Wahoo fans are in a sullen state after Saturday's 54-51 loss at the hands of the 7th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. The team had an opportunity down to the final seconds to hit a big shot and grab a season-defining win but came up just short. After the game, foul trouble was a major topic of discussion; all-ACC star Mike Scott was sidelined and thrown out of rhythm because of his committing 4 fouls, as was starter Akil Mitchell. And if you really want your blood to boil (and who doesn't?), you'll watch this video that recaps all 4 fouls called against Mike Scott:
(Thanks to "khilldrup" for compiling this!)
Let's look at this call by call:
Foul #1: James McAdoo gets the ball on a pick and roll. Scott comes to help, bodies up to him, and commits a foul. Reasonable.
Foul #2: Here's where things get hairy. Mike Scott, attempting to get in position for an entry pass, makes contact with John Henson. Henson throws himself backwards, and the officials call a foul. While Scott did have his arm on Henson's body, the contact didn't seem out of the ordinary, especially when you consider that Henson was defending a pass by wrapping his arms around Mike's body. What is notable is Henson's reaction, which is about what one would expect to see if a player got taken out by a sniper in the upper deck. The announcers commented on how Henson "sold the call" - he did, and the refs bought it. This foul meant that Scott was benched for all 8 minutes remaining in the first half.
Foul #3: The game takes a turn for the bizarre. Four minutes into the second half, Scott and Zeller battle for position. The whistle blows, and it's another weak call on the UVA star. The handchecks involved here occur on nearly every play, and, while technically against the rules, are rarely called. Mike returns to the bench.
Foul #4: There's nothing more egregious than this. Missed shot. Scramble for the ball. Scott has position. Henson grabs his jersey, and when that doesn't work, just throws himself to the floor. Zero contact was made besides typical and legal boxing out, it's just a pure flop by the gutless John Henson. Henson's backward motion is nearly identical to his display during Scott's second foul, and official Dwayne Gladden falls for both. The fact that Mike was able to restrain himself, just muttering "Oh my God" to himself as he walked off, is astonishing, as the crowd simply explodes. The officials' checking for a flagrant foul on the monitors makes the situation almost laughable, as it proves that (1) Henson's extreme reaction means that he obviously put on an Oscar-worthy display and that (2) the refs immediately knew that they had done a terrible, terrible job.
While a handy YouTube video doesn't exist for them yet, Akil Mitchell's 3rd and 4th fouls were just as infuriating. He picked up number 3 in the first half when he was called for a phantom moving screen (there are about 30 worse ones set every game). In the second half, he contested a shot and was called for a late foul from across the court, another unbelievable officiating decision.
Saying the game was "stolen" from the team sounds inflammatory, and I am sure some will disagree with the word choice. But hear me out! Complaining about the refs after a loss is obviously an oft-seen pastime among fans after tough losses. This doesn't mean it's wrong. Couldn't the Hoos have just shot a little better in the second half and won the game anyways? Of course! Did the officials make objectively bad calls that sapped momentum, forced changes in defensive schemes and aggressiveness, took our best player off the court, and gave the Tar Heels free points that likely decided the outcome? The answer is also assuredly "yes." Just because the team could have won the game despite the officiating doesn't mean that bad calls weren't the difference.
Reading though the post-game interviews, it is apparent that North Carolina made a conscious decision flopping and hoping for the best was the best way to defend Mike Scott. Henson commented on this, saying that the team made an effort to get Scott in foul trouble. ESPN reported the following when they asked about John's acting job on the last foul: "'I might've given a little motion,' Henson said with a smile."
Roy Williams wasn't nearly as honest in his comments:
"He [Henson] whipped back because there was an elbow in his face. They went back and looked at it because they were trying to decide if it was something else. I don't think that John's that good of an actor, and his face doesn't run into too many elbows. I'm not saying it was flagrant or anything, but it was a foul. And I don't think there's anything to drawing a foul there; you don't want to draw a foul with your face in somebody's elbow. That's not very pleasant."
Sure, Roy, there is no incentive to drawing a foul there; it's not like you could immediately take the ACC's best player out of the game or anything. And the replay clearly does show an elbow in his face. Then again, Coach Williams could never be accused of being the most candid nor courageous individual.
What are fans supposed to think about this? I tend to stay away from conspiracy theories about Commissioner John Swofford manipulating referees to ensure wins for golden boys UNC and Duke. However, it does seem like officials see one team wearing Carolina blue and implicitly give them the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't help when an official like Gladden, who is commonly stuck reffing games in the MEAC, is assigned this big one at JPJ.
What's there to do next? Nothing really. It's a good bet that Tony Bennett and/or Craig Littlepage will send in some tape to the ACC league office. It's an even better bet that none of this will be public and nothing substantive will change (don't expect to see Gladden in Charlottesville anytime soon, though). The only thing that can really be done to avoid future thefts is to battle through any bad breaks, knock down the late-game shot from behind the arc, and win anyways.
Update: (2/27 12PM) Thanks to "khilldrup" for putting together another one of these, this time logging Akil Mitchell's fouls. The moving screen call on his third is probably the strangest you'll ever see, and Gladden's late call from across the court on foul #4 is almost as terrible.