Andy Rautins had just taken one of the worst shots of his Syracuse career. This was followed by one of the worst decisions of Scoop Jardine’s Syracuse career.
Somehow, two wrongs made a right, and the Syracuse Orange got a mulligan and went on to beat the University of Connecticut Huskies, and it took six less overtimes than the last time these two teams met.
The play in question happened with about 40 seconds left in the game. UConn had just used powerful offensive rebounding and had capitalized on sloppy Syracuse turnovers to turn a 16 point second half deficit to a 65-all tie.
Syracuse had the ball under their basket after a timeout, which left them with just one timeout remaining. The ball was inbounded in the corner to Rautins, the Orange’s unquestioned senior leader. In atypical Rautins fashion, he fired up an off balance, fade away three with a hand in his face.
Now, it’s arguable that he shot it quick to try and ensure that no matter what UConn did, 'Cuse would have the last shot. Still though, it was a questionable shot at best, awful shot at worst.
It missed badly, however Rick Jackson had Rautins back as he pulled down a key offensive rebound and passed it to the top of the key into the hands of back-up point guard Scoop Jardine.
Now, there’s about 36 seconds left. Simple, very simple common sense for Jardine is to pull the ball out, milk the clock, call a timeout and give the Orange a chance at what would virtually be the last shot of the game. The ball had obviously bounced off the rim on Rautins shot, and there was no question the shot clock had reset.
What in the name of everything holy, then possessed Scoop to drive to the hoop, uncontrollably, into two UConn defenders? What subconscious voice told him to throw up a prayer, only to have it blocked and be recovered by the huskies, who would most assuredly hold it for the last shot of the game and a chance to win it.
Well, whatever it was that was going through his mind, he got bailed out big time. Not only by his coach Jim Boeheim, but by official John Cahill.
As Scoop drove to the basket, Boeheim quickly realized how atrocious of a play it was and rushed over to Cahill to call a timeout.
Now, the NCAA does permit a coach to call a timeout, by a verbal cue or hand gesture, as long as his team has possession. Scoop clearly had possession when Boeheim was screaming for the timeout. So what’s the problem, right?
Well, Cahill didn’t acknowledge the timeout until about a half second after the ball left Scoop’s hand. UConn was even preparing to run the ball up the court, while Scoop hung his head as the whistle blew.
Putting it very lightly, this is a murky issue. In the pantheon of questionable calls by referees, this has got to rank near the top. This type of call (a coach calling a timeout while his player is driving to the hoop) is rare enough. To have it as muddled and confusing as it turned out in this game only adds to the controversy.
Clearly Boeheim called the timeout. Clearly Scoop had the ball when Boeheim did that. Clearly Syracuse was given a timeout.
It’s funny the way basketball can imitate life. Things that sometimes seem so clear can be so foggy.
Anyone who has ever played basketball will say the ball doesn’t lie, and the usually very bad free throw shooting Orange nailed seven of them in the final 30 seconds to secure the win, their eleventh in a row. Perhaps this is a team of destiny after all.
If there’s one thing we really can take clearly from this game, it’s that when Syracuse and Connecticut play, six overtimes or not, there’s bound to be some serious theatrics.
And that’s not such a bad thing, is it?