Before the snow storm, a snow job
The big story of this week for Denver basketball was supposed to be Saturday’s ESPN2-televised showdown with Middle Tennessee State — to be played, as it turns out, in the aftermath of the season’s biggest snowstorm.
But last night, at the tail end of an otherwise excellent game in Lafayette, Louisiana against the Ragin’ Cajuns of ULL, the referees stole the spotlight.
At the end of regulation, with the score 67 all, Denver had a shot to win — three shots, actually — and there was a ton of contact in the mad scramble around the Pios’ basket. But the refs swallowed their whistles. Fair enough; they don’t want to decide the game, right? “Let ‘em play,” as the saying goes.
Then, in the final seconds of overtime, game tied 71-71, Denver again had a chance to win. But a Lafayette player swatted the ball away before DU could get a shot off, and quickly passed it to teammate Elfrid Payton on a breakaway. Payton missed the layup — but Denver’s Brett Olson was called for a shockingly weak foul with 0.4 seconds left, and Payton was sent to the line for 2 free throws to win the game. The first went in, the second missed, and it was game over, 72-71 Ragin’ Cajuns.
Lafayette wasn’t called for a foul the entire last 11 minutes of the game, adding fuel to the fire of Denver’s anger about the ending.
"I’m not gonna debate whether it was a foul or not," Denver coach Joe Scott said of the final play. "I’m gonna debate the merits of the philosophy behind ‘there’s a consistency to it there.’ … My point is the same calls were there to be had at the end of regulation and when my guy was driving and he lost the ball. It’s called ‘bumps.’ It’s called ‘contact.’ And with 2.6 to go, 3 to go, the ref doesn’t want to be the guy that decides the game. So you pass on that one. But then you find yourself deciding the game later on, you know?"
"I just thought there was some inconsistency there," he added. "It’s unfortunate, because it was a great college basketball game."
Even Lafayette’s coach, Bob Marlin, agreed with that last point. “Coach Scott was upset. I would be, too, at the end of a game — because this was a heck of a college basketball game,” he said. “It’s sad that it had to end at the free-throw line.”
Denver freshman Royce O’Neale was more blunt than Scott, tweeting shortly after the game: “Man we got cheated so bad!!!”
"Voice of the Pioneers" Mitch Hyder was equally blunt, describing the game-ending officiating as “absolutely mind-boggling,” an “absolute, unequivocal joke,” an “absolute travesty,” and “beyond a crime,” among other choice phrases. You can listen to the full audio of his immediate reaction and his postgame commentary here:
According to Hyder, an NCAA director of officials was sitting near him, and was seen shaking his head in disgust over the ending. Of course, this isn’t the biggest officiating embarrassment in the Sun Belt this season — not even close. Coincidentally, that six-men-on-the-court debacle benefited Louisiana-Lafayette too… and one of the refs in that game was on the floor for this one too, according to UALR blog Burn The Horse.
Having said all that, the big-picture bottom line is that, if Denver’s as good as they looked early in the season, they shouldn’t be playing games with teams like Louisiana-Lafayette that are close enough to let a referee decide it. DU has now lost 3 of 4, and 5 of its last 10. I’ll have more on that in a new post momentarily.