Officials’ calls didn’t even out in Duke’s win over Carolina

The latest chapter of the storied series between North Carolina and Duke, while exciting, deserved a more just outcome. A few days have passed as sports fans have fumed or celebrated or just discussed the big game. Watching the game back – and reviewing the plays over and over – doesn’t change the outcome but it does give a clearer picture of what happened. When someone complains about officials’ calls, they are often bombarded with the theory that the bad calls even out in the end. When Duke traveled to North Carolina last Saturday, the calls didn’t even out and […]

The latest chapter of the storied series between North Carolina and Duke, while exciting, deserved a more just outcome. A few days have passed as sports fans have fumed or celebrated or just discussed the big game. Watching the game back – and reviewing the plays over and over – doesn’t change the outcome but it does give a clearer picture of what happened.

When someone complains about officials’ calls, they are often bombarded with the theory that the bad calls even out in the end. When Duke traveled to North Carolina last Saturday, the calls didn’t even out and the Tar Heels lost a game they should have won.

Duke faithful – and many Carolina faithful – will point to the Tar Heels ineffectiveness at the foul line as the reason for the loss. That was certainly the reason the Blue Devils were still in the game as UNC missed 17 of its 38 free throw attempts.

But the Tar Heels had somehow overcome the charity stripe woes to lead by five with 20 seconds to go in overtime. Tre Jones scored and drew a silly foul by UNC’s Christian Keeling. After the missed free throw, an out-of-bounds call with 15 seconds left could have gone either way as UNC’s Andrew Platek and Duke’s Wendell Moore, on replay, seemed to simultaneously tip the ball out of bounds. As had happened throughout the second half, Duke got the break and possession of the ball.

Moore scored three seconds later and the lead was suddenly down to one at 96-95.

On the inbounds play for Carolina, Platek was fouled hard by Moore – only thing is, not only wasn’t the foul called but officials said the ball was out off Platek. Even after reviewing the play, the official didn’t understand the laws of physics, and gave possession to Duke. The ball was in Platek’s hands when Moore swiped at it and knocked it straight out of bounds. Because officials couldn’t retroactively call a foul on Moore and because replays weren’t conclusive to them, the call stood as Duke’s ball even though the direction of the ball going out should have clearly indicated that it had to be out off Moore.

The TV announcers, which included former Duke player Jay Bilas, were incredulous that a foul wasn’t called. “Wow, they didn’t call a foul there,” Bilas said. “They are going to say somehow that that was incidental contact. I don’t agree with this at all.” In looking at the replay he said, “Wow, that’s a foul. It’s hard to imagine that you wouldn’t make that call.” He went on to say bluntly, “That’s a bad call.”

Lost for a minute was the additional bad call that the ball was out off Platek. The ball hit in both of Platek’s hands and Moore barreled in and popped it out. Replays clearly show that neither touched it after that initial swipe by Moore. The way the Heels shot free throws, the out of bounds bad call may have been worse for the Heels than the obvious foul.

But that wasn’t the last bad call. Jones, who deserves credit for leading his club back, drove to the hoop and missed but officials called Keeling for a foul. If anything it was a foul on Jones who used his left arm to clear the way. “Tough call for North Carolina,” Bilas said. “It looked like Keeling had legal guarding position and was simply moving to maintain it.” It looked like it because that’s what happened. Jones also took three steps after his last dribble on the drive which started at the free throw line and ended just under the basket. It could have been an offensive foul or a travel but it was called a foul on Keeling. Duke once again got the break.

The Devils took advantage of their breaks and, after a second missed free throw, Moore tapped in a Jones miss at the buzzer for the victory.

Crazy things happen in Duke-Carolina games, no doubt. But the heavily favored Blue Devils got help from the officials and the Tar Heels were stymied by the officials at every turn.

No, it wasn’t just one bad call as many have said in the days since the game. And it wasn’t just bad calls or no calls in the last 20 seconds. After a first half where the officials weren’t the story, in addition to the Heels ineptness at the line, the officials became the story.

Just a minute into the second half, Jones pushed off on Cole Anthony for a layup. He was going to get the two but he evidently attempted to also draw a foul by initiating contact with Anthony who was backing away. The forearm shiver should have been a foul on Jones and the basket waived off.

