There are some things we can count on after all.
Duke’s back in the men’s Final Four.
ESPN had a North Carolina grad anchoring Sunday’s prime-time SportsCenter and telling the country that the Blue Devils beat a stout Baylor team, 78-71, on a questionable call that went Duke’s way.
If Stuart Scott’s willing to stretch to get conspiracy theorists thinking about one isolated call instead of how well Duke played late to beat a Cinderella Baylor team that performed brilliantly…somebody should pull the plug on him.
Actually, Baylor played as well as a team can play in the biggest spotlight through the middle portion of the regional semifinal semifinal. The bigs put on an awesome, athletic display of shot-blocking and rim-rattling. The creative guards raised all sorts of hell for Duke on both ends of the court.
Duke shredded the Bears zone early, then Baylor got physical and quicker than quick and … only a string of Blue Devils free throws early in the second half got the game back to even after a late first-half spurt left Baylor looking like it was headed to Indianapolis.
Game officials were calling things tight under the hoop and letting stuff go on the perimeter. Each team lost its starting center to foul trouble early. Duke lost Kyle Singler after two quick fouls trying to defend mercurial guard LaceDarius Dunn.
Somehow, though, Stuart Scott presented the turning point of the game this way on Sunday night:
“The key play in the game, with Baylor up 59-57 – a questionable offensive charge on Baylor. If the call had gone the other way, Duke’s Brian Zoubek would’ve fouled out. Instead, the ball went the other way. Duke scored 15 of the last 18 points and they go to their first Final Four since 2004.”
Well, yeah…and if my aunt had man parts, she’d be my uncle. Scott’s point? Oh…if…if…
Here’s what actually happened…
Baylor’s Quincy Acy dunked to give the Bears a 59-57 lead with 5 minutes, 7 seconds to play. Ekpe Udoh blocked a shot at 4:48 and Anthony Jones grabbed a defensive rebound.
The ball got to Acy on the right wing, about 12 feet from the hoop. He drove to the hoop. The massive Zoubek slid toward the baseline. There was a collision. Zoubek fell backward. Acy was called for an offensive foul.
If it had been a foul on Zoubek, it would’ve been his fifth foul. That doesn’t make it the key play in the game How controversial was the call? Well, CBS showed the replay once and while Zoubek’s upper body was turned sideways, his feet were planted. The block-charge is the toughest call in basketball … and Stu Scott wants to paint this one as a game-deciding decision?
There was 4:37 left in regulation when Acy collided with Zoubek. Baylor had time and opportunities to stop Duke and extend the lead and grab the momentum. Zoubek’s impact on the game after that play and before he fouled out with 2:18 left was one defensive rebound.
Scott didn’t let fact get in his way.
Nine seconds after the foul, Duke’s John Scheyer missed a 3-point try. Lance Thomas out-hustled the Bears for an offensive rebound.
There’s your game-changing play … Thomas getting the offensive board.
Well, it led to Kyle Singler passing to Nolan Smith who drained a 3-pointer to give Duke a 60-59 lead with 4:18 remaining.
See how Scott misrepresented things?
First, the foul wasn’t wildly controversial. It was one of thousands of charge-blocks that could’ve gone either way and CBS didn’t think enough of it to really feature it.
Second, Duke shot and missed on the ensuing possession. Baylor had a chance to make the call on Acy a non-factor completely. The Bears didn’t get the rebound. Nobody believes they let Thomas grab the ball because they were thinking about the block-charge call. Well, Scott does, obviously.
Baylor came back and took a 61-60 lead on Ekpe Udoh’s hoop. The key play in the game was actually the key play in Stuart Scott’s imagination. Baylor led with 3:36 left.
Smith was fouled. He made the first free throw and missed the second.
Guess what? Thomas got another offensive rebound.
Guess what else? Smith made another 3-pointer to give Duke a 64-61 lead with 3:32 left.
Think maybe those offensive rebounds by Thomas were key plays in the game?
Baylor had the ball with a chance to cut the lead or tie – and missed twice. Scheyer hit a 3 and it was 67-61 with 2:37. Zoubek fouled out 19 seconds later.
Thomas got a third offensive board and dunked. Then, he made a free throw to give Duke a 70-62 lead. Was Scott saying that a Baylor team that rose from the ashes under brilliant young coach Scott Drew collapsed after the block-charge call on Acy? He should try his lame-brained theory on Drew. The coach would laugh him out of his office.
The gut shot for Baylor came after Singler stole the ball. Scheyer wound up with it, double-teamed in front of the Duke bench. The guard called a timeout, then wrestled himself clear of Acy and another defender with 1:19 to go.
If Acy walked away, Duke had to inbound, up eight. Instead, Acy reached around Smith and pushed Scheyer – in plain view of the officials and the TV cameras. Smith backed away. Scheyer looked at the officials as if to say, “You saw that, right?”
Hate Duke. Despise the Blue Devils. But, the fact is that Scheyer shouted for the timeout and teammates signaled for it. Once it was granted, the defenders took a couple more swipes at Scheyer and he pulled free. Scheyer didn’t instigate anything.
A technical foul led to two Scheyer free throws and a 10-point lead.
Scott demeans Baylor’s effort with his junk. He, probably purposefully, tries to get folks to look past the fact that Duke made nine of its last 11 free throws – with Baylor responding to make every free throw important.
It was a wonderful game. Duke was supposed to be the first No. 1 seed bounced and is the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four. Baylor came within an eyelash of adding an amazing chapter to a storybook season…
…and ESPN’s lead anchor wants to turn it into another “Duke gets all the breaks” story.
Ted Sillanpaa is a newspaper sports writer and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org