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The NCAA admitted on Saturday that its officials missed a basket-interference call late in a competitive second-round tournament game in Salt Lake City. 

An intense second half between 1-seed Gonzaga and 8-seed Northwestern was sent sideways after a sequence of events that changed the direction of the game. 

Gonzaga’s Zach Collins illegally blocked a shot by NU’s Derek Pardon. Collins’ hand was inside the rim, which is a no-no. 

From the NCAA:

“With 4:57 remaining in this evening’s second-round game between Gonzaga and Northwestern, the officials missed a rules violation when a Gonzaga defender put his arm through the rim to block a shot. Rule 9, Section 15 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Book covers Basket Interference and Goaltending. Article 2.a.3 states that basket interference occurs when a player reaches through the basket from below and touches the ball before it enters the cylinder. Replays showed the Gonzaga defender violated this rule, which should have resulted in a scored basket by Northwestern.”

Northwestern coach Chris Collins -- who admitted afterward he was flirting with a technical foul all afternoon -- then scurried onto the floor to object to the missed call. He was slammed with a technical. 

“Subsequently, with 4:54 remaining in the game and based on bench decorum rules outlined in the rules book, a technical foul was assessed to Northwestern head coach Chris Collins for coming on to the floor to argue the non-call while the ball was in play,” the NCAA’s statement reads.

The controversial non-call and then the warranted technical came with less than five minutes remaining in a five-point game amid a double-digit run/comeback by Northwestern. The succeeding four-point swing tilted the outcome in Gonzaga’s favor; Northwestern never got closer than five points, and Gonzaga won 79-73 to advance to the Sweet 16. 

Collins was right to protest. He was wrong to treat the coaches box like a snake pit and run onto the floor to meet the official. He deserved the technical. He has to take the blame for that. But it’s also frustrating to see the officials miss a call like this. Zach Collins’ hand slips up through the netting. This wasn’t close.

Take a closer look. Tough for viewers to see in real time, but the officials need to be on the ball with this.

Here’s Collins’ reaction as he hears the NCAA’s statement for the first time. This was made before he gave his opening statement to the media.

Yep, that’s this tournament’s viral press conference moment. GIF that into eternity. 

After the statement from the NCAA, Collins offered these thoughts from the dais: “I guess with the statement from the NCAA, I’m not sure what all that means. All I know is I’m flying home. But it’s nice. Thank you for the statement. Appreciate it. It should have been a three-point game. And the way we fought it was great. And we fought to the very end. We just came up a little bit too short. And the story of the game was the first half. It’s hard to come back from 22 points, especially against a great team like Gonzaga.”

It’s really unfortunate to have a game turn like this. The energy in Salt Lake City was pulsating through my TV screen. I thought this was even more gripping than the Villanova-Wisconsin game, in part because the wave was cresting for Northwestern. It was an incredible game, and Gonzaga might have been headed to an all-time meltdown. Would the Zags have lost? Not necessarily, but Northwestern’s push was chopped by the missed call and ensuing, deserved technical foul. We can’t ever get through a tournament without some sort of officiating controversy. 

“I mean it would have been a three-point game,” Collins said. “We had all of the momentum. The guy puts his hand through the rim. It’s a very easy call, in my opinion. But it’s an honest mistake. Referees are human beings, they’re here for a reason, because they’re outstanding officials. They made the calls. We have to live with them. Do me in my heart think if Derek gets that call and we cut it to three, we have a great chance to win? Yes, I believe we had a great chance to win if the correct call was made.”

Northwestern’s unforgettable season ends with a sting of doubt, as the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance is tied to a missed call and a wonder of what could have been had the game gone to 63-60 instead of 65-58.