Less than three minutes later, the officials, who had let the teams play in the first half, called a ticky tac illegal screen foul on Garrison Brooks. Instead of Armando Bacot one-on-one down low in good position, the officials turned the ball back over to Duke, who promptly scored for a possible four-point swing. It had been a physical game where only the egregious fouls were called until this touch foul started a floodgate of fouls. With the Tar Heels struggling from the line, this wasn’t a positive trend, even when Carolina players were fouled.

The call obviously messed with Brooks’ mind because just a couple of minutes later, he traveled to avoid contact, obviously afraid of picking up a fourth foul that would have put him on the bench for a while with more than a quarter of the game left to go.

At the 12:30 mark, one official apparently took a page out of the book that states, “Wait to see if the offensive player is able to score with heavy contact and, if not, call a foul on the defender.” Duke’s Cassius Stanley, who had a great game with 22 points, got the benefit of the late call on Leaky Black, who may or may not have actually fouled. There was only one angle and it wasn’t conclusive. If no foul had been called, I doubt there would have been any arguments. While Stanley didn’t make the basket, he made a free throw and we know how much one point meant in a game like this.

An even bigger sequence immediately followed. Bacot picked up a phantom foul as he was dishing it off to Keeling who scored. The basket was waived off, however, and Duke went down and hit a three for a five-point swing. Replays clearly showed that Moore, the defender, was already falling down before any contact with Bacot, if there actually was any. You certainly don’t blame the defender for the flop but you do blame the official for calling the foul on Bacot. Instead of Carolina having its biggest lead to that point at 61-48, the score was trimmed to 59-51. The crowd began to grow quieter.

The crowd did boo a bit a few seconds later when Keeling had a rebound but he lost it after Duke’s Vernon Carey knocked it away. Tar Heel fans thought that was another foul that wasn’t called. It was tough to tell on replay but with touch fouls being called in the second half, it easily could have been a foul.

At the 10:20 mark, Bacot picked up his fourth foul. If not for the phantom call earlier, it would have just been his third called foul. Instead Bacot had to leave the game for a while for fear of fouling out. Except for one basket, Bacot didn’t make much of an impact the rest of the game and fouled out with 3:15 left in overtime.

With just over four minutes to play, Carolina was looking to extend its lead to what would have been a game-high 15 points but Platek was called for traveling in the lane. Replays show that Platek kept his pivot foot – in this case the right foot – stationary while he moved his left foot twice quickly. Perhaps his shuffling that left foot looked like traveling to the official but it wasn’t.

After that bad call, Duke went on a 9-2 run in less than three minutes to cut it to 79-73. A lot of things had to go right for Duke down the stretch and the incredible intentionally missed free throw and bucket by Tre Jones tied it to send the game into overtime at 84-84.

In overtime, Carolina got some bad luck unrelated to officiating, when Brooks went out after getting poked in the eye – an injury that would greatly hinder him in Tuesday’s loss at Wake Forest.
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As mentioned earlier, Carolina’s other big man, Armando Bacot fouled out with 3:15 left in overtime. Not only should that fifth foul have been only his fourth but replays show – and commentators noted – that it was the offensive player (Moore) who initiated the contact. Bacot had a hand on Moore’s back but he wasn’t pushing or pulling. It either shouldn’t have been a foul or it should have been a foul on Moore for making the contact with Bacot.

With all the adversity, Carolina still managed to go on a 7-1 run to take that 96-91, five-point lead into the final 20 seconds – 20 seconds that will be long remembered. What will be forgotten are all the other bad calls and no calls that cost the Tar Heels a game they desperately needed, and one that could be argued they deserved.

Duke played a good, clean game and took advantage of their breaks. It was a generally well-played, hard-fought rivalry effort by both teams. But the officials had a bad game for whatever reason. And Carolina suffered much more than Duke for it.

Non-deep thinkers will just slough off criticism using the calls-even-out defense or the whining, crybaby argument. But injustice deserves to be mourned. The calls didn’t even out and whining complaints should be reserved for when the outrage is not justified. In this case, for anybody who goes back and reviews that second half, the outrage is justified.