Tech­ni­cally speak­ing, North­west­ern had a sea­son worth sa­vor­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - NCAA TOURNAMENT - Chuck Culpep­per chuck.culpep­per@wash­post.com

salt lake city — Hav­ing found their way this month to a fresh perch of gid­di­ness, North­west­ern fans on Satur­day found their way to a fur­ther plea­sure of fan­dom: ag­grieved­ness. Lucky them.

Like so many of their Amer­i­can brethren of bas­ket­ball and foot­ball, they’ll get to spend the rest of their days with the chance to prac­tice one of the trea­sured hu­man pas­times: re­liv­ing an of­fi­ci­at­ing er­ror, then en­vi­sion­ing how the whole wretched end­ing would have al­tered with­out said of­fi­ci­at­ing er­ror.

On oc­ca­sion, dur­ing this process, they might even drink.

For a fan group with a green all-time NCAA men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment record of 1-1, they’ll re­view how, in No. 8 North­west­ern’s 79-73 loss to topseeded Gon­zaga in a sec­on­dround game in a Vivint Arena trans­formed into a hot gym, the ref­er­ees blew a call, and then their coach helped blow the game.

The ref­er­ees ac­tu­ally missed Gon­zaga’s Zach Collins stick­ing his hand up­ward through the rim to block a shot, a sin dis­al­lowed some­time soon af­ter the game’s founders for­went the peach bas­kets. Then the coach ac­tu­ally missed an el­e­men­tal tenet of coaching the sport, which is that coaches do not run out on the floor and at­tempt to be the sixth man in tran­si­tion, es­pe­cially given their poor at­tire for the task.

The keep­ers of the game that has filled Chris Collins’s whole life long have fig­ured there’s plenty of room along the side­line, or at one’s un­used chair, for jus­ti­fied anger. With Collins’s en­su­ing tech­ni­cal foul, what might have been a 63-60 North­west­ern deficit swept its way to 65-58.

What a morsel on which to chew in­def­i­nitely.

Af­ter Gon­zaga tight­ened ut­terly and then pre­vailed for­tu­nately, there came a mo­ment you don’t often see even in the vivid halls of the NCAA tour­na­ment. It con­cerned the glow­ing se­quence just af­ter the five-minute mark, a point when a once-daz­zling Gon­zaga had seen its one­time 34-12 lead shrink to a two-pos­ses­sion 63-58. The ’Cats were charg­ing, and the ’Dogs were fum­bling, be­fore the missed call and the blown coaching.

So at the postgame news con­fer­ence, the in­ter­view con­duc­tor read a state­ment on the mat­ter from the NCAA from the dais, seated along­side Collins and two of his ad­mirable play­ers, Bryant McIn­tosh and Vic Law.

As re­porters, stenog­ra­phers and other lis­ten­ers heard this read­ing, Collins, the 42-year-old, fourth-sea­son head coach who will al­ways be the man who first led the pro­gram to the big fron­tier, made var­i­ous fa­cial ex­pres­sions, as if at the North­west­ern Depart­ment of Theatre. He smirked, nod­ded and even seemed to smile, and while he was not ex­actly Meryl Streep, he wasn’t bad.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the apol­ogy; it makes me feel great,” he said sar­cas­ti­cally mo­ments later.

The state­ment: “With 4:57 re­main­ing . . . the of­fi­cials missed a rules vi­o­la­tion when a Gon­zaga de­fender put his arm through the rim to block a shot. Rule 9, Sec­tion 15 of the NCAA Men’s Bas­ket­ball Rules Book” — which sounds like riv­et­ing read­ing — “cov­ers Bas­ket In­ter­fer­ence and Goal­tend­ing. Ar­ti­cle 2.a.3 states that bas­ket in­ter­fer­ence oc­curs when a player reaches through the bas­ket from below and touches the ball be­fore it en­ters the cylin­der. Re­plays showed the Gon­zaga de­fender vi­o­lated this rule, which should have re­sulted in a scored bas­ket by North­west­ern.”

The state­ment, Part 2: “Sub­se­quently, with 4:54 re­main­ing in the game and based on bench deco­rum rules out­lined in the rules book, a tech­ni­cal foul was as­sessed to North­west­ern Coach Chris Collins for com­ing onto the floor to ar­gue the non-call while the ball was in play.”

The state­ment did not go on to say, “At least he did not at­tempt to steal the ball and con­vert an en­su­ing layup.” It also did not say, “This rule goes also for peo­ple who have played and coached at Duke,” be­cause that would have been gra­tu­itously out of line and a cheap at­tempt at na­tional pop­u­lar­ity.

“It’s a very easy call, in my opin­ion,” Collins said of the goal­tend­ing. “But it’s an hon­est mis­take. Ref­er­ees are hu­man be­ings, they’re here for a rea­son, be­cause they’re out­stand­ing of­fi­cials.”

He said this about an hour af­ter, early in the sec­ond half, the former NBA player and coach and U.S. Olympian Doug Collins, from the first row, kindly had ad­vised one of the of­fi­cials that this would be that of­fi­cial’s last NCAA game.

Later, asked whether the tech­ni­cal might “sit with” him, Chris Collins said, “Yeah, I guess.” He added, “If I see a guy from an­other team put his hand through the rim and block a shot go­ing through the bas­ket, I’m go­ing to re­act to it if the play isn’t called.” (Yes.) “I’m a hu­man be­ing, too.” (Yes.) “I think all of you would.” (And all would re­ceive tech­ni­cals.)

North­west­ern’s first turn at the sec­ond round did con­tain more things about which to spend the com­ing years yam­mer­ing. It had the first-half prow­ess of Gon­zaga guard Nigel Wil­liams-Goss, who reached half­time with 14 points, six re­bounds and four as­sists. It also had a sec­ond half where Wil­liams-Goss, that rare player who can con­trol games, lost that con­trol, with one field goal and zero as­sists there­after. Gon­zaga has a fine 7-foot fresh­man lurk­ing around on the bench when the games start, so the game had Zach Collins with a piv­otal 14 points, five re­bounds and four blocks (in­clud­ing the over­looked goal­tend), 12 of the points af­ter half­time, in a sav­ing role.

As the cur­tain dropped on North­west­ern’s great­est sea­son, this game also had a riv­et­ing, un­fore­seen near-come­back. McIn­tosh, the Wild­cats’ pi­lot who went bam­boo­zled early with Gon­zaga’s de­fense, un­locked the thing and drove all over town to score and set up scores. Said se­nior San­jay Lump­kin, “The way we played [in the sec­ond half] is who we are.” Said McIn­tosh, “It’s nice to be put on the map,” and, “This group, it was the end of a life­time, with this group.”

To­gether, they had given their fans that gift that so many other fans have known for so long: the chance to spend good chunks of life in lament.

CHRIS DETRICK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Zach Collins sticks his hand through the hoop to block Der­erk

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