Virginia stuns Auburn on controversial three-shot foul in final second

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Henry Bushnell
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Auburn was nearly there. At Toomer’s Corner, toilet paper was already flying. With one second remaining in Saturday’s first Final Four showdown, and with a two-point lead, the Tigers had a first national championship appearance in program history at their fingertips.

Then they made the most critical mistake of the 2019 NCAA tournament, fouling a 3-point shooter, sending Kyle Guy to the free throw line, and ultimately sending Virginia to the national title game on Monday night.

With Auburn up 62-60, Samir Doughty fouled Guy in the left corner on an off-balance 3-point attempt. With Auburn’s Bryce Brown making a choking gesture mere feet behind him, Guy cooly nailed all three free throws to win the game.

“I could lie to you and say I knew I was going to hit ‘em,” Guy said on the court after the game. “But I was terrified.”

“Obviously there was a tingly feeling in my stomach,” he later continued in the locker room. “It was a good kind of nervousness. I was trying to look for [my fiancee] Alexa, and I couldn’t see her because she’s too short, so I saw my dad. We made eye contact. He said, ‘You got this.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know I do.’”

Controversial calls cap wild final 10 seconds

Virginia had not scored for over five minutes when U.S. Bank Stadium clocks ticked down under 10 seconds. A 14-0 Auburn run had turned a 10-point deficit into a four-point Tiger lead. The underdogs appeared to be on the verge of sealing a monumental comeback.

But Guy finally found nylon with a 3-pointer from the right corner with 7.4 seconds left – Virginia’s first points since the 5:22 mark. It brought the Cavs within one.

After a foul on the ensuing inbounds play, Jared Harper knocked down his first free throw, but missed the second, giving Virginia the ball down two. Auburn, intelligently, fouled – because it had two to give.

Then, in the final five seconds, the Final Four went off the rails. Ty Jerome, attempting to dribble behind his back, lost control of the ball. He frantically retreated to pick it up, then attempted to restart his dribble. According to CBS rules expert Gene Steratore, he should have been whistled for a double-dribble.

Instead, referees called a foul on Auburn – the Tigers’ second and final one to give. With 1.5 seconds remaining, Virginia had the ball on the sidelines. Tony Bennett drew up a play to get Guy a shot in the corner. Doughty did the one thing he absolutely could not do.

[Best Bracket Millionaire: Who’s going to win it all?]

And Virginia, somehow, pulled out the win as boos rained down from the stands in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 06: Kyle Guy #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers attempts a game-winning three point basket as he is fouled by Samir Doughty #10 of the Auburn Tigers in the second half during the 2019 NCAA Final Four semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 6, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Virginia's Kyle Guy is fouled by Auburn's Samir Doughty in the final second of Saturday's Final Four game between the Cavaliers and Tigers. (Getty)

Bruce Pearl, Auburn players and fans react to controversy

Boos weren’t the only thing flying from the stands. Bottles reportedly rained down as well. Pompoms were hurled at the referees as they raced toward shelter.

Most Auburn players were simply stunned. Brown, though, was furious. “The NCAA needs to get some new refs,” he repeated multiple times as he stomped back to the locker room:

More composed later at Auburn’s postgame news conference, Brown said, “I just didn’t think it was a foul. But the refs thought otherwise. Can’t go back and rewind it.”

Later, he added: “I just didn’t agree with the call. I can’t say too much about that.”

Said Harper: “It was a tough call. But that’s not where we lost the game.”

Pearl did not mention the calls in his opening statement at the news conference. After a lengthy discussion with NCAA staffers, Pearl told CBS’ Tracy Wolfson he would not address the calls.

When asked about the non-call on the double-dribble at his news conference, Pearl said, “We were in a situation where we had some fouls to give. And I knew there was a disruption there. And you just gotta get on to the next play.”

On the last foul call – which was probably correct, but nonetheless controversial – Pearl did say: “There are lots of calls during the game. You’re going to get some, and some you’re not going to get. My advice, as an administrator of the game, is, if that’s a foul, call it. Call it at the beginning of the game, call it in the middle of the game, call it at the end of the game. ... That was the call.

