The ending to Wednesday’s BYU-Utah State caused a small furor in my Twitter feed. A late call by a referee seemingly handed the game to the Cougars while the visiting Aggies got hosed.
Or something along those lines.
Here’s what happened: With 2:10 remaining, Utah State’s Tai Wesley was called for an intentional foul for swinging his elbow and making contact with an opponent. Wesley, the team’s leading scorer, fouled out, and gave BYU a chance to extend its lead to five with the ensuing free throws. It did, and eventually won, 78-72.
The play was significant, but hardly the only crucial free throw. Jimmer Fredette and Noah Hartsock each hit two free throws in the final 25 seconds and BYU converted 13-of-15 in the second half. For the game, the hosts hit 77 percent from the line, while Utah State managed just 58 percent.
“Free throws really made a big difference down the stretch,” said Utah State coach Stew Morrill. “We played physical and the atmosphere made it seem like a midseason game, not the second game of the season. We gave ourselves a chance to win and that makes this a really tough game to lose.”
Did the refs favor the home team? Probably. But the big talking point was Wesley’s foul and the ref who called it, Verne Harris. “Harris cost the Aggies a chance at the win! Gather the mob!” Or something like that.
Thankfully, we have Ken Pomeroy to restore order. (Down, unruly citizens of Logan!)
He ran the numbers, assumed it was the worst call in the history of college hoops and still found that Harris didn’t cost Utah State the game. If anyone did, it was Wesley. I’ll let Ken explain:
The easy part is tackling the foul call. Had there been no call, Utah State would have had the ball down by three with 2:05 left. That gives them a 33.6% chance to win*. With the call, BYU had the ball up 5, and the Aggies chance of winning was 18.3%. Verne Harris contributed 15.3% to BYU’s win. (Pardon the unnecessary precision.) I’m ignoring the fact the foul on Wesley disqualified him which hurt the Aggies’ chances further, but I’m also giving Collinsworth his two free throws. Considering he was a 43% free-throw shooter in his last full college season, that’s quite a gift and something one shouldn’t have expected when the call was made.
A bigger issue were all the missed free throws by Wesley. In five trips to the line, He went one for six, making his impact a loss of 34.4 percent. Because it was such a close game, every free throw affected the outcome.
Nice work, Ken. Morrill said what the different was, and you proved it.