ATLANTA - Every game has a moment where the momentum irrevocably shifts in one team's direction, a play that could go either way but goes the way of the winners. In some cases, it's a buzzer-beater; in others, it's the opening tip.
When that turning point comes in the form of a dunk, or a long-range bomb, or even a key steal, it's understandable — painful, but understandable — to the losing team. But when that turning point comes on a referee's whistle, well ... that's a little tougher to take.
Both Final Four semifinal games saw the referees play a significant role in the closing moments – Wichita State lost a controversial jump-ball possession call to Louisville, and Syracuse saw a charging call rob it of a chance to take down Michigan. Two key moments, two referee-aided momentum shifts. And on Monday night, there came a third.
The situation: just over five minutes left in the game. Michigan had surrendered every bit of its 12-point lead and more, trailing 67-64. Spike Albrecht's first-half sharpshooting was a distant memory, and the Wolverines were flailing. Peyton Siva had come alive, and was charging down the court for what appeared to be another crowd-rallying dunk. But Trey Burke, Michigan's leader, found another gear, leaped, pinned the ball against the rim, and apparently set the Wolverines up for a chance to stop the bleeding and tie the game.
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Or not. The whistle sounded, the foul went against Burke, Siva drained both of his free throws, and Michigan would never get any closer than four points the rest of the game. That right there is the definition of a turning point.
"I tried to tie [the ball] up," a despondent Burke said after the game. "I guess the ref thought it was a foul. I thought I had all ball and tied it up pretty good."
And in the moment, Burke realized the significance of the change. "It definitely could have gave us some momentum," he said. "We would have gotten the ball back. But we can't go back on that now."
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Fans on Twitter raged against the referees, as fans do, but Michigan head coach John Beilein wouldn't bite. "That was a great crew working the game," Beilein said afterward. "Those were three of the best guys out there."
It's a tough call to make, and a tougher call to take. Turning point or no, Michigan can't look at that foul as the reason the team lost. There was plenty of time left, plenty of opportunities lost or squandered. Beilein already had that perspective, even if his team and fans weren't ready to get there yet.
"I hope when we get on the plane [Tuesday]," Beilein said, "that there will be some smiles on those faces."
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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