Scoring on a power play is no longer merely a hockey phenomenon. Louisiana-Lafayette's basketball team parlayed a man advantage into a key Sun Belt League victory Thursday night.
With Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Kentucky tied at 70 and 21 seconds remaining in the first overtime, the Ragin' Cajuns inbounded the ball with six men on the floor instead of five. Neither the referees nor the Hilltoppers spotted the blunder, enabling Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton to give his team a 72-70 victory on a game-winning driving layup with three seconds left.
It wasn't until after the final horn sounded that someone alerted Western Kentucky and the referees that Louisiana-Lafayette had an extra man on the floor. Referees would have assessed the Ragin' Cajuns a technical foul had they noticed the extra red jersey during the play, but Sun Belt coordinator of officials Mike Wood told ESPN.com, "You can't go to the monitor and do it retroactively."
The unusual loss was just the beginning of a rough 24 hours for Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald. Athletic director Ross Bjork announced Friday morning that he has fired McDonald, a decision that probably has less to do with the coach's inability to count than the program's 5-11 record and dwindling attendance.
McDonald inherited a thriving program coming off of a Sweet 16 bid in 2008, but Western Kentucky had trended in the wrong direction under him since a 25-win debut season in 2009. Still the midseason timing of McDonald's firing was a surprise, especially considering the gut-wrenching way he lost his final game.
The most bizarre aspect of Thursday night's final play is that Louisiana-Lafayette failed to exploit its unusual advantage. Payton never gave the ball up the entire possession, briefly losing his dribble outside the 3-point arc before regaining control, driving straight at the rim and scoring off the broken play.
McDonald didn't appear to be as irate as might be expected during his postgame news conference considering the final possession was the difference in the game — and perhaps in him receiving a few more weeks to save his job. He noted the freshman-laden Hilltoppers had plenty of opportunities to avoid falling to 5-11 overall and 1-2 in Sun Belt play.
"We can't take it back," McDonald said. "The thing you hurt for is for the guys because they fought so hard. For it to end not five-on-five for whatever reason, whatever the rule is, that's what you hate.
"We're not going to dwell on it. We can't do anything about it."
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