Jamie Vanderbeken's teammates streamed off the bench and mobbed him at mid-court, huddling together to celebrate the kid whose game-winning 3-pointer earned Iowa State a satisfying 91-88 victory over Creighton on Sunday afternoon.
It was as special a moment as any the beleaguered Cyclones basketball program has experienced recently except for one nagging problem: Vanderbeken's shot shouldn't have counted.
Photos from the Associated Press and the Omaha World-Herald clearly show that Vanderbeken's tie-breaking turnaround jump shot was still in his hands when time expired. Referees might have looked at the replay to determine whether the shot beat the buzzer under normal circumstances, but that wasn't an option on Sunday because the game wasn't televised anywhere.
"There's no monitor, so we'll never know. Actually we will know, because they counted it," Creighton coach Greg McDermott told reporters after the game. "We had as good an officiating crew as you could ask for. If they say it counted, it counted."
The controversial finish overshadowed McDermott facing the school he coached for four losing seasons before unexpectedly bolting to replace Dana Altman at Creighton this past spring. Many Iowa State fans were thankful to see McDermott go since the program had slipped under his watch, yet it had to be satisfying for the Cyclones to send their former coach home with a loss.
Even more satisfying for Iowa State has to be a 4-0 start to a season that began with modest expectations to say the least. Tainted or not, a victory over a Missouri Valley Conference contender like Creighton represents surprising progress for the Cyclones in new coach Fred Hoiberg's debut season.
Vanderbeken's parents had flown in from Ontario for the game, so their presence made his game-winner particularly poignant for him.
"I can't control what the refs say," Vanderbeken said. "If the refs say it's good, then it's good."