ANAHEIM, Calif. — As Texas Tech players spilled onto the floor in celebration of their program's first Final Four appearance, Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins crumpled into the last seat at the end of the Zags' bench.
There he sat for the next few minutes on Saturday night, head bowed, face solemn and eyes watery and red.
No other Gonzaga player took the Zags’ 75-69 Elite Eight loss harder than Perkins because he made the mistake that stamped out all hope of a comeback. With the Zags within two and 11 seconds left in the game, Perkins swiped the ball out of Matt Mooney's hands as the Texas Tech guard attempted to inbound it, resulting in a technical foul that enabled the Red Raiders to salt away the victory at the free-throw line.
Asked about that sequence during Gonzaga's postgame news conference, Perkins said it was a "bonehead play, something I will think about forever." The senior guard elaborated further a few minutes later in front of his locker, voice quivering and tears still rolling down his cheeks.
"The whole time, we were saying 'believe' in the huddle and we thought no matter what we were going to win the game, but the violation kind of put things to a halt," Perkins said. "It's hard for me not to feel like that's all on me. To be honest, that's all I'm thinking about right now."
Mooney said he was attempting to inbound the ball to teammate Davide Moretti on the game's decisive play, but Zach Norvell's defense on Texas Tech's best free-throw shooter was too tight. When Mooney ball faked and waved the ball in front of Perkins' face, the senior guard reacted instinctively and reached to knock the ball away.
Josh Perkins gets called for the technical foul after reaching over the sideline on the inbounds pass. pic.twitter.com/izpYlBMXFe
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 31, 2019
"He reached out and hit my arm," Mooney said. "I looked at the ref and the ref saw it right away and blew his whistle. It had never happened to me before, but I was glad he did it."
The violation in question is rare enough that neither Perkins nor Moretti fully understood the gravity of the play when it first happened.
"What happens now?" Perkins asked the closest referee.
"Technical foul," he was told.
Moretti, a 92 percent foul shooter, sank two free throws to extend Texas Tech's lead to four. The Red Raiders then kept possession of the ball, leading to two more free throws from guard Jarrett Culver that pushed the gap to six and drained any remaining drama from the game.
That Saturday's game finished that way is a shame because a tense, hotly contested matchup like that deserved a better ending. That it was Perkins on the wrong end of the play also seems needlessly cruel given the outstanding career he has had.
Perkins reached the Sweet 16 or beyond every season at Gonzaga, started in the 2017 national championship game and took part in 134 career wins, three shy of former teammate Przemek Karnowski's Division I record. He leaves Gonzaga as the school's all-time leader in assists, no small feat at a school where John Stockton played.
While Perkins has often received criticism for his erratic shot selection and decision making, he delivered a brilliant senior season and was one of Gonzaga's steadiest players on Saturday. In a matchup between Gonzaga's top-ranked offense and Texas Tech's top-ranked defense, Perkins scored 16 points, sank four 3-pointers, dished out six assists and only committed two turnovers.
"He's a much more mature player, a much better player now and we've been an incredible program and had an incredible run with him at the helm," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
"He's been kind of a lightning rod over the years because our program garners so much attention and he's handled it with grace. If you went and asked those guys in the room they would hands down say he is the best teammate they ever had."
In a solemn, tear-stained Gonzaga locker room, Perkins' teammates came up to him one by one to offer words of consolation. They told him that it wasn't his fault, that they wouldn't have been within striking distance down the stretch without him, that they lost because they committed 16 turnovers and didn't sink enough big shots down the stretch.
"It wasn't just that play," Norvell said. "There were plays throughout the whole game that we wish we'd have done differently."
Norvell's right, of course. Even Perkins will probably admit that someday. But in the aftermath of a loss that cut short Gonzaga's 33-win season, ended his college career and ensured that this group of Zags will never play together again, all Perkins could think about was that he was to blame.
"I don't want to take this jersey off because once I do, I'll never get to put it back on," he said, choking back tears. "It sucks we lost the game, but it hurts even more feeling like you let the people you love down."
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