By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Like most of America, I have spent nearly all of the afternoon and evening channel surfing the second-round games of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
But no matter what happens in the rest of the tournament, I am going to feel like we have all been ripped off, just like most of the sellout crowd of 18,927 spectators at the Concol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA. did when they watched the final minutes of the game between Syracuse and UNC-Asheville did when they booed the game officials off the court on Thursday afternoon.
We should all be talking about the first No. 16-seed versus No. 1 upset this evening, but instead we will always remember the horrific officiating that stole UNCA's chance at history.
And we will also remember the post-game comments of the biggest sour puss in college basketball, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
Has there ever been a bigger crybaby on the sidelines then the self-righteous, excuse-making Boeheim?
That's what makes his post-game comments so hard to swallow.
It isn't enough that Boeheim's scandal-ridden program has filled the headlines this season with sexual abuse allegations against his 35-year, right-hand man and lead assistant Bernie Fine — while the ugliness of football assistant Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State child-abuse coverup were still fresh.
It isn't enough that we have learned that the Syracuse athletic administration had been hiding failed drug tests by men's basketball players from public view — and even the players themselves — for nearly an entire decade.
It isn't enough that the best player on the Orangeman team, 7-foot-center Fab Melo, was suspended for academic reasons for the second time this season a few hours after Syracuse was given one of the tournament's four No. 1 seeds.
And it isn't even enough that Syracuse is likely to miss the 2013 tournament if and when the NCAA finally starts penalizing programs that perform abysmally in the classroom.
Through all of that, we had to watch this most undeserving of teams get bailed out by the epitome of home cooking on Thursday.
Makes you wonder if the three officials assigned this game should have been appearing on the Food Network instead of CBS.
Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay and Paula Dean would have all liked the stuff those officials were serving up at the end of the game.
If ever a team deserved to lose on Thursday, it was Syracuse.
Boeheim already holds a piece of NCAA history. Not his 2003, Carmelo Anthony-inspired national championship, but the first-ever No. 15-seed over a No. 2 upset when Richmond knocked off the Orangemen, 73-69, in 1991.
It would have been nice to have bookended that 'accomplishment' with the first No. 16 versus No. 1 shocker.
UNC-Asheville matched some NCAA magic by halftime when it became just the seventh No. 16 team to lead a No. 1 seed at the intermission, 34-30. But Syracuse recovered to take control until a late Bulldog run got UNCA back into the game.
The Bulldogs cut the lead to three points on three occasions in the final 64 seconds, but the officials had already made a major impact on the game. And their influence was to become even more glaring.
With 1:20 remaining, a lane violation was called on UNCA's star player J.P. Primm (18 points) as Scoop Jardine missed the front-end of a key one-and-one free-throw situation.
Primm was called for passing the head of the key — a ticky-tack call at best and a clear mistake when you viewed the replay.
"They showed it on the replay, I think the crowd let him know that it wasn't the right call." Primm said. "When it gets to crunch time like that, like I say, everyone is human."
And everyone is human when they can't admit a mistake.
Here is what one of the officials, Ed Corbett — a referee who regularly works Big East Conference games — told a pool reporter about the play.
"It was a clear (lane) violation," said Corbett. "The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We've since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call."
I guess Corbett didn't watch the replay everyone else saw and even if he did, this was the type of call that never would have been made in a regular-season game and was so nit-picky it shouldn't have been called here.
Bailed out after the miss, Jardine made the most of his second chance and sank two free throws to give Syracuse a 64-58 lead.
"They gave me a second chance to make the shot and I made it," Jardine said. "I got myself into a rhythm. I made every free throw from there on out, because I do what I practice and believed in myself at that time and made the shots for us."
UNCA showed its resiliency by scoring a trey just 16 seconds later to turn the final seconds into a pressure-cooker, making it 64-61, but the heat should have been even hotter for the Orangemen.
With 38 seconds left and the Bulldogs down 66-63, Syracuse appeared to give UNCA possession with a chance to tie the game when Brandon Triche clearly fumbled an errant pass out of bounds.
There had been a bit of jostling between Triche and an UNCA player before Triche lost control of the ball, but it wasn't the type of contact generally called near the end of a game.
But it was down-right grevous that all three of the officials missed such an obvious call in crunch time when they said it went off a phantom Bulldog defender.
Even coordinator of officiating John Adams said he would have given the ball to UNCA on the play.
But Corbett again defended his crew, which included Glenn Tuitt (Sun Belt, SWAC) and Eric Curry (Mountain West, Big Sky).
"The out of bounds is not reviewable and it is not a play we would discuss," Corbett said. "I'm not going to comment further because it is a judgment call."
Hey bucko, that blown call and your other mess-ups — which included an obviously missed goaltending call earlier in the second half — cost a team a game in the NCAA tournament.
I hope you enjoy your trip back home, Mr. Corbett, because I can't imagine that the official observer at court-side is going to advance your crew into the third round.
Since when does an officiating crew not huddle up to make sure it got a controversial call correct? You see officials help each other out all the time in other games.
The 72-65 final score didn't come close to reflecting what should have been the result of the game as Syracuse tacked on a bunch of free throws it would not have received without the officiating errors. At best, the Orangemen might have made it to overtime.
That's what made Boeheim's typically acerbic post-game comments so appalling.
"I don't think luck had anything to do with this game today," Boeheim said, "and I think the better team won."
How gracious after shaking hands with the teary-eyed Bulldog players after the game.
And here was Boeheim's rather skewed take on the in-bounds play.
"First of all, all the noise about the ball going out of bounds, I mean, Triche got pushed. That's why it went out of bounds," Boeheim chimed. "Maybe they missed the out of bounds, they missed the foul call. Those things equal out."
Hear's hoping Karma catches up with you somewhere down the road, Mr. Jim.
With the scandal brewing around the Syracuse program, the end for Boeheim can't come too soon, just as time finally caught up with Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel last year.
A memorable performance by UNCA was a forgettable one, individually for senior guard Matt Dickey, the Bulldogs' leading scorer at 17.1 points per game. Dickey struggled offensively, finishing with just five points on 1-of-13 shooting (1-of-9 from the 3-point line), but he also knew he should have been in on a piece of history.
“We definitely could have won the game today, and we definitely should have won,” said Dickey.
Instead of an upset for the ages, UNCA becomes a footnote, like the one-point losses by Princeton against Georgetown and East Tennessee State against Oklahoma in 1989, Western Carolina's two-point defeat against Purdue in 1996 and a game I covered from Tennessee's Thompson-Bolling Arena in 1990 — Murray State's four-point, 75-71 loss in overtime against Michigan State.
Popeye Jones had 40 points that Thursday afternoon as I watched, but he needed to hit one more at the end of regulation to lift the Racers to the most memorable of NCAA upsets.
You had to feel for veteran coach Eddie Biedenbach, a coach who is the yin to Boeheim's yang.
"We gave it everything we had, we battled the best that we could," Biedenbach said. "These guys are great. They deserved a better fate than they had today."
That is a sentiment that almost any basketball fan not residing in Syracuse, N.Y. can agree with.
Someday, we will finally witness a No. 16 seed beat one of those cocky No. 1s. Too bad it didn't happen today.
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