Uh, sorry Iowa State
Apologies are supposed to make everything better.
In college basketball, they don’t.
Minutes after the conclusion of Iowa State’s 78-75 loss to No. 2 seed Ohio State in Sunday’s third-round NCAA tournament game in Dayton, Ohio, the NCAA National Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Officiating, John Adams, released a statement disagreeing with a call that was made late in the game. With the Cyclones leading 75-74 and just under two minutes remaining in the game, Iowa State’s Will Clyburn was whistled for an offensive foul when Ohio State’s Aaron Craft slid in at the last second to take a charge. Replays showed Craft’s heel hovering over the line that defines the restricted area under the basket where offensive fouls cannot be called.
“I spoke with the official, and he determined the defender established legal guarding position outside the restricted area prior to the offensive player leaving the floor to start his shot,” Adams said in the statement. “When asked, the official said he did not see the defender’s foot over the restricted area line. By rule, this is not a reviewable play.”
Craft’s foot was over the line. And he had not established position when Clyburn went up for the layup. In real time, this call would have been very hard to make. But the Cyclones should have gotten the basket as well as an opportunity to go to the free-throw line for a chance to go ahead by four points. Instead, Craft made one of two free throws seconds later to tie the game.
Every Cyclone fan knows what happened next. Craft held the ball for the final shot and then hit a herky jerky 3-pointer with half a second remaining to send the Buckeyes to the Sweet Sixteen.
That itself seemed improbable. Until taking the phantom charge and hitting the clutch 3-pointer, Craft was having one of his worst games of the season. In a span of a little over two minutes in the second half, Craft committed a turnover, missed a layup, missed two consecutive one-and-one front ends and committed yet another turnover, and Ohio State’s 69-56 lead dwindled to a 72-71 deficit.
For Cyclone fans, the thought of Craft taking the final shot from 21 feet had to be tantalizing. Craft doesn’t normally shoot from beyond the arc, having made less than one 3-pointer per game this season, and he was just 29.3 percent from 3-point range this year. But in crunch time, the Buckeye point guard simply had ice water in his veins.
“He hit a tough shot,” Iowa State guard Korie Lucious told the Associated Press. “He hadn’t hit a three all game.”
Not sure why Georges Niang, a 6-foot-7 forward, gave the 6-foot-2 Craft so much room, especially as the final seconds ticked down and it became clear that Craft was going to be the one to pop the shot. At that point, Niang should have been in Craft’s face as much as possible without fouling him.
For the Cyclones and their fans, this loss had to sting. Coach Fred Hoiberg was unable to make an opening comment during the postgame news conference. He had to be shocked that his team was robbed yet again.
In a Feb. 25 game against Kansas in Ames, Iowa State led 90-88 when Jayhawk guard Elijah Johnson drove to the basket. Niang appeared to have his feet set, but no call was made as Johnson made contact with Niang. Johnson missed the shot, but wound up with the loose ball with less than five seconds remaining in regulation, and Niang was called for holding Johnson. Johnson made both free throws to send the game to overtime, where Kansas pulled away for the win.
The next day, the Big 12 released a statement acknowledging the mistakes made by the officiating crew: “The Big 12 Conference acknowledges that officiating errors were made at the end of regulation during last night's Kansas at Iowa State men’s basketball game. The plays have been reviewed and appropriate measures will be taken by the Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officials to adjust the number of future assignments for the two officials involved in conjunction with conference policies.”
That mistake cost the Cyclones a win over the then-No. 6 Jayhawks. This screw-up cost Iowa State a chance to go to the Sweet Sixteen. Had the 10th-seeded Cyclones beaten Ohio State, they would have had a clear path to the Final Four. Iowa State would have met No. 6 seed Arizona in its next game, with No. 9 Wichita State and No. 13 La Salle on the other side of the regional bracket.
The Cyclones and their fans have to be heartbroken. But it’s OK. At least the officials admitted their mistake. That makes everything better.