Ford is no exception.
He has a quick release, makes NBA range look effortless and uses a deep bag of tricks to create separation. He’s shooting 41.2% from three on a career-high 6.2 attempts per game — and for good reason. When Ford goes supernova, he’s one of the best in the nation.
Can I expect to see Ford in the NBA?
If one thing’s for certain, Ford will get buckets no matter what. The kicker, as it is for all undersized guards who score in bunches, will be his ability to defend at the next level.
Over the past two games, Ford wasn’t the primary defender on BYU’s star guards TJ Haws and Jake Toolson, or Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross. Granted, he’d switch onto them and get reps once lineups changed, but he mainly guarded his opponents’ second or third options. This doesn’t mean he’s a poor defender: Ford averages 1.4 steals per game this season, which is the best in his career. As a team, the Gaels are 84th in defensive efficiency on KenPom, but also allow opponents to shoot 34% from three.
But if history has taught basketball anything, Ford’s basketball career might be just beginning. After all, NBA scouts were concerned about Steph Curry and Trae Young’s defensive abilities, and both of them turned out alright.
“Who can he guard at the next level?— Alex Manfredi (@alexmanfr3di) March 10, 2020
That’s what they said about Trae Young though https://t.co/p4iGhVQkcO
As for playing for Saint Mary’s instead of a larger school, that shouldn’t be a concern. Even if he’s not a Curry, Young or a Malachi Flynn — another undersized point guard outside the power conferences with a legitimate NBA future — Ford can carve out an NBA role even if he goes undrafted. Players like Campbell’s Chris Clemons and UC Santa Barbara’s Gabe Vincent are two undersized bucket-getters who have played their way onto NBA rosters in the past year — all while coming from leagues weaker than the WCC.
Yet Ford has an advantage over both of those players. Saint Mary’s hasn’t been known for its scheduling, but Ford has had 20-point outings against teams like Wisconsin, Arizona State, Washington, Gonzaga (twice) and BYU (three times) throughout his career. Five of those eight performances happened this year. As a senior, Ford is making a career-high 51.1% of his shots — including an astounding 48.3 3FG% — against A-tier opponents on KenPom:
Regardless of what happens tonight against Gonzaga, he’ll get at least two more of those opportunities to shine on the biggest stage — after all, Bart Torvik’s TourneyCast gives the 26-7 Gaels a 100% chance of making the NCAA Tournament.
And Ford undoubtedly has a few more big shots left in him.