ATHENS — Georgia sophomore star Nicolas Claxton might still be in shock after seeing his team fight back from 17 points down only to lose on a free-throw with 0.5 seconds left on Wednesday night.
The calls in the final minutes of the game that went against UGA were controversial enough, but the technical whistled on the Bulldogs after a stuffed toy was thrown on the court left more people scratching their heads.
“That was an extremely strange ending,” Claxton said, “and, no, I’ve never lost a game like that.”
Coach Tom Crean was flabbergasted at the call after the small, stuffed bulldog was tossed on the floor by an unidentified fan and led to a pivotal and delayed whistle in Georgia’s 68-67 defeat.
“I’m 52 years of age, been a head coach for 19 years, been an assistant, been coaching since I was 18 and college since I was 20,” Crean said. “I’ve never seen that. Not without a warning. And certainly without an explanation.”
The New York Times felt the ending newsworthy enough to write about it — not the sort of national headlines Georgia expected when it hired Crean, but certainly an indication UGA’s head coach might have a case to make with the SEC office.
Crean said it was an issue that would be handled and addressed “behind closed doors.”
But for Georgia basketball, it was heartbreak, a seventh-straight loss and 11th consecutive defeat in SEC play.
“Yeah when I hit that shot, I thought we had a good chance of winning the game,” said UGA guard Tyree Crump, whose 3-pointer with 9.3 seconds left tied the game at 67-67 and brought the crowd to life.
“I thought we were going to get a stop and go into overtime and try to win the game in overtime.”
Instead, Mississippi State escaped with its NCAA Tournament hopes intact.
“We were blessed and fortunate,” State coach Ben Howland said.
The 61-year-old veteran Mississippi State coach could only recall one situation remotely similar back when he was at University of California Santa Barbara.
“At UCSB I was an assistant coach (1982-94) and back in the day on Big Monday back with UNLV with (coach) Jerry Tarkanian,” Howland said. “The fans at UCSB on the first score of the game would throw out tortillas so they’d have thousands of tortillas sailing like frisbees.
“Then they outlawed that and said every time you do that it was a technical, but it was done for a number of times, but that’s the only time I’ve seen anything that I can remember off the top.”