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Jeff Eisenberg

VCU's Bracketbusters win at Wichita State ends in controversy

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

No matter how you feel about the last-second whistle that gave Virginia Commonwealth new life at Wichita State on Friday night, the referees deserve credit for at least one thing.

That was a brave call to make given the high stakes and the raucous environment.

Needing a defensive stop to close out VCU and maintain realistic hopes of an at-large NCAA tournament berth, Wichita State appeared to have reason to celebrate when Joey Rodriguez's runner badly missed the mark as time expired. Instead referees called Joe Ragland for making contact with Rodriguez as he shot, enabling the VCU guard to sink two free throws with eight-tenths of a second remaining to secure a 68-67 road victory.

It's debatable whether there was sufficient contact between Ragland and Rodriguez to warrant a foul in any situation, but the call was especially tough considering it was in the final second of a one-point game. A frenzied sellout crowd left no doubt how it felt, booing once when the call was made and then again when the final buzzer sounded after a desperation Wichita State 3-point attempt rimmed out.

The significance of the call for both teams cannot be overstated.

For Wichita State, all hope of an at-large NCAA tournament berth is dashed. The Shockers lost this game and squandered previous chances for a marquee non-league win over San Diego State and UConn, meaning they must beat out Missouri State and Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley tournament.

For VCU, this win breathes new life into the program's hopes of an at-large bid. Back-to-back home losses to Old Dominion and George Mason this past week dimmed the Rams' chances, but they still have a 12-4 league record and a neutral-court non-conference victory over UCLA on their resume.

VCU's victory is also a significant boost to the Colonial Athletic Association's hopes of being a multi-bid league.

George Mason and Old Dominion appeared to be in better shape than the Rams entering the weekend. Now if VCU could close out the season on a strong note, it's not unthinkable that a league which often struggles to put two teams in the NCAA tournament could land three bids this season.

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