St. John's-Rutgers: Did That Really Just Happen?
Justin Brownlee, what were you thinking? (Icon SMI)
By Ryan Feldman
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
NEW YORK - It was one of those "Huh? What just happened? Did I really see that right?" moments at Madison Square Garden during Wednesday's Big East tournament game between St. John's and Rutgers.
Nobody even remembers what happened before the final minute of the game. I'm not even sure that anyone remembers what happened before the final 10 seconds.
Rutgers trailed by two points with the ball with just over a minute remaining. Mike Coburn drove to the basket, made the layup, got fouled and made the free throw to give Rutgers the lead.
After four straight free throws on the next two possessions for St. John's, Rutgers trailed by three.
On Tuesday, Rutgers led Seton Hall by three in the final seconds and Mike Rice elected not to foul and instead allowed Jeremy Hazell to hit a game-tying 3-pointer, which sent the game into overtime.
Rice said after the game about that decision that he "never did it" and that "it scares me that you can do it and still lose." He went on to explain a game he saw this season where fouling up by three ended up coming back to haunt that team as they lost the game.
With Rutgers on the opposite end of that situation against St. John's, Steve Lavin chose to foul immediately with 15 seconds left. It may have been a bit early, but Lavin didn't take any risks. He explained after the game that he didn't foul in the same situation against Rutgers earlier this season and the Scarlet Knights drained a game-tying 3-pointer. He said he didn't want to let that happen again.
Well, Rice was right. After Coburn hit two free throws, St. John's turned over the inbounds pass under its own basket to give Rutgers the ball back down by a point.
Ironic? "No, I didn't say 'ironic' after that right there," said Rice, "but after a couple of cold ones I might say, 'See, I told you so.'"
Coburn drove to the basket but his shot rimmed out and St. John's got the rebound. After a missed free throw, the ball bounced out of bounds off the hands of a Rutgers player. After another missed free throw, Rutgers got the rebound and called timeout down by two points.
The Scarlet Knights had to inbound under their own basket. A pass was thrown over the half-court line to Gilvydas Biruta, but it was deflected and picked up by Justin Brownlee near the sideline around mid-court.
That's when the drama began.
Instead of picking up the loose ball and holding onto it, as there were still three or four seconds on the clock, he for some reason thought the game was over.
What did he do next? He took three steps with the ball, ran out of bounds, and then threw the ball in the air way up into the crowd. The final buzzer didn't sound until after Brownlee committed two violations and threw the ball into the crowd.
Upon further review (Click here to watch the video of the final few seconds), if the referees had called the blatant out of bounds violation (which occurred after the traveling violation), there would have been 1.7 seconds left on the clock.
But no, the refs swallowed their whistles and ran off the court. They didn't even talk about it or think about it. What were they thinking? Were they just so dumbfounded by Brownlee's idiotic play that they couldn't figure out what had happened?
How did Rice react to the referees immediately after the final buzzer? "I was a lunatic to be honest with you and I lost some self-control, I admit it, and I thought he got - again, it was a judgment call. Had I known it was 1.2, I might have literally held on, done a Van Gundy and held one of their legs on the court. It is what it is, judgment, and I'm sure they're going to admit it's a mistake because it's on YouTube now."
Rice said he saw the clip on Rutgers SID Jason Baum's Droid phone after the game. Lavin said he hadn't seen the replay yet and didn't even realize what actually happened until the players and coaches explained it to him in the locker room.
Had the referees paused for a moment and made the correct call, which would have been either a travel or out of bounds, Brownlee's tossing of the ball into the stands would have been called a technical foul. That is something that is illegal on a dead ball. But because the referees missed the travel and the stepping on the sideline, it's not a technical foul. A player is allowed to toss the ball up in the air while the clock is running and it wouldn't be out of bounds until the ball makes contact with something that is out of bounds. Because the ball didn't land in the stands until after the buzzer sounded, once the refs missed the first two calls it wasn't an out of bounds violation or a technical foul. But the point is that they should have made the initial out of bounds call, which then would've given Brownlee a technical foul.
Had that happened, Rutgers would have had a pair of free throw attempts to tie the game up and the ball with 1.7 seconds on the clock.
If it was called the correct way and that was the situation, what would Lavin do or say to Brownlee after the game? "It would've been a major learning experience on a number of fronts, Lavin said. "We're just fortunate that amid the chaos in the final sequence that we were still able to somehow win the game."
Immediately after the game, the Big East openly admitted that the referees messed up. Commissioner John Marinatto even put out a statement:
"The Big East Conference acknowledges that two separate officiating errors occurred at the conclusion of the St. John's vs Rutgers game. Both missed violations should have caused the game clock to stop and a change of possession to occur prior to the end of the game. Neither error is reviewable or correctable under NCAA playing rules."
Everyone agrees that the referees made a mistake not blowing their whistles. Would Rutgers have won if they had made the correct call? Who knows? The only thing we do know is that we never lack drama at the Big East tournament. That's what March Madness is all about.