When the words “Duke” and “refs” find their way into the same sentence, they often do so with an anti-Duke slant. Opponents love to complain about how the Blue Devils “always get all the calls.”
On Sunday evening, though, with a Final Four berth on the line, Duke didn’t get all the calls. In fact, two prominent ones went against the Blue Devils in overtime of their dramatic, emotional loss to Kansas.
Duke, after all, wasn’t in Cameron Indoor Stadium anymore, where it is often accused of naturally currying favor with refs. It was in Omaha, with the majority of fans in attendance backing Kansas. And in OT, the refs did Duke no favors.
With less than three minutes to go and the Blue Devils up one, Kansas guard Malik Newman drove into the lane. He went right at the basket, and at Duke’s Wendell Carter. The two collided. Carter was called for a block:
When the freshman saw the ref’s call, he rolled over and slapped the floor in some combination of frustration and disbelief. And with good reason.
Replays showed that Carter had established two feet outside the restricted area before Newman began his ascent toward the basket. When contact was made, there was still slight movement in Carter’s upper body, which some fans pointed to as rationale for the call.
But that’s a common misconception about the charge rule. A defensive player doesn’t have to be completely motionless to draw a charge. If that were the case, hardly any would ever be called. Carter wasn’t sliding under Newman; he had position, and probably should have gotten the call.
The other Blue Devil complaints, though, are unwarranted. Not because the call was necessarily wrong or unimportant, but because the evidence is inconclusive and the argument that uses that evidence is flawed.
With under a minute to go in OT, Kansas’ Silvio De Sousa and Duke’s Javin DeLaurier dove for a loose ball near the baseline. It trickled out of bounds, and officials on the floor ruled in favor of Duke.
But after a lengthy review, they overturned their original call.
Even after seeing every replay angle, it was very difficult to tell which player touched the ball last. The main pro-Duke argument seemed to be that no angle offered conclusive enough evidence to change the on-court ruling.
But that on-court ruling is a referee’s decision that influenced the game as well. And if a neutral observer were starting from scratch and forced to pick, he or she would probably give the ball to Kansas.
Plus, that possession turned out to be an empty one for Kansas. Svi Mykhailiuk missed the rim with a long-range jumper, and the ball went back to Duke. The upon-review decision didn’t impact the final result.
So when it comes to overtime debates, the scoreboard reads angry Duke fans 1, gloating Kansas fans 1.
And when it comes to what matters, the actual scoreboard, the 85-81 final sent Kansas to San Antonio, and deservedly so.
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