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Commentary: Questionable calls doom UNC-Asheville’s upset attempt on Syracuse

PITTSBURGH – UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach had some colorful words after nearly pulling off a historical upset of No. 1-seed Syracuse Thursday – one that was hindered, and ultimately ended, by some questionable calls late.

“Syracuse is better than Asheville,” he said. “Tonight, Asheville was better than Syracuse.”

He was right.

A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it appeared the No. 16-seeded Bulldogs had a chance to be the first in Thursday’s second-round East Region matchup.

That is, had it not been for those calls.

The Bulldogs were called for a questionable lane violation when Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine missed the front end of a one-and-one. Jardine then made both free throws and extended the lead to six points with fewer than two minutes to go in the game.

Game official Ed Corbett said the right call was made.

“It was a clear violation,” Corbett said. “The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We’ve since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call.”

Later, when pressing in the backcourt, Syracuse, up three at the time, appeared to throw the ball out of bounds in front of the Bulldogs’ bench with less than a minute to go, but the officials awarded the ball to the Orange.

Corbett said that play was not reviewable.

“No, that’s not reviewable and it is not a play that we would discuss (with one another),” Corbett said. “I’m not going to comment on it any further because it is a judgment call.”

In those situations, refs need to either keep the whistle in their pocket, especially on that lane violation, a violation that often goes uncalled, or keep an extra-attentive eye on bang-bang plays when they occur late in the game.

The majority of the 18,927 in attendance in the CONSOL Energy Center seemingly agreed. Apart from a swath of Orange-clad fans, the crowd was largely on UNC Asheville’s side, and it boisterously voiced its displeasure with those late calls.

As did Biedenbach.

When asked if officiating crews, who remain largely together during the regular season, should be kept together during the NCAA Tournament, Biedenbach made it known he was not pleased.

“They should keep the good ones together,” Biedenbach said.

But that’s how it goes. As the old mantra says, “Don’t put yourself in a position to let the refs decide the game for you.” UNC-Asheville did that, after relinquishing its halftime lead of four, which was as many as seven in the first half.

The Bulldogs largely took advantage of a complacent Orange squad. Without star center Fab Melo, Syracuse struggled to capitalize on its height and athletic advantage over the under-matched Bulldogs.

UNC-Asheville relied a bit on outside shooting, even if leading-scorer Matt Dickey only connected on 1-of-13 field goal attempts, which was a 3-pointer. The Bulldogs tossed up 23 3-point attempts, connecting on nine. Had UNC-Asheville attacked inside a bit more against a Syracuse defensive interior depleted without Melo, it might have seen a few more favorable calls.

As it stands, even if the Bulldogs were the better team Thursday, it doesn’t matter any longer. They’re going home.

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