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Last night’s Kansas-Iowa State game has quickly proved to be the most controversial matchup of the Big XII season, thanks in part to poor officiating down the stretch and Elijah Johnson’s stunning late-game performance. More than anything, today’s announcement that the Big XII will be investigating the officials who called the game has only fanned the flames for disgruntled Iowa State fans. At the time of this article’s publication, 8 of the top 25 spots on reddit.com’s college basketball subreddit are devoted to last night’s showdown. Stories of fans throwing things on the court, at least one fan charging at Bill Self and being apprehended by police, as well as “fans” taking to Twitter to shout racial slurs and offer death threats aimed at Kansas guard Elijah Johnson are just a few of the gross overreactions witnessed in the last 24 hours.

First, let’s start with an admission: The game was poorly officiated. The call that has drawn the most ire from Cyclones fans (the no-call on what was clearly a charge by Elijah Johnson) is more than deserving. It was a textbook offensive foul, and regardless of which way the call went, a whistle should have been blown with that much contact. However, it’s worth noting that it is not Elijah Johnson’s responsibility to blow the whistle in that instance. It’s also worth noting that this probably wasn’t the worst call in the game. That one actually went against Kansas, when Jeff Withey was called for a charge against an Iowa State defender whose feet were not even close to planted. That gave Withey his third foul, forcing the Kansas center to sit for several minutes and dramatically altering Bill Self’s strategy. I assure you, this call had a far greater influence on the game as a whole, though I doubt you’ll hear complaints about it from Iowa State fans. Also, despite the bad calls, Iowa State still finished with an advantage on the foul line. Kansas was called for more personal fouls (22 to 19), and Iowa State attempted more free throws (34 to 27).

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Unfortunately, all of these stats are meaningless, and the controversies of the day have overshadowed one of the best performances in the history of the Big XII conference. Elijah Johnson’s 39 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds should be remembered as one of the best individual efforts of the college basketball season, and maybe the best performance by a Jayhawk since Paul Pierce. 8 of his points came in the final 29 seconds of regulation. He scored 12 of his points in overtime, including an unthinkable sequence in which he missed a layup, got his own rebound, kicked it out to Naadir Tharpe, recognized the shot clock had not reset, swung ten feet outside the three-point line, called for the ball, and buried a 30 foot fadeaway as the shot-clock buzzer sounded. In his own words, he “blacked out” during overtime. It’s no wonder he slammed the ball home as time expired, igniting the frustrations of the home crowd. To his credit, he immediately apologized for the late dunk, stating that he needed to “show better sportsmanship.” Probably so, but then again, I don’t recall anyone having a problem with Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart back-flipping across the Jayhawk at center court in Allen Fieldhouse after securing a win in the most sacred arena in college basketball. Smart never apologized for a far more flamboyant display, and KU fans certainly didn’t use the gesture as an excuse to threaten Marcus Smart or the Oklahoma State players.

More so, the victory was a testament to Bill Self’s coaching prowess and KU’s continuing conference dominance. As Kansas players and fans know, every time KU steps on the court, their opponent is playing the biggest game of their season. Every team is saving their best shot for the Kansas Jayhawks. Last night, Iowa State broke a school record by hitting 17 three pointers in a single game. They completely neutralized Jeff Withey and took him out of the equation on defense (he finished with 0 blocks before fouling out). For Kansas to still find a way to win that game, in front of a crowd like that, is something truly remarkable that has gone entirely unnoticed.

Bad calls or not, Kansas found a way to win an unwinnable game. That is why they have won eight conference titles in a row; it is what separates them from everyone else. And yes, it is why a few calls occasionally go their way. But when Kansas went on a three game losing streak earlier in the season, the last people Bill Self or any of the Kansas players blamed was the refs. So, for the time being, the path to a Big XII conference title still runs through Lawrence. Deal with it.


 


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