March Madness: No. 13 seed Samford had the best block of the tourney, until refs called it a foul

Kansas managed to escape with a 93-89 win over Samford on Thursday night

A.J. Staton-McCray delivered a classic March moment. The refs disagreed.
A.J. Staton-McCray delivered a classic March moment. The refs disagreed. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The best play of the first round of the NCAA tournament arrived on the final game of Day 1 between No. 13 seed Samford and No. 4 seed Kansas.

Unfortunately for the underdogs, it didn't count.

Down four points with 20 seconds left in Salt Lake City, Samford's Jaden Campbell made a 3-pointer to cut the Jayhawks' lead to just a single point. Samford used a full-court press to look for a turnover, but Kansas guard Nicolas Timberlake snuck away for what should have been an easy breakaway to put the Jayhawks up three.

We say "should have," because Samford's A.J. Staton-McCray ran down Timberlake and broke up the play with what was immediately called a foul, sending Timberlake to the line for two free throws.

To the naked eye, it looked like a foul. Timberlake hit the floor hard, and was in clear pain as he stood back up. Replay, however, showed the truth: Staton-McCray made an incredible block and barely touched Timberlake, if at all.

Unfortunately for Samford, there were no challenges to be made. Timberlake made his free throws and the Bulldogs came up short on their next possession, which allowed Kansas to survive with a 93-89 win.

"I have seen the play," Samford coach Bucky McMillan said, via ESPN. "I thought A.J. made an incredible play on it, you know what I'm saying? I'm not faulting the call. Some people can see it different ways. But I was really proud of our guys' ability to go make a play."

Timberlake said after the game that he was "definitely" fouled.

"I thought Nic attacked the basket well," Kansas coach Bill Self said, via ESPN. "He's a much better athlete than what a lot of people think. He attacked it strong, just like he should."

Kansas shouldn’t have been in that position anyway. The Jayhawks seemed ready to run away with the game on Thursday night, thanks largely to Hunter Dickinson’s return to the court after dislocating his shoulder before the Big 12 tournament. They even broke open a 22-point lead in the opening minutes of the second half. The game seemed over.

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Hunter Dickinson
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Dickinson dominant in return

Yet slowly, Samford started chipping away at the lead. Then suddenly at the midway point of the second half, the Bulldogs rattled off a 16-4 run to cut the game to just a single point.

After a mini Kansas run down the stretch, Campbell drilled a clutch 3-pointer with less than 1:20 left on the clock to cut the game back to just four points. Then after a stop, Achor Achor threw down a massive one-handed dunk with just 38 seconds left in the game.

But Kansas responded with a dunk of its own to push the lead to four points again, which set up Campbell’s last 3-pointer and the eventual foul call on the dunk attempt.

"That's how close the game was," McMillan said, via ESPN. "That's how well our guys played. What was the maximum we were down? We were down by 22. We're going to have the ball there with a great opportunity.

"It is what it is."

Achor led Samford with 23 points and eight rebounds in the loss, and Campbell finished with 18 points on five 3-pointers. Riley Allenspach added 15 points off the bench, too.

Dickinson led Kansas with 19 points and 20 rebounds in the win, which snapped a rough two-game losing skid by a combined 50 points for the Jayhawks. K.J. Adams finished with 20 points, and Timberlake added 19 points. Kansas shot just better than 60% from the field as a team.

While it wasn’t great at times, the Jayhawks managed to survive. They’ll now take on No. 5 Gonzaga in the second round on Saturday. Gonzaga flew past McNeese without any issue in its opening-round game.