Wed Mar 09 06:15pm EST
But who knows if that would have been the case had the Big East officials working the game not, as ESPN commentator Doris Burke rightfully put it, "stopped officiating this basketball game."
The pair of non-calls in the closing seconds were egregious, and the video below from the end of the Johnnies' 65-63 victory over Rutgers is self-explanatory.
After a desperation heave by Rutgers from under its own basket wound up going off the hands of forward Gilvydas Biruta, senior Justin Brownlee picked up the loose ball. Figuring the game was over, Brownlee sprinted while carrying the ball and stepped out of bounds before chucking the ball into the stands.
ESPN's replay clearly showed that 1.7 seconds should have been placed back on the clock, with the Scarlet Knights getting one more shot at either a game-winning or tying shot. The most mortifying part of it all was that referee Jim Burr was on the sideline watching Brownlee's exploits the entire time, with a whistle in his mouth.
Right after the buzzer sounded, Rutgers guard Robert Lumpkin's pleas to Burr fell on deaf ears, along with those of coach Mike Rice.
Instead of the play being reviewed, the officials got off the floor as fast as possible.
The fiasco caused an instant explosion on Twitter, forced a flood to Rice's postgame press conference in the depths of Madison Square Garden. By the time Rice arrived, he'd already seen the YouTube clip of the mess on the phone of his team's sports information director.
Rice is the same coach who just 24 hours earlier called Big East officials "the best in the world" after sympathizing with them on a tough call late for thrown elbows by Biruta in Rutgers' 76-70 overtime victory over Seton Hall.
"I have not heard any response from the Big East or the officials, for three of them to — again, it was a mistake," Rice said after getting a chance to cool off. "It's got to be a mistake. I watched it on YouTube. I've had them all throughout the year, impeccable reputation, it's unfortunate, my heart — 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.
"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. 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."
As for St. John's coach Steve Lavin, he seemed genuinely perplexed and unsure about what had happened, but that's mostly because by the time Brownlee hit the sidelines, he had passed Lavin, who was near mid-court en route to shake Rice's hand.
"I'm not sure," Lavin told ESPN's Beth Mowins when asked on camera about the sequence. "It was kind of chaotic and Keystone Cops there at the end."
Magnifying the officiating error is the fact that it ended Rutgers' season and went against the supposed purpose of a conference tournament, which is to give each team a fair shot at an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Instead, the Knights' first season under Rice, which offered plenty of hope for the program's future along the way, concluded with a 15-17 record.
The final two minutes of the game included several questionable calls and no-calls on both ends, but this one raised cause for serious concern.
The Big East Conference officially chimed in with a statement not long after the game's conclusion:
"The Big East Conference acknowledges that two separate officiating errors occurred at the conclusion of the St. John's vs. Rutgers game," it read. "Both missed violations should have caused the game clock to stop and a change of possession to occur prior to the end of the game. Neither error is reviewable or correctable under NCAA playing rules."
Also, John Adams, who selects and manages officials for the NCAA tournament, told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that the ending was "unacceptable."
To be blunt, the way that final sequence played out was flat-out unprofessional, not just with the absence of a call, but by Burr and his cohorts blowing Rice and his players off completely. It can be properly corrected by keeping that crew — including Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton — off of the floor for the rest of the tournament, which still has three more rounds yet to be played.
Don't expect anyone to shed a tear if they don't.
The Dagger's Graham Watson and Jeff Eisenberg contributed to this post.
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