Houston walk-on makes clutch free throw in March Madness after barely playing all year

The No. 1 seed Houson Cougars ran into major foul trouble at the end of their round of 32 matchup against Texas A&M on Sunday night. By the end of the game, three players fouled out, including Emmanuel Sharp, who scored 30 points in the game, Ja’Vier Francis, and Big 12 Player of the Year Jamal Shead.

Houston was out-scored 13-3 in the final minute of the game. The Cougars’ stunning collapse allowed Texas A&M to force overtime. Suddenly, a No. 1 seed was watching their season potentially end in the most embarrassing way possible.

Houston came away with a 100-95 victory over the Aggies to reach the second round. They did it thanks to a clutch free throw from a walk-on who had barely played all season all season.

Senior guard Ryan Elvin came into the game when Shead fouled out, an impossible situation to not feel pressure in. Forget going from out the frying pan and into the fire, this is going straight into the volcano. Elvin entered with 18 seconds left in overtime, and immediately was fouled by the Aggies, because of course he was. Yet, when he stepped to the line, everyone on the Houston bench looked pretty calm. Elvin only played in 173 minutes in his entire career for the Cougars, yet went to the line with the confidence of a kid who knew one of those was about to fall.

With 17 seconds left and Houston up three, Elvin split a pair of free throws to make it a two possession game and key the win. There must have been ice running through his veins.

Yes, Elvin is a walk-on at the University of Houston, but he is such an integral part of the Cougar basketball team that it almost doesn’t make sense to call him that. In Paper City writer Chris Baldwin’s story about Elvin, star guard LJ Cryer told a story about being tasked to guard Elvin in his first practice after transferring from Baylor, and Cryer taking disrespect to it. Elvin then proceeded to cook Cryer in practice, and the two became close as Cryer adjusted to life at Houston. Elvin is a team captain for the Cougars, an even rarer distinction for a player who wasn’t on scholarship when he arrived.

The respect that Elvin garners and deserves was felt in the reaction after the game to Houston making the Sweet 16 once again.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson spoke about Elvin and the confidence he had in him at the line, in addition to what he means to the Houston program.

So yes, Elvin was a walk-on who only shot four free throws in the entire season. But, the confidence that his team showed in him made it abundantly clear that he was so much more than that. What a great team win for Houston, all the way down to the last guy on the roster.

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