Reflecting on a heartbreaking loss

Stupid is the word that would best describe a miscarriage of officiating justice that could ultimately cost ISU a chance at the NCAA Tournament.

Something stupid happened in the first half of Iowa State's heartbreaking loss at Kansas on Saturday.  Ridiculously stupid.

In a game decided by 15 points, it might have seemed like a trivial matter.  But in a game that went into overtime—and could have possibly vaulted the Cyclones into serious contention for an invitation to the Big Dance—it is anything but a minor point.

Look, I understand that the officials have a difficult job.  It's a profession that I wouldn't want any part of.  I don't even like to officiate our local middle school's tournament games in the spring.  Plus, I find it EXTREMELY difficult to blame an overtime loss on a call that was made—or wasn't made—in the first half.

There are things that you can control…and things that you can't.  If you spend time worrying about those things that you CAN'T control, instead of accepting them for what they are, you're doing yourself a disservice.  Or something.

In fact, I wrote a column on February 8 explaining that ISU's road woes in the Big 12 Conference had very little to do with officiating…but everything to do with the Cyclones' performance in areas such as free throw shooting.

Having said all of that, the call that took place late in the first half at Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday was a joke.  A very bad joke.

Here is a brief rundown of what happened…

1) With 3:13 remaining in the first half, Jared Homan was fouled and went to the line to shoot a pair of free throws.
2) Homan missed his first attempt.  Kansas grabbed the "rebound" and the Jayhawks raced to the other end of the floor, where J.R. Giddens made a three-pointer with 3:07 to play in the first half.
3) The officials recognized that they screwed up and that Homan was supposed to shoot TWO free throws.  So with 3:04 remaining, they allowed the junior center to take another shot (he made it) and awarded Iowa State the ball.
4) The three points that Kansas scored while play should have been dead actually counted.  Seriously.  Those three points counted.

Let me repeat:  While play was supposed to be "dead," there were NINE seconds of action that took place, resulting in three points for Kansas.  A dead ball.  Nine seconds.  Three points.

If this had taken place on any driveway or playground in America, the points would NOT stand…and everyone would understand it.  But that was not the case in Lawrence on Saturday.


OK…pause to think about those unbelievable circumstances and how they may have affected what COULD have been the Cyclones' biggest victory of the season.

Still pausing.

Not feeling any better about it.

I'm not sure that a night or two of sleep is going to cure this one.  Here's the deal: I think the officials might have even been CORRECT on their interpretation of the rulebook, regarding how to handle such a bizarre occurrence.  So, don't be angry with the officials for how they handled the event AFTER it happened.

However, feel free to be upset with the entire crew for being completely asleep at the wheel and not ONE of the officials blowing his whistle to stop the action and bring the Jayhawks back down to the ISU basket for Homan's second free throw attempt.  How does THAT happen?  How can all THREE of the officials be so utterly clueless?

And while you're contemplating your feelings about the officials' lack of…(how to put this?)…game management skills?...presence of mind?...consciousness?... you must add to your frustrations the rule that states that, in this situation, the points should remain on the board.

What could be more stupid than this rule?

Can you name any other sport—at any level—in which something happens while play is supposed to be stopped (or the ball is "dead") and it's not viewed as a CORRECTABLE error?

It's like this rule is saying, "Yes, we know we screwed up and one team gained a tremendous advantage because of it, but you know what…that's just too bad.  So there!"

Apparently, the guy who wrote this portion of the rulebook was the kid who played basketball all through junior high while wearing a collared shirt, a wristwatch and dark socks.  And this was his ONE option to get back at all the people who laughed at him.

Somewhere, he is the one laughing today.

Sadly—and I don't think I'm being TOO extreme here—this single, stupid, nonsensical, incredibly unfair rule might just keep the Iowa State men's basketball team out of the NCAA Tournament this season.  (OK, maybe I'm being a LITTLE extreme.)

