One of the best things about Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is it gives players a chance to show they can play with other talented players. They’re forced to operate within a team concept and the ones who do so successfully are rewarded with professional contracts, whether it’s in the NBA, G-League or overseas.
But that’s not the only way to get attention. Just ask Jaylen Barford. Barford hit one of the most memorable shots of his life Friday night to lift his team — Sales Systems, Ltd. — to an 85-83 win over Duman Auto Sales at the buzzer.
The 6-foot-3 guard from Arkansas seemingly put Duman Auto Sales away minutes earlier. His layup with 5:35 to go — which came a possession after he assisted a teammate for three — put Sales Systems up 13. Barford exited the game with a game-high 19 points, three assists and five rebounds, a job well done.
Only his team couldn’t score without him. So after Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell capped off a 14-0 run with a three to take a 80-79 lead with 1:23 left Barford checked back in and immediately put his team back on top with a layup. And then after a three-point play by La Salle’s BJ Johnson, Barford again drove to the basket to knot the score at 83.
Updated angle for Jaylen’s game winner 😬 pic.twitter.com/49ZTKLbMnv
— P.I.T. (@PITourney) April 14, 2018
That set the stage for final sequence: Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins blocked Ferrell’s layup with six seconds left; Barford scooped up the loose ball, his mind focused on only one thing: getting to the rim. He knew he’d likely have a mismatch as Sales System scurried back on defense, and he was right: well, sort of. Staring Barford down was Cincinnati’s Gary Clark, the only player at Portsmouth who won a conference defensive player of the year award as a senior. But Clark — as great of a defender as he is — is a 6-foot-7 forward. So Barford — who hadn’t been stopped all night — saw blood in the water. He hit him with a hesitation move — which was enough to get a half step on him — drove to his right and then leaned into Clark’s body as he converted a game-winning layup. The ref blew a whistle to call a blocking foul but it didn’t matter. The game was over.
“I knew I had enough time,” Barford told NBA Draft News afterwards. “I knew I was going to have a mismatch somewhere so I just played him to the shot, they thought I was going to shoot it — heso — went to the rack and finished.”
Truthfully, it probably didn’t matter who was guarding Barford. He was going to take the last shot — and based on his play throughout the game — he was probably going to make it. But Barford gave credit to Clark for making him earn the bucket.
“He did a good job contesting the shot, but I just had a couple moves in my bag so I just used them,” he said.
After the shot went in, Barford pumped his fist and high-fived spectators sitting under the basket. On the other side of the gym sat three rows of NBA personnel. Barford said that added to the emotion.
“I ain’t never did nothing in front of NBA coaches,” he said. “There’s a lot of NBA coaches and scouts in here so it’s good to do that in front of a lot of people. Just to be here is a blessing.”
A blessing that Barford is taking full advantage of, as he’s proven to be one of the most gifted drivers and scorers in Portsmouth. And that’s exactly what Barford set out to do coming into the event. He wasn’t looking to fit in.
“I just want to show I’m one of the best players in the country” he said. “I’ve just got to keep playing hard and be myself every night.”
Barford has met with six NBA teams at Portsmouth and expects to meet with a couple more before the event is over. He said some have said they want to see him at the NBA Combine in May. Until then, he plans to continue working out at Arkansas with teammate Daryl Macon, another top scorer at the PIT.
“I’m having fun doing the process. It’s been going good for me,” Barford said. “I’ve had a lot of positive feedback. They just want me to keep playing good. Some want to see me at the combine so hopefully I get in that combine and do the same thing I’m doing now.”
Other Friday evening standouts:
Gary Clark, Cincinnati SF/PF
Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor C
Matt Ferrell, Notre Dame PG
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall C
George King, Colorado SG/SF