Thoughts on the Officiating and the Final Moments of the PSU Game

My apologies for not writing a traditional postgame analysis yesterday, but as you might imagine, I wasn’t exactly feeling like tackling a recap after that one.

On my drive home, the final moments played in my head over and over again. The whistle blowing with five seconds left. Tavian Dunn-Martin holding back his coach after the first technical was assessed. All six PSU free throws falling. I’ve gotten fairly good at detaching myself from negative emotions derived from sports, but this one stung even as I woke up this morning.

Before I get started with the main points of this piece, I wanted to dispel any concerns of conspiracy that the refs purposefully submarined the Dukes chances because they were pro-Penn St. Prior to the six free throws in he final seconds, Duquesne went to the stripe twelve times more than the Nittany Lions including twenty – one trips in the second half with two coming to tie on the previous Duquesne possession. Also consider that four Penn St players accumulated four fouls compared to one Duke. I don’t like how the game was officiated, but I won’t consider the argument that the crew wanted Duquesne to lose.

The refs, Brian Dorsey in particular, made the evening about themselves, and I never have much interest in watching that type of  game. It was the #refshow as kids call it on the social media. Officials are obviously an important part of sports, but they should never feel compelled to be part of the entertainment.

On to the final play. From my vantage point, I could not tell why the final call was a foul in real time. All I could see was hands in the air at the point of contact. I didn’t see Hughes go down or realize that he set up to draw the charge. When I got home, I found a video clip of the final play and the coaches reaction here.

I watched it about twenty times.

Four things happened during the course of the video that determined the outcome of the game. The first I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere, but Lamar Stevens received the inbounds pass going coast to coast to get into the paint seemingly unabated. I couldn’t understand how he got so open until I watched the tape. Sincere Carey hung with him all the way up court and had position to force Stevens to crossover his dribble to his weaker left hand as he continued to the hoop. As he nears the three point line, Stevens clears Carry out with a fully extended left arm reaching across his body. It wasn’t a hard push off, but it, combined with Carry’s momentum, was enough to drive him out of the play. This was an obvious foul to me in replay. However, I don’t recall a single clear out being called the entire game, but that, of course, doesn’t mean there weren’t any of the infractions committed. It was established that they weren’t calling them. Within the flow of the game, I get why it wasn’t called.  I think another officiating crew calls this about half the time. It was subtle enough that they’ll simply miss it some of the time and other times, refs will swallow the whistles in the closing moments

The next play is the charge / block call itself. It’s a very close call, but in my biased opinion, Hughes’ feet are set. I say this is a no call more than half the time. If a whistle is blown, I believe it goes in Duquesne’s favor as a charge more often than not as well as that appears to be the correct call. In this case a whistle was blown and it did not. The crew last night had called only one charge. However, if they simply weren’t going to call charges, they shouldn’t have called the previous one that went against Marcus Weathers of Duquesne.

After the charge, Keith Dambrot reacts to the call strongly, but not in a manner outside of a normal response. I also didn’t see any incident between he and the refs earlier in the game. Dambrot in the post game called it a normal human reaction and blamed the referee for escalating to a technical too quickly. I tend to agree with this assessment. I don’t know what was said or what was heard, but it seems like a dramatic call to make with a tie game, and a player already going to the line for two. In that moment, Dorsey made the outcome more about his final interaction with Dambrot than about the nearly forty minutes the players worked.

Following the block and the first technical, the game was very likely to go in Penn St’s favor. However, they still needed to make four of their four free throws to seal the game.  The way they had shot free throws, it seems unlikely that they would have. The Dukes still would have had an opportunity to shoot a three to tie the game. With second technical assessed, the Nittany Lions had six opportunities to make four shots, a much more likely outcome. Ultimately, they made all six, but the game wasn’t truly sealed until the second technical was assessed.

While I can blame the first T on the ref show, the second is clearly on Dambrot. Needing to be restrained by a student athlete is not a good look for any coach and in my opinion, he earned his ejection. He likely cost his team any chance of a positive outcome by letting his emotions get out of control. The game closed on a series of four  calls / non-calls that hurt the Dukes. With other crews, at least one of the two in game probably help Duquesne more often than hurt. The first T was awful and came from a ref who forgot the game isn’t about himself.

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