A landmark coaching achievement fulfilled in Hilton Coliseum on Monday night deserved center stage to itself. Instead, a game rich with personal significance and teeming with Big 12 implications concluded in eventful fashion for all the wrong reasons.
Maligned Kansas point guard Elijah Johnson and a trio of villainous referees stole the spotlight in Ames — Johnson for his blackout performance in crunch time capped off by a showboating dunk for good measure, the striped shirts for tarnishing whatever integrity the game had left. Then an out-of-bounds demonstration by Cyclones fans put a stamp on a regrettable ending to an otherwise venerable game.
CONTROVERSY – Iowa State led Kansas by two points with less than ten seconds to play in regulation when Johnson plowed into Cyclones freshman Georges Niang, an obvious charge callthe officials chose not to enforce. Rule it a charge, a block, whatever the judgment, the whistle has to be blown in that spot. Moments later, during a scrum on the floor, the referees compounded the no-call by assessing a loose ball foul to Niang during a scrumb on the floor, sending Johnson to the line. The KU senior guard sunk two free throws to force overtime.
Of course, the narrative of games involving controversial finishes conveniently ignores the action preceding the finish, as if bad calls made in the first 39 minutes don’t matter. The prisoner of the moment culture of sports doesn’t care that there was inconsistent officiating throughout the KU-ISU clash. Critics of the officiating are quick to forget that Withey picked up a suspect second foul early in the first half, then his head coach was T’d up while childing his own players. They also ignore the series of phantom fouls issued to such players as Johnson, Niang and Chris Babb at various junctures of the game.
The officiating was terrible. Both ways. If one is to make a case that the whistle-blowers impacted the outcome, don’t cite one egregious call as a smoking gun. Assess the other three dozen calls and no-calls to form a level-headed, comprehensive evaluation of who really got the shaft.
SHOWMANSHIP – Elijah Johnson apologized for the rubbish tomahawk jam he needlessly threw down at the end of overtime with the game in-hand. Kudos to the converted 2-guard for owning up to his crass mistake. Still, the gesture was out-of-line for a veteran player whose instincts dictated he play to the horn and attack the basket. As hard as it is to tell a safety in football to lay off hitting a receiver, it’s comparably difficult convincing a born scorer to pull the ball out when an open lane to the basket is right in front of him.
FLYING DEBRIS – Johnson got caught up in the heat of the moment, but he wasn’t the only one needing to cool off. Johnson and Bill Self needed a police escort leaving Hilton Coliseum, what with animated Cyclones fans showering the two Iowa State assassins with debris. According to one report, one fan even attempted to rush the court and confront coach Self but was restrained before reaching his target. I don’t think his motive was to wish Self a hearty congrats on his 500th win, either.