Anybody who watched the end of last night's UTEP game against Old Dominion enjoyed a finish that was truly indicative of March Madness. Instead of the Miners celebrating on a last second tip-in by Matt Willms, the game winner was overturned when the officiating crew ruled that the clock started late on the final play. As a result, Old Dominion escaped with a 62-61 win over UTEP in front of 8,663 fans at the Don Haskins Center.

The controversial ending was the second questionable call on the court in the final seconds. On the previous play, the Miners forced a jump ball call and then appeared to have stopped ODU on their final possession until a foul was whistled on Paul Thomas with 2.5 seconds left.

Jorge Salgado/El Paso Inc.
Jorge Salgado/El Paso Inc.
Jorge Salgado/El Paso Inc.

As you can see by the video from Miner Rush and the still shots from Jorge Salgado, Zoran Talley leaned into the Miner sophomore to draw the controversial call. The UTEP coaches had warned the officials prior to the game starting of Talley's tendency to draw fouls. "The foul with [2.5] seconds to go, from our vantage point it looked like a kickout leg and shot," Tim Floyd said after the game.

After a long pass was deflected by Willms out of bounds, UTEP called time out and set up their final play. The game clock started late but nobody on the court was aware of that before Willms' tip-in with 0.1 seconds left. The on-court officials are responsible for starting and stopping the game clock with their Precision Time belt packs that they wear during every game. The clock operator is a backup, just in case the belt packs malfunction during the game.

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The decision by the officials to disallow Willms' tip-in because the clock did not start on time is strange considering the referees are the ones responsible for the game clock. Essentially, they are overturning their call because of their own error. The truth is that if we looked at every game under a microscope and examined when the clock starts and stops, we would probably uncover many errors during 40 minutes of play. That is a result of human error and it should not play a part in reversing a game winning call like last night.

Conference USA did not see it that way, and issued this statement at 2:51pm MT today.

On the final possession of last night’s ODU at UTEP men’s basketball game, the clock did not start when it contacted the player in bounds. From available video and precision timing reports, we are unable to determine if this was a human or technical error.

Regardless of how the error occurred, the officials correctly utilized the replay monitor and two additional timing devices (per Rules 2.7.6, 5.4 and 11.2.1). It was determined that had the clock started when it should have, the final tip would have occurred after time expired, thereby disallowing the basket.

In addition to reviewing the video, reports and the rule book, the Conference office consulted with the NCAA National Coordinator of Officials to confirm that proper protocol for the review was followed.

Of course we would not be talking about any of this if Dominic Artis makes one or both free throws when the Miners were up by one point with 19.5 seconds left to play. Even if UTEP protests the final outcome, C-USA cannot change the final score. They can discipline the officiating crew if they determine that the wrong call was made, but it is doubtful that they will side against the referees. The Miners now need to win tomorrow afternoon's final regular season game against Charlotte in order to secure the four seed and first round bye in next week's C-USA Tournament in Birmingham.