“I was trying to make him pick it up to start the clock,” he said. “I got a little too close to him and got into a bad position and pushed him.”
As Brown tried to gather the ball in, he and Mack collided and the ball went out of bounds. Referees Antonio Petty and Terry Wymer — Petty trailing, Wymer on the baseline — both called a foul on Mack instantly as most of the crowd screamed in dismay.
“At first I was arguing,” Smith said. “But then when I saw the replay, it was a foul. Shelvin shoved him.”
“I asked Shelvin if he fouled him,” Howard said. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I did.’ ”
While the officials went to the TV monitor to decide exactly how much time was left in the game, Brown — who was 8 of 11 from the field and, at that moment, 3 of 3 from the line — stood 15 feet from the basket, practicing his shooting motion. Vanzant was standing behind him.
“I felt defeated standing there,” he admitted. “The guy is a great player and he’d had a great night. I thought he was going to make them both. But I kept saying to him, ‘Come on, man, give us one, just miss one.”
Mack was standing in front of Brown in the lane.
“So, where you from?” he asked.
“Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,” Brown answered. “You?”
“Lexington, Kentucky,” Mack said. “I’ve got a 3.0 GPA.”
Before they could exchange phone numbers, the officials had set the clock at 1.4 seconds and were ready to play. Brown coolly swished the first one, tying the game at 70. But the second one rimmed out. Howard, with inside position, grabbed it as Nasir Robinson, who had also been superb for the Panthers (7 of 9, 16 points) tried to somehow reach over him to tip the ball in. Instead, he fouled him.
“I was really surprised when I felt him come across my arm,” Howard said. “I knew we had no timeouts left so I was trying to fling the ball towards the basket.”
Said Robinson: “It was a stupid play. I blame myself.”
Ninety feet away he was hardly a threat. Petty saw the contact and made the call. The officials checked the clock again, set it at 0.8 and Howard walked to the line where he coolly swished the first shot. Then he missed the second one on purpose. Wanamaker’s grab and heave were too late and Butler had done it again.
Even though they did not, by rule, have to speak to a pool reporter since the controversial calls at game’s end were judgment calls, the officials agreed to do so. All three, including lead official John Higgins, agreed that in both cases they had no choice but to call the fouls — regardless of time or score. Most people agreed: either you call neither foul or call both fouls.
“We aren’t blaming this on the officials,” Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon said repeatedly. “It was a great basketball game and they did a very good job.”
In a tournament always filled with extraordinary endings, this one went even further. When someone asked Mack if his teammates would let him off the hook for his foul since he had played so well the rest of the game, he shook his head emphatically.
“I’m a dead man walking,” he said.
Stevens nodded in assent. “Dead man walking,” he said, pointing at Mack.
Perhaps. But Mack and his teammates are still breathing and still playing.
The saga continues.
For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com