PITTSBURGH — Just got done taking in the Syracuse-UNC-Asheville NCAA-tournament game here at the Consol Energy Center, and it was almost a classic. Almost. But the rock-solid tradition of a No. 16 seed never having beaten a No. 1 is still standing, as Syracuse survived the Bulldogs, 72-65.
It was not exactly an officiating clinic out there, and — perhaps unfortunately — it inevitably raised the ugly specter that somebody wanted a No. 1 seed hanging around in the tournament.
In the first half, the officials cleared missed a goal-tending call under the basket that would have been another hoop for UNC-Asheville. Then, with 1:20 to go, after Scoop Jardine missed a free throw with Syracuse ahead only 62-58, the Bulldogs pulled down the rebound — and were whistled for a lane violation. For the record, it looked to me like it was. And it was also a play you see all the time, in every game. Updated: Clarifying, the lane violation wasn’t the usual player-steps-in-the-key indiscretion. He came from atop the circle and, as it was explained to me, you can’t enter the circle until the ball hits the backboard.
“In college basketball,” said UNCA guard J.P. Primm, “it seems like sometimes you have to play everybody in the building.”
Inside the final minute, there was another pivotal, controversial play. Syracuse, up three, was inbounding the ball and threw it toward guard Brandon Triche in front of the Asheville bench. A UNCA player contested it — and may have fouled Triche — but it appeared the ball hit off Triche’s hands out of bounds, and Syracuse maintained possession.
It got comic in the final seconds as Kris Joseph shot meaningless free throws for Syracuse and UNCA coach Eddie Biedenbach began clearing his bench. After Joseph hit two free throws, he was standing at the line ready to shoot a third when suddenly the officials — Ed Corbett, Glenn Tuit and Eric Curry — realized he wasn’t entitled to a third. Because, uh, this wasn’t a shot taken behind the three-point line, not anything like that.
The Bulldogs did little to mask their dismay at what had happened.
“It’s tough when everybody else wants a 1 seed to win because they’re supposed to win,” said Primm.
Biedenbach kept prefacing each answer with advisories that he couldn’t talk about officiating, and then he did.
“Basketball is not a game of ‘perfect,’ ” he said. “We made some mistakes and it cost us. When you play a team like Syracuse. That will happen. But they made plenty of mistakes, and some of them didn’t cost them.
“We’re not better than Syracuse. (But) I thought we played better than Syracuse tonight.”
Biedenbach was asked if he thought philosophically, it would help if officiating crews stayed together rather than be split game-to-game.
“I think they should always keep the good ones together,” he said laconically.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim clearly took a dim view of the idea that officiating might have cost the Bulldogs the game. That’s what he said before he went on an extended, end-of-interview rant about his stance on the Academic Progress Rate and what he said were mistakes in a USA Today story.
“I don’t think luck has anything to do with winning games,” he said, saying Syracuse had control down the stretch anyway. “We held the guy (guard Matt Dickey) who was player of the year in their conference to 1 for 13. That’s pretty good.”
As for the call on the Triche collision in the final minute, he said, “First of all, Triche got pushed. Maybe they missed the out-of-bounds (call), but they missed the foul call. Those things even out.”
Since there began to be 16-versus-1 matchups with the advent of the 64-team tournament in 1985, there has never been the consummate David-Goliath upset. That’s going on 28 years’ worth.