I know, I know.  That voice in my head is saying, "Well, you know what?  Maybe if this team would've beaten BAYLOR, then you could complain about some bad luck…but when you lose to a team like that, you've got no room to make excuses.  Not to mention a 31-point loss to Kansas State."

Sure, I understand all that.  But, come on…is it too much to ask for ONE of the officials to know it was a two-shot foul?  Or for the rulebook to incorporate a sense of logic and fairness to each situation that arises?

If EVERY situation in sports were governed with this same type of logic, here are some things we might be seeing on a regular basis…

A) When a team is awarded a two-shot foul and the player misses the first shot, shouldn't his teammates try to quickly grab the "rebound" and make a put-back BEFORE the officials blow their whistles?  Isn't that the same concept at work?  The two points would remain on the board and the player would be able to shoot his second attempt.  Right?

B) During a timeout, wouldn't it be worth it to have two guys sneak out on the floor and have one guy in-bound the ball to the other, who dunks the ball before the officials can stop the action?  Should THAT be worth two points?

C) In baseball, if a batter takes "ball three" he should race to first base.  If he gets there before the home-plate umpire can stop him, it is scored as a walk.

D) When an official sets the ball down on the field in football, if a defensive player can pick it up and run the other way for a touchdown, shouldn't those points count?

E) If a runner is on third base and the batter hits a foul ball out of play, should the run count if the baserunner can score before the umpire rules it a foul ball?
Obviously, I could go on and on.  And so could you.  But, we don't want to.

Instead, we would like to go back to the time when a "dead ball" was a "dead ball."  When there wasn't the ability to just grab the ball and score points when action is not supposed to be allowed.  Those were the days, weren't they?

Free-throw shooting still painful for the Cyclones

While I couldn't believe the set of circumstances that took place between Homan's free throws on Saturday, I can't help but think that if he had simply MADE the first free throw, it would never have happened.

Maybe that's crazy talk, I don't know.  But, it just pains me to watch a Division 1 college basketball team fare so poorly at the free-throw line…as ISU has done so regularly on the road.  Ugh.  Frankly, if you can't stand at the free-throw line and make 65 to 70% of your attempts—whether you're playing in Ames or Timbuktoo—I'm not sure you have any room to complain about ANYTHING.

Take a quick look at how some of the Cyclones are shooting free throws on the road during Big 12 action this season…

Jackson Vroman: 13 of 27 (48%)
Jared Homan: 5 of 17 (29%)
Damion Staple: 4 of 10 (40%)

In other words, the Iowa State front-line is shooting a combined 22 of 54 (41%) on the road during conference play.  That's a killer, my friends.

While the action that took place during a dead ball was a ridiculous mess that GAVE the Jayhawks an extra three points, the "what ifs" rest largely on the Cyclones' shoulders.  For example…

What if Homan MADE that first free throw with 3:13 remaining in the first half?
What if Vroman had made just FOUR of his eight free-throw attempts in regulation?  The senior post was 3 for 8 in the first 40 minutes.
What if Curtis Stinson had MADE his second free-throw attempt with 40 seconds remaining in regulation?  It would've given ISU a four-point lead.

Iowa State greatly improves its rebounding

As I mentioned in my column a couple of days ago, for the Cyclones to end this Big 12 road losing streak, they need to do a much better job on the glass.  On Saturday in Lawrence, they did just that.

For the first time this season, Iowa State out-rebounded a Big 12 opponent on the road (57 to 50).  Not coincidentally, this was the closest the Cyclones have come to winning a Big 12 game away from Ames.

Obviously, Vroman played a HUUUGE role in getting that mission accomplished, as the 6-10 senior grabbed 19 rebounds.  But, this was also a TEAM effort, as four other Cyclones had at least five boards.

Hopefully, ISU can continue that type of effort as the regular season comes to a close.  If so, I believe we'll see an end to the road losing streak very soon.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site You can e-mail him at

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