NCAA acknowledges blunder in St. John’s win

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Both teams never quit playing, too bad the refs quit officiating. Several judgment calls, an obvious travel with 1.7 seconds left and a chucked ball out of bounds by Justin Brownlee were never called and the Red Storm held on for a 65-63 win over Rutgers in the second round of the Big East tournament. They advance to play Syracuse in tomorrow’s quarterfinals.

The NCAA admitted two officiating errors at the end of the game, but said neither is reviewable or correctable under current rules.

"Both missed violations should have caused the game clock to stop and change of possession to occur prior to the end of the game," said Big East commissioner John Marinatto.

The Scarlet Knights, down by as many as 10 with eight minutes remaining, battled back and forced St. John’s into some uncharacteristically late turnovers. After the Storm’s most-clutch player Dwight Hardy bobbled an inbound pass with a 64-63 lead with 11 ticks left, Mike Coburn drew contact on a missed jumper in the lane but the refs kept their whistles in their pockets. They stayed there moments later after Brownlee bricked the front end of a 1-and-1 and St. John’s went over the back on the rebound attempt that went out of bounds off the Scarlet Knights. D.J. Kennedy made the second of his two shots from the stripe, then things got even crazier with the Johnnies clinging to a 65-63 lead with five seconds remaining.

It appeared the refs missed another over-the-back foul after two Johnnies emerged on Gilvydas Biruta as he went up for a jump ball at midcourt. The ball was knocked away and into the hands of Brownlee with two seconds left. The senior forward carried the ball like a loaf of bread, skipping to a victory celebration – only there was still 1.7 seconds showing on the clock. Oh yeah, he stepped out of bounds too, then promptly threw the ball out of play. That should of been a technical foul, and in fact, one was called in a similar situation less than two weeks ago — on a Louisville cheerleader.

"A couple of people said I did but I didn’t realize I was out of bounds," he said. "But fortunately it doesn’t matter now. I thought time had expired. It was so loud and stuff so I just threw it."

For a resilient Rutgers team that’s only on the rise under Mike Rice, it’s heartbreak. For veteran referees Jim Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton, considered by most to be the conference’s top unti, it was embarrassing.

"We dodged a bullet," Johnnies coach Steve Lavin said. "But [we] did enough things over the course of the game to dodge the bullet."

Even more shocking than the ending was the high road taken by Rice, who has said he’ll decline an invitation to the NIT or CBI.

"There was a mistake. They will admit it. I made several mistakes, my players made several mistakes, I’m sure that my staff who thinks they’re always right made several mistakes. We have the greatest officials in America," Rice said. "Believe me, there is going to be blood coming through my tongue right now, but it’s what it is, we’re going to control how we respond."

Rutgers blew one response on the court after it took its first lead of the second half, 61-60, with 57 seconds left. The Red Storm was struggling mightily and were on the verge of cracking under pressure but were bailed out by Gilvydas, who stepped way out of position to bump Hardy on the perimeter. He knocked down both foul shots to reclaim the lead. Dane Miller tried to gain it back for Rutgers but threw it away in traffic instead of shooting a 6-footer.

Even though Rice acknowledged his players’ meltdowns were the culprit for the loss, there’s still a sense of what-if had the whistles gone his way.

"I was a lunatic to be honest with you and I lost some self-control, I admit it, and I thought he got — again, it was a judgment call," Rice said of his animated motions after no foul was called on the inbound play that led to Brownlee’s steal. "Had I known it was [1.7], I might have literally held on, done a Van Gundy and held one of their legs on the court. It is what it is, judgment, and I’m sure they’re going to admit it’s a mistake because it’s on YouTube now. "



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