By Joe Rutter
A non-goaltending call. A lane violation. A controversial out-of-bounds ruling.
Three decisions by the officials went against No. 16 UNC Asheville in the second half of its 72-65 loss to No. 1 Syracuse on Thursday in an NCAA Tournament second-round game at Consol Energy Center.
Three game changers, too, according to Asheville coach and Pittsburgh native Eddie Biedenbach.
“This was really tough to take,” Biedenbach said after his team couldn’t protect a six-point second-half lead yet was within a tying 3-pointer in the final moments.
Still smarting from the officiating when he addressed the media, Biedenbach said, “I thought we had a cooling off period. There’s not enough time to cool off for this one.”
Biedenbach instructed his players not to discuss the officiating, but it was difficult for some to hold back their tongues.
“In college basketball, sometimes you have to play everybody in the building, you know,” Asheville guard J.P. Primm said.
Two of the calls were magnified because they came late in the game.
Syracuse was leading 62-58 and Scoop Jardine was at the line for a one-and-one but missed the first attempt. Primm grabbed the rebound but was whistled for a line violation. Given a second chance, Jardin made both free throws for a 64-58 lead with 1:20 left.
“I’ve never seen a lane violation from the top,” Asheville’s Jaron Lane said. “The ref made that call, and it was probably right, but it was a real tough call.”
Said game official Ed Corbett: “It was a clear violation. The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We’ve since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call.”
Lane hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 64-61. The score was 66-63, and Asheville appeared to regain possession after a ball touched by Syracuse’s Brandon Traine on an inbounds play went out of bounds. But the official ruled that the ball went off Lane.
Syracuse padded its lead and held on for the win.
“I know I definitely didn’t touch the ball,” Lane said.
Corbett said the play was not reviewable.
“They showed the replay and the crowd let the official know,” Primm said. “It just took the air out of us, just like the non-goaltending call. When you play so hard and you play so hard, and a call doesn’t go your way, it takes the air out of you, and it did.”