- The No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks earned their win over the No. 9 Seton Hall Pirates on Friday afternoon, but a controversial late call was a crucial factor in the final outcome.
GREENVILLE, S.C. — To the letter of the rule, Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez flagrantly fouled Arkansas’ Jaylen Barford with less than 18 seconds remaining in their first-round game.
But in the spirit of competition, the question of whether it should have been called flagrant is no question at all. Indeed, Rodriguez shoved Barford with two hands without making a play on the ball. And yes, Barford went airborne and fell to the ground after what appeared to be an incidental trip.
The game hinged on that play. The Pirates and Razorbacks had dueled like the teams in the 8/9 matchup should. But it was the first major controversial officiating call of this year’s NCAA tournament that ended the Pirates’ dreams of their first tournament win since 2004.
“You know, I thought the three [referees] tonight did a really good job. It was a physical, athletic game,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “I think it's one of those things you've got to, if you've been around the game long enough, you've got to know time, score, you've got to know what's going on. It's an NCAA Tournament game. I think you really gotta understand what's going on.”
To be sure, the controversial call should not absolve Seton Hall of its own mistakes. The Pirates led by as many as six with less than seven minutes remaining in the game, and they would score just three points in the final 6:47.
The closing minutes were marred by turnovers for the Pirates, who had four in the final 4:45. The costliest of those came with 24 seconds remaining and Arkansas leading 72–71. Pirates junior guard Khadeen Carrington traveled, which gave the ball to the Razorbacks and forced Seton Hall to foul.
Arkansas broke Seton Hall’s full-court defense, and as Barford crossed midcourt near the 3-point line, Rodriguez shoved him to get the Razorbacks to the line and give Seton Hall a chance to win or tie the game, depending upon Barford’s free throws.
The referees, of course, knew the deal. A common foul would give Barford two opportunities at the line to make it a three-point game. An intentional would offer an opportunity for a three-point game and give the ball back to Arkansas, which would again for Seton Hal to foul and dig itself deeper. Unfortunately, the officials chose the latter.
“I thought it was no play on the ball. That's as simple as that,” Arkansas coah Mike Anderson said. “There was no play on the ball. He pushed the guy down. You saw it. I saw it. I mean, what's borderline when you say, you know what, he didn't play on the ball.”
Said Barford: “I was surprised he pushed me like that. But I don't know if he was trying to make a play on the ball or what, but it came in our favor.”
Arkansas earned the win Friday. The Razorbacks, despite a minus-14 rebounding margin, turned the Pirates over 15 times and got 16 points off those turnovers. But the officials’ strict interpretation of the rulebook, rather than letting these players play for the outcome, made the final decision.