If UConn falls a marquee win shy of earning an NCAA tournament berth, the memory of a controversial timeout call in the final minute of Wednesday night's 72-67 loss to Syracuse is going to haunt the Huskies all offseason.
With the score tied at 65, only 35 seconds remaining and a fresh shot clock after an offensive rebound, Syracuse's Scoop Jardine appeared to give UConn the break it needed when he inexplicably drove to the rim and threw up a wild layup attempt. Instead the Orange kept control of the ball because referees ruled that Coach Jim Boeheim had alertly called timeout before the shot left Jardine's hands.
"He's a young guard and he wanted to try to win the game,'' Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard. "You don't try to win the game with 35 seconds left.''
According to the NCAA basketball rulebook, a timeout is "granted and charged after a player or head coach makes a visual or oral request" and "when a player of that team is in control of the ball." The key word there is granted because that means Jardine needed to still be in possession until official John Cahill granted Boeheim's timeout request.
It's extremely hard to tell from TV replays whether the ball had already left Jardine's hands, but there's no denying the timeout proved to be the turning point of the game. Instead of UConn being able to hold the ball for one final chance to complete a comeback from 16 down with 14 minutes to go, the Huskies fouled on the ensuing possession and Syracuse sank 7 of 8 free throws to close it out.
Although the loss is not a deathblow for UConn's tournament hopes, it certainly leaves the Huskies (14-10, 4-7) in desperation mode. A No. 1 seed in last year's tourney and a preseason top-15 team in most polls, UConn now needs five wins in its last seven games just to get back to .500 in Big East play -- and two of those remaining games are against Villanova and West Virginia.