As I drove to Maryville Travel, where I spend the majority of my time these days, sports talk was alive with darts being shot at the game officials who worked the Missouri – Arkansas men's basketball game Saturday.
I hope Matt Gaarder, the sports reporter at KNIM, isn't upset with me, but I catch his sports report first, then it's on to sports talk. The big controversy, among many, was the clock operator starting the clock too early in the last 5.9 seconds of the game.
If you didn't see it, Arkansas had a two-point lead and Missouri had the ball out-of-bounds on the baseline opposite their basket. The Tigers needed to travel 94 in less than six seconds and score to send the game into overtime or win it out-right with a three-point field goal.
The Arkansas defense screwed up and let Phil Pressey, the Missouri point guard, receive the ball near midcourt. The clock isn't supposed to start until it's touched inbounds. However, the Arkansas clock keeper, an Arkansas employee as pointed out on sports talk, started the clock before it was touched.
The referees caught it, blew their whistle and stopped the play. They reset the clock, but Arkansas reset their defense and Pressey caught it 87 feet from the basket. Missouri failed to score and verbal daggers were thrown at the person running the clock.
Here's a hard truth for Missouri fans, of which my son, Sam, and I are among them. Pressey looked like he was going to grab the ball. He even faked me out and I had a better view on television than the person running the clock. He started to grab it, didn't see any Arkansas defenders near, so he let it bounce toward the Missouri end thinking the clock hadn't started. It was a great move by Pressey.
Pressey is quick and his fakes have fooled many defenders during his collegiate playing days. Now he can be credited with completely fooling the clock keeper. Pressey has taken heat for his poor decisions in close games this year. It will be tough, though, to fault him for letting the ball roll.
Clock keepers have tough jobs. They are treated like Republicans voting for a Democratic proposal. If their work on the clock appears to favor the opposition, they are vilified. If it favors the home team, they are partisan.
Several years ago as I was coaching at Doane College, we had gone into the last two minutes of a game with Midland College with a 10-point lead. Midland was coached by Joanne Bracker, an excellent coach that didn't like me much. The rivalry between the two schools was pretty intense. Midland, the home team scored the next 10 points to tie the game.
Page 2 of 2 - All Doane's momentum was gone. We had the ball at the sideline on our end of the court with six-tenths of a second left. I ran my specialty play that failed miserably. My player, Missy Divis, caught the ball behind the three-point line. A Midland player flew at her, defending the shot.
Divis shot-faked as the girl flew by, and calmly hit the long shot as the buzzer sounded. It was clearly off before the buzzer and definitely took more time than six-tenth of a second. However, what could Coach Bracker do? It was her clock keeper, an employee of the college.
As she walked by the clock keeper, who was trying to hide under the table, she said matter-of-factly so only those around her could hear, "Pretty long six-tenth of a second."
Sometimes the clock keeper has it wrong but the official can screw it up. I was watching a game film between Turman State University women and another conference opponent. I can't remember who they were playing, but the game was tied as the final seconds clicked off.
The Truman post player had the ball behind back court and shot it right as the buzzer sounded. The ball went in and Truman players stormed the court. It was hard to tell if it counted or not, but I think she probably got it off before the buzzer. There was no help with video replay. If there is a question, you go to the clock keeper.
The problem was the Truman post player obviously traveled before she shot the ball. I know what the officials thought, "She can't possible make that shot (about 50 feet) so why blow the whistle?" That thought backfired as the ball met nothing but net.
The problem was solved when the official, Phil, came running in and emphatically disallowed the basket. He said the shot had come after the buzzer which it probably wasn't correct. It was the wrong call with the right outcome, thanks to the courageous decision by Phil.
Of course, the Truman coach thought it was grand larceny and the clock keeper was relieved the decision wasn't on their shoulders. The game was at Truman. That's a tough decision for an employee of Truman. By the way, Truman lost the game in overtime.
If there's any lesson to learn it's the fact if players or coaches can put the blame somewhere else, don't be a score keeper.