STOVALL: Was classic game spoiled by late call?

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

JONESBORO — So if you were the referee what would you do?

Waning seconds in a top-10 basketball matchup of arguably the area’s top state championship contenders.

You’ve already called several calls like it before. But this one was different because it wasn’t just a footnote in the game. It was a game maker or game breaker.

Ball hangs on the edge of the rim, seemingly on it’s way off. A 6-foot-7 inch Division I college signee who is trained and coached to play above the rim rises up from the floor for the tip in.

It’s good.

Ball game. Cue the student section spilling onto the court. The red and white team celebrating, the blue and gold team protesting.

And all the drama comes to a screeching halt because a man wearing a black and white striped shirt rushes down mid court toward the scorer’s table flailing his arms.

Basket interference, he says. Basket is no good, he says. Blue and gold team’s ball with 0.7 seconds in a game that went into overtime.

Ball game. For real, this time. And the celebration scene that was just five minutes prior was flipped. The celebrators were now the protesters. The protesters, the celebrators.

And if you haven’t guessed by now, the picture I’ve attempted to paint for you was the scene this past Saturday night at Jonesboro when the ninth-ranked Cardinals met the third-ranked Golden Eagles in a regular season battle for the ages.

But the only thing that could’ve tipped you off about this being a regular season game was if you looked at a schedule prior to coming.

The gym was packed. The crowd was electric. The coaches were intense. Playoff atmosphere indeed.

And about Jonesboro head coach Dan Maehlman who said two days before that it was just another game. That win or lose it had no bearing on the future of his team?

Forget about it. Maehlman wanted this one. The evidence of his desire wasn’t just found in his postgame protest of the call that called off Jonesboro’s victory party either.

You could see it in his eyes as he crafted a masterful game plan to slow down Eagle’s Landing and take their talented backcourt of Isaiah Dennis, Trevin Joseph and Eric Wortham out of transition opportunities.

You could see it as he paced his sideline frantically, virtually through the entire game. You could hear it as he barked out instructions to his players, straining to be heard over the high decibel level inside Jonesboro’s gym.

And yes, you could see it as others attempted to help him keep his composure as it became apparent that the fateful basket interference call against Jonesboro’s Duby Okeke would not be reversed.

After the game, he and his players bemoaned the call — not so much as an attack on officiating, but in regret that such a classic high school basketball game seemingly had to come down to an official’s judgment.

Yes, there were other factors that could’ve helped Jonesboro along. Maybe the Cardinals, in their attempt to slow the game down, became too conservative and failed to take further advantage of a hot Patrick Petty.

Perhaps if Okeke hits just one of his free throws that preceded Joseph’s game winning score, we’d be telling a different story.

Lot’s of “what ifs” to be spoken of.

But here’s one more: What if you were that official? Would you have made that call at that point in that game? Especially given the fact that there were other basket interference calls made -- some that were far more certain than the one in question. Not to mention one that might have been missed.

Without the benefit of instant replay, could you walk out of that gym with the realization that you could have single-handedly given a team a game while simultaneously taking it away from another?

Maybe you could. I couldn’t.

I’ve replayed that play in my head a dozen times since Saturday along with my wife who watched it with me. And while I won’t say that there was no chance for interference, I will say that the chance for it wasn’t great enough to risk snatching a game away.

Of course if the ref didn’t make that call, my colleague Brian Paglia would probably be writing a similar column in the Henry Daily Herald.

Here’s hoping that the Region 4-AAAA tournament provides us with an encore of this game.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Find him @gabrielstovall1.