How one 'terrible call' changed the national championship game

MINNEAPOLIS — When is a correct call an incorrect call?

That’s the question that will hang over Texas Tech in the wake of a bizarre sequence in overtime that indelibly changed the momentum of the Red Raiders in their 85-77 loss to Virginia. With 1:06 remaining in overtime in one of the greatest NCAA championships ever played, the correct call by definition on a replay review of an out-of-bounds decision robbed the end of overtime from the rich drama that preceded it.

In an NCAA tournament where trips to the monitor have been so ubiquitous that it’s surprising the NCAA hasn’t sold them to a corporate sponsor —“The Orange Vanilla Coke Review” — the proper call by the officials appeared to be the wrong call in reality. “Bad call, man,” said Texas Tech senior Brandone Francis. “Bad call. Terrible call.”

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With Virginia leading by two points, a missed shot was tipped from the front court toward the half-court line. Texas Tech guard Davide Moretti sprinted between two Virginia players to corral the ball just past half court and clearly held possession. He took one dribble near the free-throw line and appeared to get fouled from behind by Virginia’s Kyle Guy before Cavs forward De’Andre Hunter stripped the ball from him and deflected it out of bounds.

Officials initially ruled the ball should go to Texas Tech, which no one would have disagreed with after Guy’s bump and Hunter’s swipe. It’s the type of wink-and-nod officiating that happens everywhere from CYO ball to the NBA. Officials don’t want to call a superfluous foul that could change the momentum of the game so they simply give possession to the team that had the ball. No one would have disagreed if that happened here.

But after a lengthy review, the officials ruled that the ball went off Moretti. “They overturned a call that they make on an inbound,” Moretti said at his locker after the game. “I think it was a big-time moment for deciding the game.”

The Texas Tech players and staff were clear that they weren’t blaming the game on the officials. It was a wondrous, taut, back-and-forth battle with myriad lead changes and momentum swings. “We are a no-excuse program,” Moretti said. “We lost the game in other aspects of the game.”

Virginia's Kyle Guy (5) and Texas Tech's Davide Moretti (25) chase a loose ball during the overtime in the championship of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Monday, April 8, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Virginia's Kyle Guy (5) and Texas Tech's Davide Moretti (25) chase a loose ball during the overtime in the championship of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Monday, April 8, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

But there was a lingering feeling in the Tech locker room that the Red Raiders should have kept the ball, as officials initially ruled. Tech was down 75-73 with just over a minute remaining and had a chance to tie or take the lead. In the Tech huddle, coaches were unsure who’d get the ball so they went over both offensive and defensive options out of the timeout. Jarrett Culver said the referee’s decision “caught us off guard,” and the momentum of the game never swung back to Tech.

“They didn’t call the foul,” Moretti said. “I wasn’t looking for the foul. I was looking for the possession because the guy literally took the ball from my hands and put it out of bounds. I was pretty confident the ball was [ours], but they overturned it. I guess I was wrong.”

Francis appeared on the cusp of teeing off on officials, but held back. “Yeah man, I’m done playing college basketball, so I can probably say it,” he said, “but I don’t want to say nothing.”

The play clearly swung momentum, as Tech never cut the game back to one possession and Virginia ran away in the final minute. The replay freeze-framed to the millisecond to where the ball appeared off Moretti. It was a call that wouldn’t have been made with the naked eye, nor would it have been the preference of officials to have Texas Tech turn the ball over on a play where Moretti was hit hard enough by Guy that he lurched forward. That allowed Hunter to come in and dislodge the ball.

“It probably knocked a little bit out of us emotionally,” Texas Tech assistant coach Glynn Cyprien said. “I thought it set us back a little bit. But we talk about one play not determining the outcome of the game. We’d like to think that one didn’t as well.”

Moretti was more upset about a phantom call on him earlier in overtime when Guy tripped over teammate Mamadi Diakite — both stumbled in opposite directions on contact — in the deep corner and the officials whistled Moretti for a foul. Tech led by three points at that juncture, and Guy cut that lead to one with two free throws with 2:54 remaining. “They called a foul on me, too, on Kyle Guy when he trip over his teammates,” Moretti said.

No one in the Tech program blamed the officials for the loss. But the late whistles allowed Virginia to pull away and deviate from the drama that had preceded them.

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