Close calls and disputed fouls: Controversy at the NCAA tourney

MINNEAPOLIS — On Saturday night, Virginia defeated Auburn 63-62 in the Final Four to advance to Monday’s national championship at U.S. Bank Stadium.

But the final moments of the semifinal game were as controversial as any stretch in NCAA tournament history:

Samir Doughty’s foul on Kyle Guy with 0.6 seconds to play as the Virginia star missed a go-ahead 3-pointer in a two-point game will be remembered as the defining moment of this tournament — regardless of what happens in the national title game, especially since officials missed Virginia guard Ty Jerome’s double-dribble on the previous possession. Guy made all three free throws to reclaim the lead before Auburn’s Bryce Brown missed a desperation shot at the buzzer.

Many questioned both the foul and its timing, but the NCAA, along with other observers, validated the call.

It’s not the first time, however, an NCAA tournament game has ended in chaos.

So where does Saturday’s ending rank among the most controversial officiating moments in NCAA tournament history?


Butler-Pitt (2011, second round): The controversy in this game unfolded in the final 2.2 seconds. It started with Shelvin Mack fouling Pitt’s Gilbert Brown on the inbounds pass with 2.2 seconds to play, a call then-Butler coach Brad Stevens openly protested. Brown, who was 3-for-3 from the charity stripe at the time, made the first free throw but missed the second. After he missed, Butler’s Matt Howard fought for the rebound as Pitt’s Nasir Robinson fouled him with the score tied at 70-70 and 0.8 seconds to go. Howard made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second as Butler advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.


Davidson-Marquette (2013, second round): Davidson and Marquette had played a thrilling contest, before De’Mon Brooks threw a long pass over Wildcats teammate Nik Cochran’s head late in the game with his team up by a point. Marquette didn’t have any remaining timeouts. As officials checked the monitor to determine how much time was left (6.7 seconds), however, Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams gathered his team before Vander Blue made a game-winning layup. After the loss, Davidson coach Bob McKillop called Marquette’s meeting during the review “an unfair advantage.”


Duke-Wisconsin (2015, national championship game): With less than two minutes to play, the ball floated out of bounds after Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig missed a layup with 1:51 to play. Replays appeared to show Duke star Justise Winslow’s fingertips had scraped the ball before it landed out of bounds. But the officials, who checked the monitors, ruled that Duke had retained possession. Then, Tyus Jones made a 3-pointer on the other end to extend Duke’s lead to eight points. After the game, John Adams, then the NCAA’s head of officiating, said the referees in the title game had not seen the replays that viewers saw on TV that appeared to show Winslow had touched the ball. But NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt told ESPN the officiating crew had seen every available angle, including the one viewers saw on TV — contradicting Adams’ claims and magnifying the postgame controversy.


Seton Hall-Michigan (1989, national title game): Was Seton Hall the victim of a “phantom call”? A lot of Pirates fans felt that way after Seton Hall’s Gerald Greene was called for a foul on Michigan’s Rumeal Robinson with three seconds to play in overtime of the 1989 national championship game. Seton Hall led by one at the time. But Robinson made both free throws on a one-and-one to seal a one-point win for Michigan and complete interim coach Steve Fisher’s miraculous title run. But even Robinson questioned the late call. “That’s where I think referees take over the game,” Robinson told reporters after the game. “I honestly feel if I was the referee, I probably wouldn’t have called that. I would have let the play go on because there’s only three seconds left. When you have so much riding on the game, why call that?”


Duke-Indiana (2002, Sweet 16): Down four at the end of the game, Duke’s Jay Williams hit a big 3-pointer and drew a foul to cut Indiana’s lead to one late. With 4.2 seconds to play, Williams stepped to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game and, potentially, send it into overtime. He missed, but teammate Carlos Boozer secured the rebound. As he tried to finish an errant putback, Boozer appeared to draw a foul. But the game clock expired without a call, and Indiana won, as Duke’s bench erupted in protest. Afterward, Mike Krzyzewski said the Hoosiers won a fair game. “They won the ballgame with their toughness,” he told reporters. ”I coach a game where I know we can lose any time we walk out on the court. The game is too good to reduce it to excuses. Somebody wins, somebody loses.”


Arizona-Kentucky (1997, national title game): Arizona raced to the national title after a battle with Kentucky, the defending national champion. The game was tight throughout, but Arizona dominated in overtime, outscoring Kentucky 10-5 in the extra period. Yet the foul calls were the issue after the game. Arizona set an NCAA tournament record with 34 made free throws on 41 attempts. All of Arizona’s points in overtime came off free throws. Kentucky had just 17 free throw attempts in the game.


SMU-UCLA (2015, first round): UCLA was an 11-seed that had squeezed into the field and were down by two late against sixth-seeded SMU in the first round. Bruins guard Bryce Alford took a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left, but SMU’s Yanick Moreira leapt and swatted it away as it approached the hoop. An official under the basket called goaltending, although many believed the shot wasn’t close to the cylinder, thereby failing to meet the goaltending requirement of the NCAA’s rule book. But UCLA, which went up by one on the call, held on to win. “I don’t know if it would have gone in or not,” Alford told reporters after the game, “but he definitely grabbed it on the way.”


Purdue-Tennessee (2019, Sweet 16): In one of the greatest games in NCAA tournament history, Purdue and Tennessee battled into overtime last month during their Sweet 16 matchup. With 1.7 seconds remaining in regulation, Lamonte Turner fouled Carsen Edwards on a 3-point attempt with Tennessee up by two. Edwards made two of his three free throws to send the game into overtime. Much like Saturday’s Virginia-Auburn finish, many questioned the timing of the call more than the call itself. There also was chatter about whether Edwards had stepped out of bounds after replays showed the Purdue star’s foot near the line. But Tennessee coach Rick Barnes tried to eliminate the drama with his postgame reaction. “It was a foul,” Barnes said. “It was a foul. He missed the shot. Lamonte hit him after the shot.”


Indiana-Syracuse (1987, national title game): Keith Smart’s game-winning shot with five seconds to play in the 1987 national title game is one of the iconic moments in the history of the NCAA tournament. More than 30 years later, it’s the lasting memory from Indiana’s win over Syracuse. But there were questions about the events that unfolded after Smart’s shot. In the chaotic moments that followed, the clock went from five seconds to one second before Syracuse was awarded a timeout. After their team’s loss, Syracuse players Howard Trice and Greg Monroe said they both attempted to call a timeout immediately after Smart made the shot. ”I thought we called [the timeout], but they didn’t see it, so that’s the way it is,” Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim told reporters after the game.


Georgetown-Princeton (1989, opening round): Twenty-nine years before 16-seed UMBC’s upset of No. 1 seed Virginia in last year’s NCAA tournament, 16th-seeded Princeton had top-seeded Georgetown on the ropes in the final seconds of a one-point game. Alonzo Mourning, the future NBA legend, blocked Kit Mueller’s potential game-winning shot with one second to play to preserve Georgetown’s 50-49 victory. But Princeton players, coaches and supporters thought Mourning had fouled Mueller on the play. “It’s hard to say,” Mueller told reporters after the game. “I thought maybe he hit my hand. I don’t know.”

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