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Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Delaware State loses in worst possible way

By Eamonn Brennan

What was Monday night's most interesting result? Georgetown's defensive dominance over Notre Dame? Kansas's Big 12-outright-title-sealing win at Oklahoma State? Baylor's drubbing of Texas Tech? No. No. And definitely no.

Monday night's most interesting scoreline, and its craziest finish -- and arguably the craziest finish of the 2012 college hoops season to date -- came during Morgan State 73, Delaware State 72. And you won't believe how Delaware State lost.

So here's what happened: Morgan State's free throws with seven seconds remaining gave them a 71-70 lead on the final possession. Delaware State inbounded the ball to guard Jay Threatt, who raced down the court and fired up a jumper. Threatt was 8-of-12 from the field Monday night, so we can't fault the shot selection, but he missed. And just when Delaware State thought all hope was lost, forward Tahj Tate, dunked home a tip-in with less than a second remaining. It counted. Delaware 72, Morgan State 71.

Naturally, that's when all you-know-what broke loose. Fans stormed the court, rushing Tate and his teammates: The Hornets had come all the way back from a 41-24 halftime deficit and won, drawing within one game of Savannah State's lead in the race for MEAC regular-season title with one more game to play. Big, big win. Ain't no party like a Dover party, and so on and so forth.

And just as Delaware State fans thought it was safe to experience some joy, the officiating crew was there to brutally rip their hearts out. I'll pass the mic to the Associated Press. Just the facts, AP:
Most of Memorial Hall thought the game was over as fans and players ran on the court to celebrate. But the game officials conferenced, charged Delaware State with a technical foul for delay of game and set the clock back to 1.1 seconds remaining.

Aric Brooks made the two free throws for Morgan State and the Bears, awarded possession following the technical foul, ran out the clock for the win.

I mean ... really? Really, officials Bill Covington, Sr., Everett Summers and Jackie Sanders? (Thanks, Statsheet.) You actually assessed a delay of game technical foul on a crowd that had assumed there was no time left on the clock after a tip-in buzzer-beating dunk? REALLY?

It would be one thing if this was the letter of the law, but I'm not sure it is. From the NCAA rulebook:
"Team followers, as in Rule 4-27, shall not commit an unsportsmanlike act, including, but not limited to, the following: ... Delaying the game by preventing the ball from being promptly made live or by preventing continuous play, such as but not limited to, followers entering the playing court before the player activity has been terminated. When the delay does not interfere with play, it shall be ignored."

I think you can pretty clearly argue -- since the referees made this decision in a dead-ball conference -- that the fans rushing the court did not actually interfere with live-action play or the continuation thereof. Unless fans were actively refusing to leave the court, which the AP doesn't mention at all. At the very least, there's wiggle room.

There's also precedent: On Feb. 18, Creighton fans prematurely rushed the court after Antoine Young's game-winner over Long Beach State. The referees reviewed the tape, agreed that LBSU had time remaining, and announced over the stadium public address system that fans needed to clear they court. Which they did. It was entirely orderly and reasonable way to end the game, even if it was a bit of a buzzkill. The point is, it was an easy solution. No technicals required. Frankly, watching that game, it never even occurred to me that the officials would ever call a technical foul, by rule or otherwise.

But the MEAC refs did. Why? Why penalize a team and its fans for a communally joyous split-second reaction? Two shots and the ball with 1.1 seconds remaining? They thought they won the game!

Brutal way to lose, man. Just brutal. Hang in there, Delaware State fans. If karma is real, you guys have to be in line for something good sometime very soon. The least the MEAC could do is an explanation.