By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Tony Caridi sat courtside throughout this tense basketball game, one in which Syracuse, his alma mater, was fighting to get back to No. 1 in the nation, and in which West Virginia University, his employer, fought to just get back on its feet.
It had been a wonderful basketball adventure. Had it been a television show, it would have won an Emmy; a movie, it would have won an Oscar. This was a meal at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a sip from a glass of 1978 Montrachet.
Caridi was into it, his voice echoing across West Virginia, even as fans watched the finish for themselves on ESPNU. Six seconds left, WVU down 2, Deniz Kilicli takes a shot up close and personal, the kind of shot he had missed all game.
This one hit the backboard before a Syracuse hand slipped in there and knocked it away.
Everyone waited. Surely the officials would call the goaltend, but no, it never came.
Caridi was shocked, then took a page out of the Russ Hodges playbook as the Giants’ announcer called Bobby Thomson’s 1951 “Shot Heard Round the World.”
“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! I don’t believe it. They’re going crazy,” shouted Hodges.
“That was goaltending! That was goaltending. That was goaltending. None of the three officials saw it. Absolutely unbelievable. Six eyes and none of them saw it. Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” Caridi shouted.
And to be honest, from Hundred to Martinsburg, from Morgantown to Bluefield, from Keyser to Huntington, the feeling was shared.
“Wow, that’s terrible,” Caridi’s partner in watching this crime, Jay Jacobs, said. “They will be nationally criticized for missing that call.”
Seconds later, his prediction became fact as Twitter heated up with the national columnists speaking their minds.
“Missed goaltending call in WVU-Syracuse game a bad mistake,” ESPN analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas tweeted. “You could see Boeheim tell Huggins he should’ve won the game.”
“Officials wearing meat ponchos at Syracuse. Horrible,” tweeted Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com.
“Let’s go easy on the calls for more replay in college hoops. How about we just settle on calling for better officiating?” tweeted Michael DeCourcy of The Sporting News.
“How fast can West Virginia get to the Big 12? Wow. Kilicli made the play. But the officials did not make the right call,” tweeted Andy Katz of ESPN.com.
And this was all before Bob Huggins had his say. You expected an explosion that would register 8.3 on the Richter Scale, but no. Huggins wasn’t screaming, wasn’t shouting. It was almost as if the life had been sucked out of him by the three blind mice named Hess, Steratore and O’Connell who missed the call.
“Inexcusable,” he said after talking to his team. “The kids played their hearts out.”
He would later say, when meeting with the press and asked if he thought it was goaltending, “Did I think it was? No. I know it was.”
Immediately the conspiracy theorists stepped forward: The Big East was getting its pound of flesh on the Mountaineers for jumping to the Big 12 and suing them along the way.
That, of course, is patently absurd.
These Big East officials aren’t competent enough to pull off a conspiracy.
The officiating simply mirrors the management of the Big East and its commissioner John Marinatto, who has let one of the great conferences in America disintegrate into a coast-to-coast joke.
You might recall last year’s Big East Tournament, the showcase of Big East basketball in Madison Square Garden, when officials Jim Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton stopped officiating before the final buzzer of St. John’s victory over Rutgers, missing calls that could have changed the outcome of the game.
They “voluntarily” withdrew from the remainder of the tournament.
They should have been fired, as should this crew, for there can be no excuse for what happened, no explanation other than incompetency ... unless the conspiracy theory is true.
Now it’s true that WVU missed three other shots in the closing seconds that could have tied or won the game and that Kilicli’s basket would have only tied the game with time for Syracuse to win it, but the fact of the matter is that the outcome as it was reached is as phony as a $3 bill.
The shame is that this was a crucial game for the Mountaineers, one in which they were trying to erase the memory of a disappointing, lackluster performance at St. John’s on Wednesday, one that was so devastating to Huggins that even in the rubble of this defeat he constantly referred back to that game.
Huggins stood before his team moments after the final buzzer and told them how they deserved a better fate and praised their effort, but then added one more thing.
“I did tell them if they played like that Wednesday we wouldn’t be in the shape we’re in.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.