A rare and controversial call helped No. 5 Michigan State avoid a stunning upset at the hands of No. 12 New Mexico State Friday night in Spokane.
Officials whistled the upset-minded Aggies for a lane violation after a missed Michigan State free throw with 18 seconds. The call on Troy Gillenwater gave Spartans star Raymar Morgan another attempt from the stripe and he converted to put Michigan State up by three points. Playing for a three-pointer instead of a two, New Mexico State was unable to convert in the final seconds and lost 70-67.
Watch video of the call below. The violation is whistled on Gillenwater for slightly tapping his foot into the Michigan State player's box.
Simply put: That's a horrendous, horrendous call. Lane violations happen on a majority of free throws and are almost never whistled by officials. To call one with 18 seconds left in a two-point game in the NCAA tournament is unconscionable. It only makes matters worse that the rebound was uncontested, meaning that the alleged violation provided absolutely no advantage to the Aggies.
It's an incident reminiscent of the foot fault which led to Serena Williams' infamous outburst at the 2009 U.S. Open. Though the calls themselves may have been technically by the book, they shouldn't be called given the circumstances. There's too much on the line to blow a whistle for a trivial, questionable, irregular violation like stepping into the lane a split-second too early.
The next time you watch a game, take a look at the players waiting to get a rebound after a free throw. One or two almost always step into the lane or extend their foot outside their proper zone before the ball hits the rim. It's like traveling in the NBA. It happens so often that everyone, including referees, barely even notice.
Officials noticed this time and it may have cost New Mexico State a chance to pull an NCAA tournament shocker.