SAN DIEGO — Marcus Smart’s college career ended in a very Marcus Smart-like way: Complaining about officiating.
To his credit, there were a lot of fouls called in No. 9 Oklahoma State’s 85-79 loss to No. 8 Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Friday in San Diego. The Viejas Arena crowd was as frustrated as players on the court when late in the game the referees seemed to get whistle-happy and disrupted the flow of the game.
Smart has been for one of the most notorious floppers as well as one of the most controversial and temperamental players in college basketball. But he’s also been one of the most talented, and all of those sides showed in Tuesday’s loss.
"It changed a lot," Smart said. "I can’t remember the foul count, how many free throws both teams shot but it was a good amount. And it kind of slowed the game down and gave us a chance to get back in it, but we just fell short."
Smart was whistled for four fouls and three players fouled out in addition to the two others on the bench with four fouls. But Smart felt that he was whistled for phantom fouls in a deliberate attempt to keep him off the court. He made it known to the officials, throwing his hands up in disbelief and barking at them a few times.
Smart was already suspended for an altercation with a fan earlier this season, and although his actions never came close to the shoving that ensued earlier this season, it seemed to magnify the disconnect between himself and the officiating crew.
"They were trying to keep me in the game and it was hard being on the bench not being able to help my teammates out there," Smart said. "They were out there fighting and giving it all they had and I had to come out for a short span and then go back in and get it all, and then I had to come back out.
"It was definitely difficult for me to sit there and watch that because knowing that when I had the three-game suspension, it brought back memories."
Stephen F. Who?
With all of Viejas arena on the edge of their seats, the 12th-seeded team from a town in Texas no one had heard of hit a clutch shot and drew a foul in the final seconds to force overtime.
Stephen F. Austin, the 12 seed from Nacogdoches, Texas, played the role VCU played only a few seasons ago with their 77-75 overtime win over the fifth-seeded Rams.
It was an exciting game from start to finish and the one thing that no one can argue is that Rams had a chance to win and let the Lumberjacks back into the game. VCU led by as much as 11 points with 8:23 left and one final furious run by the Lumberjacks was all they needed.
Desmond Haymon finished it off with a long jumper and a free throw, the play that not only tied the game with three seconds left but ultimately doomed the Rams.
"Going to the end of the game I knew that I was struggling throughout the game and I was in my mind, and I just said, ‘This is my senior year I can’t let my teammates down going out like this,’" Haymon said. "I was struggling shooting the ball, I knew in order to get it going I was going to have to continue to try and find it.
"I guess I found that groove with the last shot."
While it might not be a team you had in your bracket before, it’s one that should have come to San Diego with a little more respect. The ‘Jacks have now won 29-straight games. They still only have two losses to their credit and haven’t lost since Nov. 23.
They’ll face 4 seed UCLA Sunday, trying to earn 30 straight.
Oh, you again?
The one game that went according to plan Friday was No. 1 Arizona’s victory over No. 16 Weber State. But credit both teams of Wildcats – Arizona kept its poise in the final minutes while Weber State nearly came back to tie.
"Weber is one of the best teams we’ve played all season," Arizona head coach Sean Miller said, emphatically. "We played some of the great teams in college basketball and I don’t care what the name of their conference is or what they say on their shirt, they have a center who can score in the low post as well as any player that we have scouted. Their power forward, I believe, will play in the NBA, unbelievable rebounder."