Bridging the gap between North Carolina State’s cushiony five-point lead with two minutes to play and a last-ditch heave by Rodney Purvis that nearly dropped was the burly body and soft hands of Miami big man Reggie Johnson.
And perhaps a little nudge that went unseen.
Johnson’s last-second tip-in erased a five-point Hurricanes deficit with 1:47 remaining, giving the ACC frontrunners a one-point win as Purvis’ three-quarter court prayer clanked off the back iron. At first glance, the wide-bodied center, playing in just his fourth game since breaking his left thumb, appeared to be in the right place at the right time.
Turns out he wasn’t all alone in the right spot by happenstance. A closer look at the play from a different camera angle reveals Johnson pushing off — albeit only moderately — to free himself for the putback attempt. At the eight-second mark of the video below, you’ll see Johnson creating separation from Richard Howell with a light hand-shove.
If you’ll notice, both officials in the vicinity of the play form a straight line — with the scrum in the paint situated at the centerpoint — and are therefore obstructed by the backs of Johnson and Howell, respectively. Neither ref is in position to see the contact or make the call.
The contact between Johnson and Howell certainly isn’t foreign to any ordinary box-out battle, many of which involve similar push-offs that go uncalled. Heck, Howell, a rebound maestro in his own right, is often guilty of this kind of offense himself.
The no-call didn’t lose the game for N.C. State. More amateurish late-game execution did. The Wolfpack committed two ghastly turnovers, CJ Leslie committed a boneheaded foul 70 feet from the basket and ill-advised shots in the final two minutes doomed the team once again. Mark Gottfried’s squad has made a habit of melting down in close, late-game situations (see, Maryland, Wake Forest, Virginia).
But it’s a call that nonetheless should have been made, provided the officials had been in position to see it in the first place.