SPOKANE, Wash. -- If Octavius Ellis lays the ball off the glass instead of taking a two-handed dunk, maybe he beats the clock, the game goes into overtime and the Cincinnati Bearcats are still alive in the NCAA Tournament.
But he didn't. And UC lost its West Regional first-round game by a fingertip at the buzzer.
The NCAA released a statement saying Ellis' potential game-tying dunk was "disallowed because the ball was on his fingertips when the clock hit 0.0."
WATCH the video.
UC coach Mick Cronin didn't fault the clockkeeper this time for UC's 78-76 loss to Saint Joseph's Friday night. But Cronin said refs should have called a Saint Joseph's foul on the play.
"I can't tell if Octavius's hands were off the ball or not," Cronin said to Cincinnati media. "I haven't had time to look at it. What I do know for a certainty is that [Saint Joseph's DeAndre'] Bembry whacked him in the back of the head going up at .5 for a 1,000 percent certainty. His head snaps to the left. When (the officials) watched the replay, I'm sure they saw what they missed, so at the worst we should have had two free throws to tie the game. Once again, unfortunate for our kids."
It was the second straight crushing loss for the Bearcats after losing in four overtimes to Connecticut during the American Athletic Conference Tournament. Cronin blamed the clockkeeper and the refs after that game for allowing a UConn 60-footer at the end of the third OT when video clearly showed the clock didn't start right away after the inbounds pass.
This time, the video shows Ellis taking two steps after catching a pass from Troy Caupain with 0.7 on the clock behind the basket. By the time Ellis leaped to dunk and had the ball over the cylinder, the clock read 0.0, and he hadn't released the ball. Officials reviewed the play for several minutes before deciding the ball was not out of Ellis' hands when the red lights flashed on the backboard.
If Ellis had laid it off the glass instead, and it went in, it appears it would have beaten the clock.
A despondent Ellis sat on the stool about 15 feet from the basket for more than 2 minutes after the game. The senior forward wasn't consoled by the fact that he made two big plays in the closing moments - including a block that set up UC's last go-ahead basket with 16 seconds left. He was eventually surrounded by his teammates, put his face in a towel and walked off the court.
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli and many of the Hawks' players came over and patted Ellis on the shoulder. They knew how Ellis felt.
"In a small way I wish it hadn't ended like that," Martelli said. "I wish it would have ended with Isaiah (Miles) making the 3 and us getting a stop. From what I could see it was the right call."
St. Joseph's took a 78-76 lead in the back-and-forth on Isaiah Miles' 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.
Bembry scored 20 of his 23 points in the first half and Miles finished with 19 to lead eighth-seeded Saint Joseph's (28-7). Freshman Jacob Evans scored 26 points to lead ninth-seeded Cincinnati (22-11).
Saint Joseph's led by 10 at 61-51 midway through the second half, but UC fought back and Ellis' basket cut the lead to 66-62 with eight minutes left.
Evans then hit three straight baskets for the Bearcats: a 3-pointer to tie the score at 66-66, another basket to tie it at 68-68 and then a 3-pointer to put Cincinnati ahead 71-68 with five minutes left.
Back came the Hawks. Consecutive baskets by Bembry and Miles and a 3-pointer by Aaron Brown put Saint Joseph's up 75-71 with 2:33 left. A minute later, a 3 from Farad Cobb trimmed the lead to a single point.
Ellis blocked Brown's shot and Evans picked up the ball and scored on a dunk to put the Bearcats ahead, 76-75, with 16 seconds left, setting the stage for the dramatic 3 from Miles.
Saint Joseph's: The Hawks shot 48.3 percent in the game, compared to 50.9 percent for Cincinnati. ... Saint Joseph's 28-7 record is the second-best in program history, behind the 2004 squad that went 30-2 and reached the Elite Eight.
Cincinnati: Cincinnati made its sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 30th overall.