RJ Barrett at the free-throw line with a chance to tie things up in the game’s final seconds.
Where have March Madness fans witnessed this scene before?
In the Elite Eight round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Duke trailed Michigan State by two points as Barrett stepped to the line with 5.2 seconds remaining. He made 1 of 2 — the first a miss and the second one an accidental make — and Duke was eliminated.
The challenge was stiffer Friday night as Barrett needed to make three free throws with 37 seconds remaining for the Knicks to tie the Grizzlies. Mission accomplished — and the Knicks used the momentum-changer to spark a 133-129 overtime win at the Garden.
Asked if these were his biggest free throws since that day in 2019, Barrett, who leaned in to draw a foul on his 3-point attempt, let out a long sigh as he racked his memories.
“I don’t remember. Maybe,” Barrett said. “Got to be up there. But it was cool. I had to make free throws. I work on it every day. Thank God they went in and we got this win.”
Barrett netted 15 of his 20 points Friday in the fourth quarter and overtime, including the three freebies when fouled from beyond the arc with 37.0 seconds remaining in regulation. He tied the score again with a driving layup with 8.8 seconds to go and added a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1:15 left in overtime.
The No. 3-overall pick in the 2019 draft continues to mostly provide a sturdy second option to All-Star forward Julius Randle.
“Tremendous growth, making huge shots down the stretch, just making the right plays, right reads and locking in,” Randle said. “He’s showing tremendous growth.”
Before the game, the 20-year-old Barrett credited the Knicks’ veterans for being invaluable to the strides the team and some less-experienced teammates have made in the franchise’s advancement into playoff contention this season.
“Most definitely, they know a lot, the coaching staff knows a lot,” Barrett said. “[We are] getting a chance to grow, make mistakes, keep learning. So it’s great to have vets, they always pick you up.”
The Knicks’ bench combined for 72 points. Alec Burks netted nine of his 19 points in overtime. Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose also combined for 39, while Obi Toppin added eight, including two crowd-pleasing dunks.
— Additional reporting by Peter Botte