Shifting The Focus

Despite a star in the hospital, a broken thumb, the flu, and massive foul trouble the Chandler Wolves took their contest against the Highland Hawks as far as they could until...

According to Chandler Head Coach Jay Troutt Joey Shaw didn't even remember walking off the court Tuesday night. "He walked off under his own power, and that's a good sign, but he's at the hospital now."
With just under six minutes to go in the second quarter Shaw went up for a rebound and hit the floor hard. At first it looked as if Shaw had come down awkwardly on a knee or ankle, and Coach Troutt confirmed that his knee was iced, but it was Shaw's head that took the brunt of the blow when he it the floor. He was unconscious there for a bit, it's a concussion, we think a mild one."

Without their standout Shaw on the way to the hospital it looked as if last night's battle with #5 Highland would be a lopsided one. At the half the Wolves trailed the Hawks 39-30, they were without Shaw, fellow starters Lawrence Westbrook and Justin Thompson were both saddled with three fouls, and to make matters worse the break started with Isaiah Washington throwing up, and as if that wasn't enough Westbrook may have broken his thumb in the first half. "Isaiah has been battling the flu all week, and Lawrence tried to have his thumb taped at half time but it wasn't comfortable so he went without" Troutt said. "I just talked to my team about overcoming adversity, about how this was a chance for them to come together and play as a team."

The night hadn't started well for Chandler, Highland was awarded the ball and two free throws after refs gave Westbrook a technical for dunking in warm-ups, but the team battled and trailed by only one at the end of one. To start the second quarter Highland used a variation of the ‘box and 1' defense to combat Shaw and it seemed to work as Chandler didn't even get a shot off in their first two possessions of the second frame. After Shaw left Chandler was able to tie the game at 29, but then Highland's Riley McCormick buried back to back threes and led Highland on a 9-1 run to end the half.

In the third Chandler used to good ball movement and a healthy dose of senior Ray Lee to stay close, but the situation got dire for the Wolves when Thompson picked up his fourth foul with just under 5:00, and then Westbrook drew his fourth at the 1:45 mark. Westbrook's foul was particularly devastating because he had just scored 8 straight Chandler points and brought his team with three at 50-47. Without Shaw, Westbrook or Thompson in the game, and faced a less than 100% Jackson, McCurdy took over the last minute of the 3rd first laying the ball in on a put back, and then with a monster jam following a McCormick miss.

Not a record by any means, but certainly of note was the officiating. There were 43 fouls called in this game, and neither team was trying to stop the clock. During the final three minutes of the second quarter there were nine fouls called in the final three minutes. It was going both ways, but the refs seemed to have itchy trigger fingers. I say this because the fourth quarter was a disaster for the zebras. It started when Chandler's Jackson went over the back on McCurdy going for a rebound. Good call but as Highland attempted to take the ball out of bounds Highland's Ty Re was called for pushing off sending the ball the other way. As Chandler walked to line to shoot the one on one John Burns was begging the officials to talk to him, and neither would until they realized their mistake. The over the back call on Chandler had put Highland into the bonus, and they should have been shooting a one and one.

The ball had been inbound, play had resumed. The best the officials can do in that situation is apologize, but on this night the two refs decided to give Highland the chance to shoot the free throws. McCurdy stepped to the line and promptly missed the front end of the one and one. No harm done, the refs moved the ball to the other side of the floor and Westbrook made both his free throws. The score was 62-52 but the play seemed to inspire the Wolves and over the next three minutes the lead began to shrink.

A Highland lead that had been as much as 11 in the fourth was being slowly whittled away by the incredible play of Westbrook. Smart basketball this was not, Westbrook was regularly forcing shots up when double and even triple teamed, but they were falling and the momentum had definitely swung in Chandler's direction. With 2:17 left in the game and the score 68-62 Westbrook drove made the basket and again was fouled. Westbrook stepped to the line and as his shot rimmed out Ray Lee collided with McCurdy going for the rebound. The whistle blew and another foul was called. I looked at my notes, wondering how many fouls Lee had, and when I looked up I honestly couldn't believe my eyes. The refs had called the foul on Lee intentional, awarding McCurdy two free throws and then Highland the ball.

Quite simply it is one of the worst calls I have ever seen at any level. Chandler had not been fouling to stop the clock, in fact when Highland went into a stall (with just under 4:00 to play) Chandler had used pressure defense to force back to back turnovers, and cut the lead to four.

Coach Troutt preferred not to comment when asked about the play. He didn't, I will. I have worked as a referee, and one of the first things you learn is that ideally no one should know who you are. The best refs are nameless and faceless. There is no reason to know the ref because they should never affect the outcome of the game. Tuesday night the referees ended the game with two minutes to go. There is no saying that Chandler and Westbrook could have come all the way back. Riley McCormick and Ryan McCurdy were both playing well and they did have the lead, but Chandler was never given the opportunity. The referees had called a tight game all night, and had called it both ways, but in the final minutes, when the game was on the line, the referees not once but twice put themselves in positions where they were directly affecting who won and lost the game.

There is no way of knowing if Chandler could have comeback without their superstar, with key players in foul trouble, and others hurt. But I would have liked to see them get the chance. The good news is that Joey Shaw appears to be okay. He was given a CAT scan around midnight Tuesday night and the doctors said he's going to be fine. He attended school today but Coach Troutt has elected to not practice tonight. "I only carry nine on varsity anyway, and between Lawrence's thumb and Joey's injury I've decided today we're just going to meet and look at scouting reports."

Highland won a tough game, and should be commended. McCormick and McCurdy finished with 24 and 23 respectively, and in no way can anyone fault the Hawks any more than they could fault Chandler for the way the refs called the game. That's the AIA's job and someone needs to talk to these two officials and send them to look at the rule book, and remind them that this game is about the kids, not the men in stripes.

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