The Pack, by all rights, made enough plays to win. They went on the road, against the No. 1 undefeated team in the country and did enough to win. But defeat was snatched away from them by a combination of their own mistakes in the last minute and the mistakes of the ACC's often over-zealous middle management – the referees.
And just think of what this win could have meant for the Pack. According to most experts, the Pack is still on the outside looking in as far as the NCAA tournament goes. But a win on the road against the best team (at least as far as W-L goes) in the nation – that vaults State over a myriad of other teams and gives them a huge bullet point on its resume going into March.
With that win, the Pack is in the tournament as long as it can finish the season at or above .500 in ACC play. But now the Pack's resume remains unremarkable, likely to get lost in a sea of other bubble teams if it can't put together 10 ACC wins and maybe a little run in the conference tournament.
It's impossible to overstate how much that win would have done for the Pack's resume, or how cruelly the Pack was denied it.
Fans have a tendency to blame refs when they don't deserve the blame – they are an easy target after all. They miss calls, they make mistakes, but for the most part they do their best and it tends to even out. It's a tough, thankless job that you could never pay me enough to do for a living.
Before we even get to the single call that decided the outcome of the game in favor of Syracuse, let's discuss all the calls that lead up to that moment. The referees consistently called touch fouls on NC State on the perimeter – racking up the foul count in favor of Syracuse in what became almost comically ludicrous. The Orange was in the bonus by the 12-minute mark of the half.
Syracuse kept getting points at the line without making any real plays – it wasn't attacking the basket it was just getting calls on the perimeter or off the ball and getting free throws.
And then, with 13.6 seconds left, the officials just straight bailed out Syracuse. Kyle Washington makes what should be a game-winning pass to hit Warren behind the Syracuse press, and Warren lays it in to give the Pack a 3-point lead. That's what should have happened, at a minimum.
Earlier in the game, Warren had a similar play at midcourt that involved perhaps more body contact and there was no whistle... he went in for a dunk.
State should have been up at least three with 13 seconds left on the clock in Syracuse.
But the ACC's middle managers, in this case Mike Stuart, changed the outcome.
Stuart whistled a foul – and maybe there was one there – as Warren was going up for the shot. But instead of giving Warren the basket – a basket that he was in the process of going up for as the foul was being made – Stuart decided that the foul happened on the floor. No basket. And because somehow Syracuse had managed to commit just four fouls to that point while State had committed 17, no free throws.
Syracuse made the worst possible defensive play in the situation, was beat by a perfectly-executed inbounds set, and was rewarded with the best possible outcome by the referees... they were given a foul they would have given anyway with no negative consequence for allowing Warren a clear path to the basket.
The rest, as they say, is history. Barber made the wrong decision after getting the inbounds pass, Syracuse makes a transition lay-up and the Pack's last second effort comes up empty. Pack fans get their hearts ripped out, and this team remains on the wrong side of the bubble and now it has to try to recover in time for two more road games in a row.
So it goes.