Friedlander: Controversial game-ending calls, and no-calls, add extra spice to UNC-Duke showdown
Brad Brownell didn’t get to see it live because his team was also playing at the time. But maybe the Clemson basketball coach saw the highlight on SportsCenter afterward.
Or even the morning after.
If he didn’t, he should take the time to go onto social media and check out the video. Because there’s a lesson to be learned from what happened on the final possession of Tuesday night’s game between North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
The takeaway is that while it’s true Duke and North Carolina have a lot of calls go their way, though not nearly as many now as before Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams rode off into the sunset, where the game is played has more of an influence on those decisive end-of-game whistles – or non-whistles – than the teams that are involved.
That’s why it’s called a homecourt advantage.
Case in point: With the clock ticking down its final seconds and his 3rd-ranked Tar Heels trailing the underdog Yellow Jackets by 1, RJ Davis drove hard to the basket.
Just before going up for his shot, he was hip-checked by defender Ebenezer Dowuona (remember him NC State fans?). The contact was so hard that Davis’ head snapped back just before releasing the runner that rimmed out.
It was so glaring that even ESPN’s Jay Williams, a Dukie for crying out loud, was adamant that it was a foul.
YOU MAKE THE CALL: was RJ Davis fouled on the final play? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/92TLeTOLgP
— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) January 31, 2024
If you’re of the belief that there’s a grand conspiracy on the part of the ACC to do everything in its power to help UNC and Duke stay at the top of the league standings and as close to the top of the national polls, as Brownell seemed to suggest last Saturday, the result would have been a no-brainer.
TV Teddy or 1 of his 2 partners would have put the league’s leading scorer and most accurate free throw shooter on the line for the 2 shots that would have given the Tar Heels a 75-74 victory.
Only they didn’t.
The reason is the same one that explains why a different officiating crew did call Clemson’s Josh Beadle for a foul that allowed Duke’s Tyrese Proctor to make his winning free throws in a similar situation 4 days earlier.
Because as previously mentioned, it’s where these things happen that’s important. Not who they happen to.
This is not to suggest that officials deliberately make calls based on where they happen to be working on a given night or that they never make mistakes.
And in the heat of the moment, with only a split second to decide whether they’re going to blow their whistle or not, there isn’t enough time to recognize that RJ Davis needs to be treated differently because he’s a star.
Or to take care of Duke because, well, because it’s Duke.
They’re much more likely to get caught up in the emotion of the moment and make the call that favors the team backed by an arena full of screaming fans.
Not every time, mind you. But more times than not.
Again, it’s why they call it a homecourt advantage.
The best way for a road team to overcome it to follow the advice my dad used to give coaches throughout his career as a referee and umpire working high school and college games in Georgia:
“If you don’t want an official’s call to decide the game, don’t put yourself in a position to have an official’s call decide it.”
UNC could easily have done that by playing better defense and not allowing Tech’s Naithan George to get to the rim for the go-ahead layup on the previous possession. Better yet, don’t squander an 11-point lead in the 1st half or go 2-of-14 on 3-pointers in the 2nd.
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) January 31, 2024
Clemson could have achieved the same goal by not committing 4 turnovers in the final 2 minutes while leading Duke at Cameron.
But the Tigers did while the Tar Heels didn’t.
And both came away with losses.
An unintended consequence of the 2 controversial endings is that they helped add an extra layer of spice to Saturday’s battle of the blue bloods when Duke travels the 8 miles down U.S. 15-501 to take on UNC in Chapel Hill.
As if this matchup needs any more hype than it already gets.
With only 1 game now separating the rivals in the ACC standings, it will truly be a battle for 1st place at the midway point in the conference schedule.
And with the Blue Devils coming off an impressive winning performance at Virginia Tech on Monday and the Tar Heels looking vulnerable after their 1st clunker in over a month, there will be plenty for us all – including the crew from College GameDay – to talk about between now and tipoff.
The line for the game has yet to be set. But as the home team, 3rd-ranked UNC will almost certainly be favored against No. 7 Duke.
Especially if the game comes down to a bang-bang call – or no-call – at the end.