Musketeers one and done before main draw.
Musketeers fall to N.C. State in play-in game in Dayton.
Xavier lost their mojo early on in the 12th-seed play-in game against NC State, and it was all downhill from there.
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DAYTON, OH - MARCH 18: Semaj Christon #0 of the Xavier Musketeers fouls Lennard Freeman #10 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the first half during the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DAYTON, Ohio -- It's petty to argue that a game can be decided by referees alone; that certainly wasn't the case Tuesday night when the Xavier Musketeers lost handily to the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the 12th-seed play-in game of the NCAA Tournament , as a lack of offense that involved all five players, sloppy turnovers, poor and uncharacteristic defensive positioning as a team, terrible hedging of screens and a lack of outside presence ultimately doomed Xavier.
But the inconsistency among the three officiants on the floor set a tone that added another adversity for an already struggling squad to overcome.
Xavier did the little things right early: They got the ball to the post where Matt Stainbrook was having his way with whichever NC State forward tried to guard him. They were patient with their shots. They got T.J. Warren, ACC Player of the Year, in foul trouble. Their defense was hands-in-the-face, just-good-enough to keep it close and force shots from beyond 10 feet. They kept steady when Warren caught fire to lead the Wolfpack on a 10-0 scoring run.
Then, as the game sauntered on, the zebras stepped in. Again. And again. And again.
It was a physical game, on and off the ball, but the level of physicality allowed was all over the charts.
It started early on, but began to rear its ugly head and affect XU when Semaj Christon was called for a charging foul with about 8:30 left in the first half on what would have been Warren's third foul, and undoubtedly an exit from the game for the remainder of the half.
A blocking foul was called five minutes earlier on Justin Martin that was set up much in the same fashion that Christon went to the basket on Warren.
Again, with just 2.7 seconds remaining in the half, Christon drove to the basket, mostly laterally to the hoop, and was called for a charge. Look at this picture and examine the position of the left foot of NC State defender Lennard Freeman: It is off the ground. This does not qualify as a charge, per the rules of college basketball, not to mention the double team of body contact initiated by NC State's defense that caused Christon to move on his axis while in the air.
The trend continued throughout the game on both sides of the ball. Christon drove the lane several other times and went up through blatant contact, but only got the call to go his way once all game. Justin Martin had a handful of shots at the hoop also through arm contact at a 45 degree angle that didn't get a whistle. Dee Davis was all but smothered over the top on almost all of his runs in the key, not to mention the body bumps in the lane. Wolfpack forward BeeJay Anya slapped over the shoulder of a posted up Matt Stainbrook on multiple occasions, and despite picking up four fouls for the game, was frequently given leeway on the contact. NC State hands were all over the center of gravity of anyone who was dribbling across the court at pace.
When the script was flipped, the lightest of body contact was whistled on the other end. There were several instances when Warren drove toward the basket from the perimeter, and when help defense brushed his thigh, the whistle blew. Petty hand-check, reach-in calls were issued that had no affect on offensive direction. Were they actually fouls per league rules? On that end of the court, yes. Not the case at the other basket.
The refs aren't a scapegoat for the terrible team play on offense (.5 assist to turnover ratio), the awful shooting (2-14 from 3-point range, with one of the 3s coming in the closing minutes) and Martin had no business guarding Warren on his own (he made him pay with 25 points), but rarely is there such a direct impact on a team's mental state contributing to the outcome.
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You could see it bubbling after Christon's first foul. He pounded the ball in frustration, and was given a "talking to" by one of the officials. Numerous other times Xavier players threw their recently struck limbs up in the air in frustration after what they conceived to be a foul, but were not agreed with, and as a result of the distraction were slow to get back on defense, leading to an explosive transitional offense for NC State.
Xavier fought back despite the 6th man on the court for the Wolfpack, coming from 10 points down to within 1 (with 2 minutes left in the first half), from 7 down to within 2 (with 15 minutes left, as close as they would get), even drawing to within 6 points with 9 minutes to go, but overcoming the constant calls that weren't going their way proved to be too much. The expression on the faces of the likes of Dee Davis, Martin and Isaiah Philmore were disheartening. They were beat 8 minutes before this game ended, by both NC State and the referees.
Musketeer faithful will be painfully reminded of 2007's tournament loss to Ohio State, when some similar questionable officiating led to a late Buckeye victory, a game which Xavier mostly controlled.