ATLANTA - Momentum is a fickle creature, in your hands one second, skittering off to consort with the enemy the next. Both Final Four semifinal games turned on a single play, momentum darting from one side of the court to the other in an instant. The Jump Ball will surely live on in Wichita State lore. Will The Charge have the same painful longevity for Syracuse?
With less than 30 seconds remaining, Trey Burke hit a free throw to put Michigan up by two points. It was the closest Syracuse had been since midway through the first half, and the 'Cuse had every ounce of a freight train's worth of momentum on its side.
Unfortunately, a freight train was exactly the model for Syracuse point guard Brandon Triche's drive into the lane. Michigan's Jordan Morgan was there waiting for him, and Morgan seemed (note: seemed; Syracuse fans surely have a different view) to establish position in the instant before contact.
Charge. Possession reversal. And 19 seconds later, the game and a trip to the championship belonged to Michigan.
After the game, Triche took the responsibility on his shoulders. "I probably should have made a better decision," he said, "probably should have pulled up, you know, and pulled up for a jump shot instead of actually taking it all the way down there, because I did see him."
But momentum is a tricky thing, and by the time Triche had the presence of mind to think about alternatives, he was already committed. "I figured, you know, I was already in the air jumping, so I'd just try to make a play for the team."
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim backed his player. "Brandon made a good decision," he said. "You know, it was a close call."
There's no guarantee, of course, that had Triche pulled up he would have made the jumper, or that Syracuse would have been able to score against the Michigan defense with only a few seconds remaining on the clock. But just like with the Wichita State jump ball, Syracuse had a chance — and unlike Wichita State, Syracuse had plenty of time to set up a play that could have won the game, not just forced overtime.
Interestingly, this very situation — block versus charge — was the focus of an NCAA rules committee mandate earlier this season. Per Larry Brown Sports, the NCAA's official determination on charging is this:
• Before the offensive player (with the ball) becomes airborne, the defender must have two feet on the floor, be facing the opponent and be stationary to draw a charge. Otherwise, it should be a blocking foul.
So did Morgan have his feet on the floor before Triche got into the air? That's the question, and how you view the play probably depends a lot on whether you prefer yellow or orange.
In the end, the question of whether this was the right call was effectively answered by the most partisan crowd possible: the Syracuse faithful in attendance at the Georgia Dome. The crowd rained boos on the initial call, but after watching the replay, slid into resigned acceptance. Syracuse heads home, while Michigan survives and advances. In the end, there's nothing more to say.
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