Illinois State's stunning last-minute collapse Sunday night started with Jackie Carmichael kicking Wichita State's Tekele Cotton in the chest.
It finished with Carmichael kicking himself.
When Wichita State guard Malcolm Armstead's 3-pointer rimmed out with 49 seconds to go and Illinois State leading by five, Carmichael leaped high for the rebound but karate kicked Cotton in the chest on his way down. The flagrant foul assessed to Carmichael sparked an 8-0 Shockers run over the game's final 41.2 seconds to turn a seven-point deficit into a stunning 68-67 victory.
Referees didn't initially call a foul on Carmichael but they reviewed the play after Wichita State's Demetric Williams fouled Illinois State's Johnny Hill. Though Hill sank his two foul shots, the Shockers received two free throws and the ball, to the outrage of the Illinois State crowd.
Whether or not Carmichael's kick was intentional was a subject of debate after the game.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall told Pantagraph.com, "I don’t know his intent. He’s coming out of the air, and Cotton is there and the foot goes to the face area."
Countered Illinois State coach Dan Muller, "They said he kicked him above the neck and he intentionally did it. How Jackie was getting a rebound and intentionally was kicking a moving target, I haven’t seen it, but that was the explanation to me.”
Regardless of intent, the kick definitely opened the door a crack for Wichita State.
Cleanthony Early made both technical free throws. Williams buried a corner 3-pointer. And with the lead down to two points and Wichita State pressuring the inbound pass, Hill lost control of the ball and had it go out of bounds with 25 seconds left, ensuring the Shockers the chance to tie or win the game on their final possession.
The final play drawn up by Marshall was a simple pick and pop for Armstead and Early. Early set a top-of-the-key screen for Armstead and both Illinois State defenders went with the ball, leaving Early just enough space to bury a game-winning 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds left.
Wichita State's comeback kept the Shockers (22-5, 11-4) alone in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with only four league games remaining. Preseason favorite Creighton trails by a full game, but Wichita State does still have road games left against the Bluejays and fellow NCAA tournament contender Indiana State.
That Wichita State found a way to win Sunday night suggests they'll have a chance in Omaha and Terre Haute as well. Entering Sunday's game, Illinois State had won six of seven since an 0-6 start to league play and was playing as well as any other team in the Valley.
The irony of a flagrant foul initiating Illinois State's collapse is that the Redbirds were in position to win the game because of their success at the foul line. Though they shot poorly the whole game both in the paint and behind the arc, they led almost from the outset because they went to the free throw line 33 times and made 30 of them.
Carmichael, an all-conference forward averaging 18.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, will not have fond memories of Sunday night.
He scored a modest 12 points on 3 of 12 shooting. He committed the flagrant foul that led to Wichita State's comeback. And naturally, he also missed the game's final shot, a jumper at the buzzer that would have won it for Illinois State but instead left the Redbirds to walk off the court wondering how they let a sure win slip away.
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