Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Big East Acknowledges ‘Errors’ after Controversial Ending to Rutgers-St. John’s Tourney Game
NEW YORK – St. John’s advanced to a Big East quarterfinal showdown with Syracuse on Thursday, but not without the Big East acknowledging two late officiating errors in a controversy-filled ending at Madison Square Garden.
With St. John’s leading Rutgers by two points, Justin Brownlee gathered a loose ball in the backcourt, took three steps toward the sideline, appeared to step out of bounds and then tossed the ball into the crowd with 1.7 seconds remaining.
Official Tim Higgins was positioned along the sideline but no call was made.
As St. John’s coach Steve Lavin went to shake the hand of Rutgers Director of Basketball Operations Jim Carr, Rutgers coach Mike Rice went nuts while addressing the remaining officials near midcourt.
Rice said he watched a YouTube replay of the final sequence minutes later on an I-Phone in the Rutgers locker room.
“I lost some self control, I admit it,” Rice said after St. John’s won 65-63. “Again, it was a judgment call. Had I known it was 1.2 [seconds] I might’ve literally done a Van Gundy and held one of their legs on the court.”
He added: “I’m sure they’re going to admit that there’s a mistake because it’s right there on YouTube now…We have the greatest officials in America.”
Sure enough, the Big East released a statement saying the officials had erred on two occasions in the final seconds, the walk and the stepping out of bounds.
“The Big East Conference acknowledges that two separate officiating errors occurred at the conclusion of the St. John’s vs Rutgers game,” the statement read. “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.”
It’s the second year in a row Rice’s season has ended amid controversy. His Robert Morris team lost to Villanova in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season amid several questionable calls from the refs.
Lavin was standing out of bounds when Brownlee came toward him on the final play but the St. John’s coach said he didn’t have a clear picture of what transpired.
“I thought maybe he threw it in the air before he stepped out of bounds or if he just stepped out of bounds and then threw it in the air,” Lavin said. “I’m not sure what the sequence was. It was all really kind of chaotic.
“When I heard the horn, I thought I’d seen a ghost in the Garden so it was fortunate that we were going to be able to go to the locker room and get to the next round.”
After leading by as many as eight in the second half, St. John’s nearly blew the game down the stretch.
Up 64-63, Dwight Hardy lost the ball out of bounds on an in-bounds pass from Brownlee.
“The ball just went right through my hands and hit my shoulder and went out of bands,” Hardy said. “Brownlee made an accurate pass to me. It was my fault. It just went right through my hands.”
Mike Coburn missed a potential go-ahead basket in the lane that was too hard off the backboard, but appeared to get fouled with seven seconds left. No call was made.
“It’s a judgment call,” Rice said. “I saw the difference, but again, I’m not a very good referee.”
Brownlee missed the front end of a one-and-one with 7. 3 seconds left.
D.J. Kennedy missed the first but made the second to make it 65-63. The horn sounded right before the second foul shot.
With 4.9 seconds left, Robert Lumpkins attempted a baseball pass downcourt to Gilvydas Biruta. But Biruta couldn’t gather the pass and it caromed ahead to Brownlee.
Rutgers appeared to have more time to pass it into the backcourt and attack the basket, but Rice said, “Yeah, you can second judge it but I’m OK with what happened.”
Despite the controversial ending, St. John’s (21-10) is 8-1 at Madison Square Garden heading into a showdown with Syracuse (25-6)
That loss came to Syracuse on Jan. 12, before Lavin’s crew rattled off program-altering wins against Notre Dame, Duke, UConn and Pittsburgh on the Garden floor.
Asked if he was looking forward to the rematch, Hardy said, “Oh yeah, definitely. They gave us our only loss here so we are excited to play them. But at the same time we don’t want to get over-excited and not come ready to play.
“We just want to keep it in our minds and at the same time, just play St. John’s basketball.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.