Auburn tricked unknowing refs to seal its NCAA tournament win over Charleston

When 13th-seeded Charleston came up just short against fourth-seeded Auburn on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament, all the attention was on the no-call. It was on Grant Riller’s 3-pointer that fell well short; on the Auburn player who appeared to graze Riller’s elbow; and on the subsequent complaints.

Amid the grousing and controversy, though, almost everybody – from Charleston players to fans to the referees – missed a sneaky Auburn ploy that helped seal the game.

Riller’s 3 fell well short, and was rebounded by Auburn freshman forward Chuma Okeke. Okeke was immediately fouled, and Auburn went to the line to ice the game.

But wait … Okeke – a 69 percent free-throw shooter – didn’t go to the line. Sophomore guard Jared Harper – an 82 percent free-throw shooter – went to the line instead. Harper knocked down one of two to put the game out of reach.

But why?

Because immediately after Okeke was fouled, he threw the ball to a nearby Harper. The ref who had called the foul then turned away to relay the call to the scorer’s desk, and turned back to see the ball in Harper’s hands. He mistakenly identified Harper as the shooter, and nobody – no fellow referees, no Charleston players or coaches – corrected him.

It wasn’t until Saturday that the NCAA acknowledged the mistake.

“Had any of the officials been aware of this, or had anyone alerted the officiating crew to the fact that the wrong player was at the foul line, the officials would have been able to review the play and determine [Okeke] should have been the shooter,” NCAA coordinator of officiating J.D. Collins said in a statement.

But nobody did, and Harper sealed the deal with his first free throw.

So where does blame lie here? First and foremost with the referees, but also with any court-side officials, and even with Charleston players, coaches, or any member of the team’s staff.

Auburn’s ploy, whether by design or inadvertent, isn’t novel. Players and teams have tried it before. It rarely works, though, because it’s almost always called out by somebody.

In this case – perhaps because Charleston’s focus was still on the lack of a foul call on the Riller 3-pointer – it never was pointed out. And Auburn got away with a trick that helped ensure it’d be playing on Sunday.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer and college basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

Auburn held off upset-minded Charleston on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (Getty)
Auburn held off upset-minded Charleston on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (Getty)

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