Cleanthony Early, that’s who.
But it should have been Tekele Cotton stepping to the line for Wichita State with 41 seconds remaining in its strange-and-getting-stranger game against Illinois State on Sunday night in Bloomington, Ill.
After the much-discussed flagrant kicking foul against ISU’s Jackie Carmichael was called, following several minutes of review, the Redbirds’ Johnny Hill, who had been fouled after the kick, made a pair of free throws to give Illinois State a 67-60 lead.
Then WSU’s Early, an 80 percent free-throw shooter, stepped to the line for the Shockers at the other end of the floor. By this time, nerves were frazzled and focus was obviously unclear. Reportedly, Illinois State coach Dan Muller objected to Early shooting the free throws, but was told by the game officials that a technical foul had been called.
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The flagrant 1 foul that was called against Carmichael is not a technical. It’s treated exactly like a personal foul, except that possession of the basketball stays with the team that was the victim of the flagrant foul.
So Cotton, who took the kick to the chest from Carmichael, should have been the one shooting the free throws. Except he wasn’t.
It was a pretty fortuitous turn of events for the Shockers, considering Cotton is just a 58.6 percent free-throw shooter.
Early, you know, made both free throws to pull WSU to within five. A three-pointer by Demetric Williams capped the possession and cut ISU’s lead to two. Then Early won it with a late three-pointer.
Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin, who suspended official Rick Randall after a highly questionable goal-tending call against WSU during a road loss at Southern Illinois nearly two weeks ago, issued another statement regarding officials today.
“The Missouri Valley Conference has disciplined the basketball game officials for their administration of awarded free throws in the final moments of the Wichita State-Illinois State game on Sunday night at Redbird Arena in Normal, Illinois,” the statement read.
Can you imagine how fans would be reacting today had a similar fate fallen on the Shockers? I can, and it ain’t pretty.
But WSU will take its win.
It’s amazing to me that this situation slipped past the game officials. I’m a little embarrassed it slipped past me. But in all of the confusion of the Carmichael kick, attention to detail was lost.
Perhaps the refs really thought they had called a technical foul. That seems outlandish, though. The crew of David Hall, Paul Janssen and Gerry Pollard has years of experience and has worked hundreds of games.
Whatever the case, this just adds to the crazy finish of a crazy game that will be talked about for years. It’s especially noteworthy because it kept Wichita State, which plays at Indiana State on Tuesday night, in first place by a game over Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference race with just three games remaining for both teams.
Wow, wow, wow.