NORFOLK — Norfolk State’s controversial 86-84 loss to Howard on Jan. 14 was costly in more ways than one.
Spartans coach Robert Jones was fined $500 by the MEAC for being critical of the league’s officials after the game, which ended with a bizarre technical foul charged to NSU with 1.2 seconds left.
But here’s the thing: It turns out Jones was justified.
The Bison made two free throws to pull ahead after the technical. The Spartans committed an immediate foul after Howard inbounded the ball, and the Bison made 1 of 2 free throws to account for the final margin. NSU didn’t get off another shot.
A rules clarification sent to NCAA game officials in the wake of the call — a document obtained this week by The Virginian-Pilot — said the Bison actually should have been awarded just one free throw and the ball, a scenario which would have likely resulted in overtime.
With the Spartans trailing 83-82 and 5.5 seconds left, NSU inbounded the ball near midcourt. Forward Kris Bankston took the inbounds pass near the top of the key and handed it off to guard Joe Bryant, who spun past a defender, drove the lane and laid it in for an apparent game-winner.
Much of NSU’s bench went beyond the baseline to celebrate with Bryant before the entire arena realized that the clock still showed 1.2 seconds left.
The officials penalized the Spartans for having too many players on the court, which left Jones livid.
“All right, people thought the game was over,” Jones said moments after the game. “They stepped on the floor, and then you give a tech? That shows the officiating in this conference; it’s terrible, man. And I don’t care. They can fine me — whatever, man. It’s terrible. I’ve got enough to pay the fine.”
The fourth-place Spartans (13-7, 3-2 MEAC), who will face South Carolina State at home Saturday, fell 77-71 at Morgan State on Monday, making the Howard loss potentially even costlier in the MEAC standings.
The NCAA maintains a yearly Men’s Basketball Case Book, which is described as “a supplement to the official rules.” The Case Book, which can be downloaded for free on the NCAA’s website, lists potential in-game scenarios and spells out in detail the proper call in a given situation.
An addition was made after the NSU-Howard game, citing Rule 10, Section 4, Article 2.h, which states that a technical foul shall be assessed for “delaying the game by preventing the ball from being promptly made live or by preventing continuous play, such as bench personnel entering the playing court before player activity has been terminated.”
The official penalty is a Class B technical foul charged to the team and the head coach, resulting in one free throw and the resumption of the game from the point of interruption.
This week, Jones stood by what he said after the Howard game.
“The rules are the rules with the fines and their stipulations that they have as far as conduct of that nature,” he said.
“I’ll take the fine, but I was actually right.”
Jones, the defending MEAC Coach of the Year, gave credit to the league for reaching out to an NCAA regional coordinator of officials to review the call.
The Case Book clarification, it reads, was issued “because of the attention of this play and the probability that this will occur again during either the regular [season] and/or postseason.”
The would-be winning play, incidentally, was drawn up in the huddle during a timeout. It had never been practiced and was based on a play Jones had noticed in an NBA game years ago.
“It just always stuck with me,” he said. “I’m like, ‘That’s a great play.’ You get your two best players in the middle of the floor. It’s kind of hard for the defense to do something when your two best players are in the middle of the floor.
“It’s kind of hard to be like a casual fan of basketball. I’m always watching the schematics of it.”
Had the Spartans not lost to Howard, they’d still be tied for first place in the MEAC. As it stands now, they’ll have to wait and see how much a landmark decision ends up hurting them.
David Hall, email@example.com