SAN DIEGO – The NCAA admitted that the three-man officiating crew that called Friday’s NCAA Tournament game between College of Charleston and Auburn made a mistake in the final seconds of the contest.
But the mistake didn’t come on the play that has most of Cougar Nation – and social media – so upset.
The play that had most Cougar fans up in arms about what they perceived as one-sided officiating was the non-call on Grant Riller’s 3-point attempt with seven seconds remaining with Charleston trailing 61-58. Replays showed that Auburn’s Bryce Brown made contact with Riller’s elbow as he was releasing the shot.
However, it’s the play just after Riller’s shot attempt where the officiating crew of Doug Shows, Dwayne Gladden and Kelly Self fouled up.
Auburn’s Chuma Okeke came up with the rebound on Riller’s missed attempt and was fouled by Cougars senior Cameron Johnson. Okeke passes the ball to Jared Harper immediately when the whistle is blown. When the official turns to make the call to the scorer’s table, he looked back to see Harper holding the ball, and then put the Tigers’ 5-10 point guard on the free throw line.
"The ref pointed at me and I went to the free throw line," Harper said Saturday. "I'm a great free throw shooter, but so is Chuma."
Harper is an 83 percent free throw shooter on the season, while Okeke shoots just 68 percent. The Tigers were in the double-bonus at that point in the game and Harper made one of two free throws.
“The official called the foul, briefly turned his head towards the scorer’s table and then turned his head back towards the basket where the foul occurred,” said NCAA director of officials J.D. Collins in a statement Saturday. “When he did so, Auburn’s Jared Harper was holding the ball because Chuma passed it to him just as he grabbed the rebound. The official pointed to Harper, identifying him as the shooter. Had any of the officials been aware of this, or had anyone alerted the officiating crew to the fact that the wrong player was at the foul line, the officials would have been able to review the play and determine Chumu should have been the shooter.”
Harper’s free throw gave Auburn a 62-58 lead with three seconds to play.
The Tigers came into the game shooting better than 78 percent from the free throw line for the season as a team, but struggled against the Cougars making just 15 of 32 attempts. The Cougars had their own issues at the free throw line, making just three of seven attempts in the final two minutes of the game.
“It’s a big time crew, these guys referee really high level games, so you can’t go back and change it,” said College of Charleston coach Earl Grant. "I don't think it would have changed anything or who won."
The non-call on Riller’s missed 3-pointer was discussed at length after the game and on social media.
CBS Sports tweeted out a replay of Riller’s shot and shows that Brown did make contact with Riller’s elbow.
After the game, Riller said he was fouled on the play.
“I think there might have been a little love tap,” Riller said. “That’s not my call to make and I don’t control that. They were physical with me all game, but that’s not why we lost the game. We had our chances.”
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl disagreed.
“Bryce challenged the shot,” Pearl said. “I thought he was pretty vertical. College of Charleston likes to kick out their legs on threes. They draw fouls on three-point shooting and I thought our guys did a good job of staying away from that.”
Charleston’s Grant Riller was fouled on that last 3pt attempt to tie. Unfortunate missed call. No question, clear from seeing it live, he was hit in the elbow.— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) March 17, 2018
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas felt like Riller was fouled on the shot.
"Charleston’s Grant Riller was fouled on that last 3pt attempt to tie. Unfortunate missed call. No question, clear from seeing it live, he was hit in the elbow," Bilas said in his tweet.
College of Charleston athletic director Matt Roberts feels that game officials should be held more accountable.
It amazes me the @NCAA makes student-athletes meet with press to answer questions about a loss, including questionable officiating. Yet the refs get to stroll out of the arena without one microphone in their face. Our @CofCBasketball guys took the high road. Proud of them.— Matt Roberts (@AD_MattRoberts) March 17, 2018
"It amazes me that the NCAA makes student-athletes meet with press to answer questions about a loss, including questionable officiating," Roberts said. "Yet the refs get to stroll out of the arena without one microphone in their face. Our guys took the high road. Proud of them."
Friday night's game against Auburn was the Cougars' first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999.