Cincinnati became the first visiting team in a decade to win back-to-back games at Koch Arena, courtesy of a 66-55 defeat of Wichita State on Saturday afternoon in front of a national television audience.
But afterward, the discussion wasn’t about adding another intense, 40-minute chapter in a restored rivalry in the American Athletic Conference.
From WSU’s perspective, at least, it revolved around the game’s officiating and more specifically, how a double technical with five minutes remaining turned a two-score game into an 11-point deficit for the Shockers. Even 15 minutes after the game, emotions were running high after WSU had been called for 12 more fouls (26-14) and shot 28 less free throws (35-7) than Cincinnati.
“I felt like the road team today,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
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“I thought the game was mano a mano,” WSU senior Markis McDuffie said. “Every time you’d look up at a timeout, we were either up one or down one. I thought that game was going down to the wire. Two hard-nosed teams just going at it. And then it just got crazy.”
The craziness began with a foul call on WSU’s Jamarius Burton bumping Jarron Cumberland on a drive to the basket with 5:18 remaining and Cincinnati in front 51-46. Cumberland was set to go to the foul line for a 1-and-1 shot.
Instead, Cumberland kept going to the basket after the foul call and WSU freshman Erik Stevenson also jumped to contest the shot. After the foul, Cumberland stared Stevenson down and the two exchanged words. According to Marshall, Stevenson told him that he told Cumberland “I’m not afraid of you.”
Whatever Stevenson said, referee Olandis Poole deemed it worthy of a technical. After Stevenson relayed to Marshall what he said, Marshall ripped into Poole, then Poole’s colleague Marques Pettigrew and finally crew chief Pat Adams before earning a technical foul himself from Adams.
The snap-second decision by Marshall resulted in another technical and another two points for Cincinnati, but he felt like it was justified after the game.
“I felt like at that point, I had to back my player,” Marshall said. “If that’s a technical foul in that type of game with all the chit-chat going on ...
“I hope the whistle was better than I thought it was during the game. When I look at it, I certainly hope it was better than I think it is right now.”
That was as far as Marshall was willing to go in his public criticism of the refereeing crew, although he did share more of his thoughts to an AAC representative who was in attendance after his press conference. On Ken Pomeroy’s web site, Adams is rated as the No. 22 referee in the country, Poole is rated No. 43 and Pettigrew is rated No. 62.
AAC referees have been in the headlines recently after a crew that included both Adams and Pettigrew ejected Connecticut’s Dan Hurley and Tulsa’s Frank Haith at the same time during a game last Wednesday. The night before, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin had been thrown out of a game at home.
“You can write about, you can talk about it,” Marshall answered at the podium when asked about the officiating. “Unfortunately, I can’t. I’d like to.”
But this was not a sudden eruption. It was a slow build for Marshall and his team, who were visibly frustrated with the officials even before the first media timeout. After WSU’s Dexter Dennis was whistled for a foul on a contest of a Cumberland three-pointer, Marshall removed his jacket and tossed it behind the bench.
Frustration only grew when WSU was called for eight of the game’s first 12 fouls. The Shockers trailed 24-23 at halftime, despite Cincinnati holding a 12-3 free-throw advantage.
WSU has been whistled for 22.6 fouls per game in five AAC games, the highest in the conference.
“We tried to defend physical, just like they do,” Marshall said. “We try to do the same stuff. They do a great job of being physical and I guess not fouling. Unfortunately, when we do the same, we foul. We have to learn how not to do that.”
Cronin said he was proud of how Cincinnati handled the physicality of a game on the road.
“Not an easy place to win,” Cronin said. “You can’t get fouled if you don’t play with strength against a aggressive, tough, defensive team (like WSU). You’ve got two choices: Be strong enough with the ball and beat them to loose balls and beat them to rebounds and play with unbelievable intensity or they’re just not going to let you run a play and they’re going to take you out of everything you do.
“There’s a reason why (Marshall) has been winning games for so long. They play with unbelievable toughness.”
But after 35 minutes, WSU’s players and its coach finally reached their breaking point. Although the Shockers rallied twice after the double technical to trim Cincinnati’s lead to six points, they let their emotions get the better of them and robbed themselves of a chance to challenge in what seemed like another thrilling finish to be decided in the final minute.
“It seemed to be an avalanche,” Marshall said. “There’s not much you can tell them. I don’t control that. I don’t have a whistle. We’re all in the same boat. I can’t tell them anything. I feel the same way they do.”
When emotions swell down and the Shockers re-watch the film, they’ll see more reasons than the double-technical as to why they lost. WSU was beaten badly on the boards (Cincinnati held a 32-21 advantage), and the offense was far too stagnant to be successful against a top-notch defense like Cincinnati’s.
Even with McDuffie rescuing WSU with bail-out shots, not even his game-high 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting could lift WSU to anywhere close to average offense. The rest of the Shockers combined for 34 points on 38 shots and 37-percent shooting.
“I don’t think we knew how to feel after that game,” said McDuffie. “I thought we played our hearts out, but things didn’t go our way. It was so weird. It was one of the weirdest games I have played in.”