“But don’t let it define the game,” Pearl said to the assembled media. “Because then you’re taking away from [Virginia guard] Ty Jerome. Or you’re taking away from [Auburn forward] Anfernee McLemore, with 12 rebounds. Or Bryce Brown almost leading Auburn back to an incredible come-from-behind victory.

“This will be a memorable game. And I’d like it to be remembered for a great game. Let’s not remember this game for just how it ended. ... It was a great college basketball game.”

Auburn misfires from 3 early, but grabs lead inside arc

Before the insanity, Saturday’s Final Four curtain-raiser was a tense but somewhat mundane affair.

As it had against North Carolina and Kentucky in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, Auburn misfired from 3 early. It started 1-of-11, the only make from Brown.

But the Tigers finished the first half at over a point per possession after splashing two late 3-pointers, in large part because they got to the rim against the vaunted Virginia defense. The Cavaliers had trouble preventing dribble penetration. Auburn shot 9-for-15 inside the arc over the first 20 minutes and, despite its poor long-range accuracy, led 31-28 at halftime.

The first half was relatively uneventful. The second half promised more. And in the end, it certainly delivered. But only because it began as an offensive wasteland for one team, and nearly finished as one for the other.

Virginia takes control early in second

Coming out of an extended halftime break, Auburn missed its first eight field goal attempts. It didn’t score for almost six minutes.

The drought allowed Virginia to inch ahead. De’Andre Hunter wasn’t his usual active self in the first half. But he was explosive early in the second, scoring Virginia’s first two buckets, and emphatically denying Brown at the rim:

That was one of Virginia’s nine blocks on the night. Mamadi Diakite had five.

Four points from Kihei Clark, two off a steal, pushed the Virginia run to 8-0. But the Cavs initially failed to take further advantage of Auburn’s inefficiency. Jared Harper hit a 3-pointer to end the barren stretch. One possession later, after an Auburn steal and fast-break layup, the game was once again tied.

But Virginia kept plugging away. Hunter scored inside after snagging an offensive board in between two Tigers with one hand. He then finished acrobatically with his left to put the Cavaliers back up four.

Jerome, who led Virginia with 21 points, extended the lead to seven for the first time with a big 3-pointer inside nine minutes remaining. Another rainbow that rattled home with 5:22 remaining – off a beautiful set play drawn up by the Virginia coaching staff – made it 57-47 in favor of the Cavs.

That was the last time Virginia would score until the final 10 seconds.

Auburn’s comeback

That 57-47 scoreline was the first double-digit lead for either team, and capped a 13-4 Virginia run. Given the top seed’s methodical offense and staunch defense, it also felt like a dagger.

Harper had hit a pull-up 3 minutes earlier that seemed like it would get him going. But Clark and Virginia had Auburn’s stars locked down on the perimeter. By the time Bruce Pearl called a timeout after Jerome’s last triple, Brown – Auburn’s leading scorer – had gone more than 30 minutes without a single point.

The senior, however, caught fire immediately thereafter. He bottomed a 3-pointer with just over four minutes remaining to cut the lead to six. He then hit another from the corner, off an Auburn offensive rebound, to slash Virginia’s advantage to three. Danjel Purifoy whittled it down to one with a floater on the next possession.

Diakite’s two free throw misses at the other end gave Auburn a chance to take the lead, and the Tigers pounced. Brown hit another 3, completing the comeback. Virginia kept running poor offense, dallying on the perimeter, seemingly completing its collapse.

Then the unthinkable happened. The wild final sequence undid it all. Virginia won its fifth tournament game in a row despite second-half deficits in four of them.

For the second round in a row, it won despite trailing by multiple points with one second remaining.

Only in March Madness could such a sentence be written. Only in college basketball could a team rebound from the lowest of lows in the sport’s history to within one step from the top of its mountain.

Virginia will try to take that final step on Monday against Texas Tech.

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