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Morning After: Creighton Drops Heartbreaker to #5 Xavier After Questionable Call On Final Possession

Morning After: Creighton Drops Heartbreaker to #5 Xavier After Questionable Call On Final Possession

[Box Score]

Bluejay Beat Podcast:

Recap & Analysis:

After 39 minutes of play, Creighton and fifth-ranked Xavier were tied at 68 apiece. It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but it was a hard-fought battle on both sides and it was setting up for an entertaining finish. As typically happens when these two teams meet — eighteen of the 26 all-time meetings have been within five points in the final minute, including four of the last five — someone from one team or the other was going to make a play to win the game for his team in the final minute, perhaps even on the final possession.

Would it be Marcus Foster hitting his second game-winner in four days, and a repeat of his shot to beat Xavier in last year’s Big East Tournament? Or would J.P. Macura break Creighton hearts with a late three, as he did one year ago in Omaha? Maybe Trevon Bluiett, who’d been virtually shut out all afternoon by Khyri Thomas, would hit one when it counted most. Or perhaps Thomas or Ronnie Harrell would get their moment in the sun.

Alas, none of those exciting-slash-excruciating things happened, because the officiating crew of Pat Driscoll, Brian O’Connell, and Evon Burroughs put the spotlight on themselves instead, ensuring this game would end not with a bang, but with a whimper in the most anti-climatic way imaginable — at the free throw line.

Xavier took the lead, 70-68, on a putback by Macura who was inexplicably not blocked out during the scrum for a rebound of Sean O’Mara’s missed shot. With under 30 seconds to play and now trailing 70-68, Foster pulled up for a jumper to tie it, corralled his own miss, and kicked it out to a wide-open Ronnie Harrell in front of the Creighton bench. Harrell’s three misfired, but he was clipped by Bluiett as he closed out on defense. There wasn’t a ton of contact, but there was contact on Harrell’s hand as he shot the ball, and according to Article 2 of the college basketball rule book, that’s a foul.

Still, Harrell needed to make all three free throws for Creighton to win, and that was far from a sure thing. Nearly one year ago to the day against this same Xavier team in this same building, he came up short in almost the exact same situation. With 20 seconds left in that one and the Jays trailing 79-78, Harrell was fouled as he streaked down the sideline for a would-be uncontested layup. He needed to make one free throw to tie and both to (potentially) win. But he missed the front end of the one-and-one, and the Jays lost (though they had two more chances to win, and didn’t convert on either).

So this was no sure thing. But Harrell’s a different player in 2018 than he was in 2017, and plays with a completely different level of confidence. This time, he calmly made the first one, and then Xavier coach Chris Mack attempted to “ice” the shooter by calling timeout before the next two attempts. It did not work. Just as calmly as the first, Harrell sank the next two, first to tie the game and then to give Creighton the lead 71-70.

Xavier still had four seconds to turn the game back in their favor. They got the ball in to Quentin Goodin, and CU executed their defensive plan precisely as Greg McDermott drew it up (and precisely how they practice it) — as Goodin raced to the hoop, the Jays swarmed to the ball, built a wall at the rim, and ensured both their arms and their bodies were straight up and down so they didn’t commit a foul swiping for the ball.

Again, there’s a bit of contact, but not a ton — especially on a day where the officials had consistently let that kind of contact go. They called just 24 total fouls on the two teams, and neither team attempted a free throw from the double bonus all day. But for whatever reason, the officials (and specifically Evon Burroughs) decided this, with 0.3 seconds left, was where they’d draw the line on contact and call a foul.

OK. Sure. You bet.

Fox Sports analyst Len Elmore exclaimed “Are you kidding me?” on the network FOX broadcast. Creighton radio analyst Brody Deren yelled “OH MY GOODNESS” on the radio call, while John Bishop explained the call with fire in his voice (and, I imagine, his eyes). 18,000 fans in the arena said, and yelled, much worse things, most of them unprintable.

Goodin made both free throws, and Xavier escaped with a 72-71 win.

“It’s a fluke play. You hate to lose on one of those,” Greg McDermott said diplomatically on his postgame radio show. “We almost won on a fluke play, where Ronnie got fouled shooting a three. But as I told the guys, control what you can control. We cannot control a lot of things that happen in a game — whether your shots go in or not, whether they make tough contested shots or they don’t, how many times a referee blows his whistle versus how many times he doesn’t. You can’t control any of that. So be a man, take ownership of what you can control, and realize what you could have done differently to impact the outcome of the game.”

