Thursday, March 10, 2011

Don't Hold It Against St. John's For Victory Over Rutgers

There were still a few defiant Rutgers fans at Madison Square Garden this morning wanting to get their money's worth and waiting to for the final 1.7 seconds to run out in the second round game against St. John's.  Somebody ought to gently tell them the Scarlet Knights team will not be seeing any more action at this year's Big East Tournament. 

While bitter Rutgers fans--and authority figure haters-- have plenty to gripe about after yesterday's controversial 65-63 loss to the Red Storm, don't let it ruin one of the best feel-good-stories in college basketball--St. John's basketball.

Sure, the officials blew a couple of foul-calls against St. John's down the stretch and swallowed the whistle when Justin Brownlee grabbed a bobbled in-bounds toss with 4.9 seconds left in a frantic scramble for the ball.

Sure, the St. John's forward took three long steps (an obvious walk), planted one foot out-of-bounds and tossed the game ball into the stands with 1.7 seconds remaining while the officials scurried off the court, eliminating any chance for the pleading Rutgers players to tie or win the game. 

Sure, the officials, Jim Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton, refused to take a look at the video-tape which clearly showed everyone--including a national television audience--there was still time on the clock, but don't blame the St. John's team.

It's too bad the St. John's team, no matter how far they go in the tournament, will be known less for their win streak and return to prominence, than the tarnished victory.

The blame must be squarely laid on the referees and not the St. John's players.  But others are not immune to the blatant non-calls.

The three veteran officials announced they were voluntarily stepping away from the rest of the tournament.  An admission of guilt?  Maybe.  An admission by the Big East that the three lost control of the game in the waning moment?  Not yet.

A lot of people have to wonder how 19,375 spectators at the Garden saw the infractions and the clueless refs didn't even let out a tweet from their whistles.

Home crowd favoritism--maybe?  It is Madison Square Garden and not the Garden State.

Tim Higgins looked like the grumpy old guy in "Up" as he scampered off the court through the tunnel.  The other two scattered like rats in an alley too.

Many others saw the final gaff by the officials.  One St. John's assistant pulled his jacket over his head in disbelief when Brownlee tossed the ball into the red seats.  Nobody does a victory cover up.

St. John's head coach, Steve Lavin, who was passed over for Big East Coach of the Year, but may have an Academy Award in his future.  Brownlee was walking right at Lavin with an outstretched hand when he touched the sideline. What coach isn't looking at the clock in a close game like this.  Right after the game,  Lavin just said, " Both teams played their fannies off."

It sounds like the majority of Johnnies' fans didn't see the infractions either. It looks like the confessional booths on St. John's campus could be a harder ticket than the tournament quarterfinals at the Garden today.

Blame Rutgers head coach, Mike Rice too.  He saw the whole fandango and bashed his forearms like it was some sort of spastic cheerleading move.  Most Big East coaches would have been over those officials like white-on-rice.  Instead Rutgers fans got Rice-on-Rice.  He should have pulled a Charlie Sheen and dragged those refs backs to the video review table. Even the Rutgers players pleaded with the refs before they brushed past them and ducked off the court.

Give Rice credit though.  He took the high road after consoling his disappointed players.  At a press conference he said, "Would I love to not have it happen?  Of course.  But I made so many mistakes in the game, it's unbelievable."

Chances are slim that the Scarlet Knights could have pulled of the comeback but they deserved to get that 1.7 seconds back.  Now,  St. John's tries to avenge a 76-59 loss in a quarterfinals game against Syracuse.

It would only be fair for the senior-laden St. John's team to get credit for their play after four years of stumbling.  The players deserve credit blending into a cohesive, winning squad and not be labeled fortunate or beneficiaries of a St. John's/Syracuse match-up conspiracy.

 Sometimes tournament play is all about getting a little help along the way.  A tipped ball or a missed call is part of the game.

As Lavin said after the game," We dodged a bullet."  More like four of them.

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