At the end of the night it was simply a wash – one controversial call on Butler’s Shelvin Mack at halfcourt and another on Pittsburgh’s Nasir Robinson 85 feet from his own basket. Each team’s fouled player made a free throw and the Bulldogs emerged with a 71-70 upset of the top-seeded Panthers.
But that didn’t stop the talk afterward about the referees playing a major role in the finish.
“You hate to see a game end that way,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “But I asked Shelvin, did he think he fouled him, and he thought he fouled him, and Matt [Howard] thought he got fouled. So that was the way the game ended.”
With 1.4 seconds left and Butler leading 70-69, Mack fouled Pitt’s Gilbert Brown near the sideline at mid-court. After a review to check the correct time left, Brown tied the score with his first free throw and then his second attempt rimmed out. The Bulldogs’ Howard grabbed the rebound and was hacked by Robinson with 0.8 showing on the clock.
Howard made the first, missed the second intentionally and Butler moved on to the Sweet 16 while Pitt’s fans at Verizon Center looked on in amazement.
Terry Wymer made the call on Mack and Antonio Petty the call on Robinson, but it was crew chief John Higgins who addressed the situation afterward with pool reporter Dana O’Neil of ESPN. He called them both judgment calls and insisted neither was reviewable.
And Higgins defended both.
“We do it every day. It just happened to be a crucial part of the game. You have to do what you have to do as an official,” he said. “If we get it right, we’re good. If we get it wrong, we’re deadbeats and we’re all over SportsCenter. We did what we think is correct.”
Video replays seemed to show both calls were right by the letter of the law.
Pitt’s players and coach Jamie Dixon pointed to themselves for mistakes made earlier in the game, rather than concentrating on the calls in the waning seconds.
“We’re not going to blame the officials,” said Dixon, who assumed the blame. “I think there seemed to be a lot of going back and forth, but they’re the best in the country and that’s why they’re playing and that’s why the teams are playing and that’s why they’re officiating. They’re the best officials in the country.”