SPOKANE, Wash. – Cincinnati’s Octavius Ellis had a chance to create an indelible memory in the final seconds of Friday night’s game against Saint Joseph’s, but he instead learned just how cruel the NCAA Tournament truly can be. After Saint Joseph’s Isaiah Miles hit a go-ahead three-pointer with seven seconds remaining, the Bearcats frantically pushed the ball up the court and found Ellis wide-open under the rim – but his dunk attempt didn’t beat the buzzer in time to tie the game.
The NCAA released a statement after the game on the play, stating that shot was “disallowed because the ball was still on his fingertips when the clock hit 0.0.”
Saint Joseph’s 78-76 win capped a wild second day of the NCAA tournament and sent the eighth-seeded Hawks to the second round, where they will meet top-seed Oregon on Sunday afternoon. That only happened after a bizarre late Friday night. Both teams had to wait several minutes as the officials reviewed Ellis’ shot, determining that the ball was still on his fingertips as the buzzer sounded.
Forward Deandre Bembry had 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting for Saint Joseph’s, which lead 41-40 at halftime and extended its lead to double digits by the midway point of the second half.
The Bearcats sat in stunned silence for several moments after the ruling came down, and Ellis’s eyes filled with tears as he rested on a stool on the court. Cincinnati trailed by as many as 12 in the second half and had to overcome a litany of issues just to position itself to win. Bears’ guard Gary Clark was dealing with an ankle injury suffered last week, and forward Quadri Moore blew out his ankle in the first half after eight minutes. Guard Shaq Thomas has a torn groin and didn’t play.
“With that being said, we still had a chance to win against one of the hottest teams in the country,” Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin said after the game. He added “no comment” on the final play of the game, which was set after an enthralling final six minutes.
Cincinnati took a 76-75 lead with 16 seconds left after Ellis, who played just nine minutes and didn’t score, blocked a shot to set up a dunk in transition by guard Jacob Evans (26 points, nine rebounds), but Saint Joseph’s Miles responded with the eventual game-winner out of a timeout on the ensuing possession. Miles finished with 19 points and seven rebounds.
Cincinnati shot 51 percent from the field and hit 10 three-pointers, but it needed one more play to advance. Cronin signaled to the officials that Ellis’ shot was good during the review, and Evans said in somber locker room after the game that he and his teammates thought the shot was good.
“We were just expecting the bucket to be good. We were getting prepared for overtime,” Evans said. “When they waved it off, it was kind of a shocking moment.”