Coaches across the country can use the first two days of the NCAA Tournament as examples when they’re teaching the importance of knowing when and how to foul in late-game situations.
One day after Northwestern sank the winning free throws in a 68-66 victory over Vanderbilt after an ill-timed foul, Arkansas clinched its 77-71 triumph over Seton Hall after the Pirates got called for a flagrant foul in the final minute.
Arkansas was clinging to a 72-71 lead over Seton Hall with 18.3 seconds remaining Friday when Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez fouled Arkansas’ Jaylen Barford in an attempt to stop the clock and get the Razorbacks to the foul line.
But instead of merely calling a common foul on the play, officials determined Rodriguez had committed a flagrant foul after they looked at replays showing the Seton Hall player putting his hands on Barford’s back and left shoulder.
That enabled Arkansas to maintain possession after making two free throws. By the time Seton Hall got the ball back, it trailed by four points with less than 10 seconds remaining.
“I think I made a basketball play,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t foul intentionally to hurt anyone. The officials called it another way, and that’s that.”
J.D. Collins, the NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, said the right call was made because Rodriguez simply put his hands on Barford without ever making an attempt at the ball.
“If he makes a legitimate attempt to play the ball and the referees see that, they’re likely going to say, ‘Hey, he was playing the ball, it’s OK,'” Collins said.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson agreed.
“I thought (there) was no play on the ball,” Anderson said. “That’s as simple as that.”
But Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said the context of the situation should be taken into account. After all, it wasn’t any mystery that Seton Hall was going to be trying to foul in an attempt to stop the clock.
“If you’ve been around the game long enough, you’ve got to know time, score, you’ve got to know what’s going on,” Willard said. “It’s an NCAA Tournament game. I think you’ve really got to understand what’s going on. But they (officiated) a good game all night. So I can’t really complain about whether I agree or not. I’m always going to disagree with it. That’s what coaches do.”
In the Northwestern game, the problem wasn’t with how Matthew Fisher-Davis fouled Bryant McIntosh. It’s the fact that Fisher-Davis fouled him at all.
Northwestern had the ball and was trailing 66-65 with less than 15 seconds left when Fisher-Davis fouled McIntosh, who made two free throws to put the Wildcats ahead for good. After Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance missed a 3-pointer and Northwestern made one more free throw, the Wildcats had a 68-66 victory.
Fisher-Davis said afterward he saw Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew pointing toward McIntosh and forgot that the Commodores had just pulled ahead.
“I actually thought we were down one (point),” Fisher-Davis said. “Coach … pointed at him, but he was just telling me that was my matchup. I took it as (I should) foul.”
Fisher-Davis’ situation underscores the costs of making a mistake in these types of circumstances. Fisher-Davis scored 22 points Thursday and played the biggest role in rallying Vanderbilt from a 15-point deficit, but much of that was forgotten once his foul enabled Northwestern to regain the lead.
“It could have been a miscommunication,” Drew said “He looked over at me before. But one play doesn’t lose the game for you. And I’m proud of the guys fighting back and being in that situation. Without him, we’re not even close to being in that situation at the end.”