Mac can’t say it because he’ll get fined and because it’s a bad look for a head coach to publicly criticize an official, but neither of those things apply to me so here goes: that was a terrible call. Evon Burroughs made a mistake. It was not a foul, and should not have been called as such. Not with three-tenths of a second left, not with ten minutes to play in the game, not anytime. Here’s the portion of the rulebook pertaining to this scenario; Article 10 seems the likely culprit, in Burroughs’ estimation.

But here’s my problem with it. Burroughs was behind the play, meaning his vantage point allowed him to see Harrell and Hegner defending — but not the contact, such as it was, or who initiated it. And the two officials who could see the entire play didn’t think enough had happened to blow their whistles. They were apparently content with a “no call.” The one with the worst sightline of the play made a call, which is unfortunate.

This one will hurt for a while. Some longtime Jays fans still have a pit in their stomachs years — decades! — later after similar endings to games. Remember the Southern Illinois debacle on Super Bowl Sunday in 2002? That’s a game best remembered for DeAnthony Bowden’s “foul” — quotation marks around the word foul for mocking emphasis — with one second remaining in a tie game. Kent Williams hit two free throws, missed the third intentionally, and the Jays lost as the Civic came unglued. That was 16 years ago and is still referenced from time to time by Jays fans unlucky enough to have witnessed it. Or what about the NIT game against Miami in 2006, where Johnny Mathies tied the game on a layup with 28 seconds left? That ending was eerily similar to Saturday’s loss to Xavier. Miami’s Guillermo Diaz drove the length of the floor, straight into a double team of Dane Watts and Anthony Tolliver at the rim, both with their arms and bodies straight up and down (sound familiar?)…and Watts was called for a foul with under two seconds left. Diaz made one free throw, Miami won, and then-coach Dana Altman chased the officials off the floor into the tunnel screaming “pleasantries” as some of the loudest boos in the history of the CLink rained down.

Mention “SIU 2002” or “Miami NIT” to a longtime Jays fan and images of those games instantly come to mind. Blood starts to boil all over again. Those are hard games to get over. And “Xavier 2018” is now part of that list.

UGH.

The ending obscures almost everything that preceded it. Xavier took a 30-20 lead in the first half, and then CU came out of a timeout with a toughness they hadn’t shown in the first meeting, or in the early minutes of this second game. They rattled off a 10-0 run in the span of two minutes to tie it, getting threes from Thomas and Foster, and jumpers from Toby Hegner and Davion Mintz. They came back again after Xavier took a second-half lead, getting seven straight defensive stops and taking a 55-54 lead on Mitch Ballock’s drive to the rim with 12 minutes to play.

But four of Xavier’s last six made baskets came on second-chances they created with offensive rebounds, coinciding in part with a stretch where Creighton missed seven straight shots. That turned a 61-58 Creighton lead into a 66-61 deficit. And the most critical shot of the afternoon came on a second-chance opportunity, when Macura got an offensive rebound and putback with 20 seconds to play, giving the Musketeers a 70-68 lead.

When Coach Mac talks about “controlling the things we can control”, that’s the biggest one — if they clear that rebound, this is a different game with a different ending. If they clear that board, we’re talking about an upset win, a ranked Creighton team on Monday, and moving up one or two seed lines in the NCAA Tournament. But they didn’t, and we’re not.

DOUBLE UGH.

Key Stats:

Xavier destroys Creighton in the paint, outscoring them 50-20. Creighton (mostly) offsets it by outscoring Xavier 33-9 on three-pointers.

Xavier outrebounded the Jays 42-29, including 14-7 on offensive boards, and had a 21-5 advantage in second-chance points.

CU assisted on 11 of their 27 made baskets and turned it over just 12 times; Xavier assisted on 11 of their made 31, and had 13 turnovers.

Standout Performance:

Marcus Foster took 25 — TWENTY FIVE! — shots, making 12, and scored 29 points. He also had eight rebounds, three of them offensive, and three assists in 39 minutes. He scored 20 of the Jays’ 36 points in the second half, and took 15 of their 32 shots. But he missed three jumpers in the final two minutes, and four of his last five shots. He told media after the game fatigue was likely a factor, and that his “legs right now feel a little dead.” 39 minutes and 25 shots will do that to you.

You only need to look back four days to see an example of Foster making a clutch shot to win the game. Sometimes it goes the other way, as it did in this one. The Jays will go as far as Foster can carry them offensively the rest of the way; most nights will have a better ending than this one.

From The Other Side:

Xavier blog Banners On The Parkway headlined their wrap-up “Xavier and the Refs beat Creighton” and subtitled a section on the final sequence “Not All Heroes Wear Capes.” The first sentence of that section? “Apparently some of them wear stripes.”

So…yeah.

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