ATHENS - It didn't end up mattering to the final result, but there was a strange ruling at the end of regulation of the Georgia-South Carolina men's basketball game on Saturday.
And the official explanation didn't really clear things up.
There were 8.9 seconds left on the clock after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drained a 3 to tie the game at 54. That's when it got crazy: The clock ran before South Carolina inbounded the ball, which officials didn't notice until after South Carolina's Bruce Ellington missed a 3 at the buzzer.
The officials then went to the video review, as both teams huddled up, figuring there would be overtime. After a lengthy review, the officials decided to put 4.5 seconds back on the clock, and give South Carolina the ball on its own baseline - 94 feet away from the basket it needed to score at.
Again the Gamecocks couldn't score, with Ellington's long heave blocked by Georgia's Charles Mann. And in overtime Georgia pulled away for a 62-54 victory.
But if the Gamecocks had scored on their second chance, the decision to put time on the clock and give the Gamecocks the ball again would have loomed large. Here was the official statement from Anthony Jordan, the officials' crew chief:
"With 8.9 seconds left, the clock was erroneously started during a deadball situation. The difference from 8.9 seconds, when the basket was scored, and the time the South Carolina player received the ball was 4.5 seconds. By rule, it was clearly a correctible-error situation. We put the ball back in play, giving South Carolina the 4.5 seconds it had lost when the clock erroneously ran. The ball was placed on the baseline at the point closest to where he initially received the ball."
It was clear the clock ran when it shouldn't have. However, Jordan's statement didn't answer exactly why:
a) the Gamecocks should receive possession, since Ellington's initial miss was not rebounded by anybody, both teams thinking the game was headed to overtime.
b) if the ball should be put on the baseline because that's where the Gamecocks "initially received the ball," why were 4.5 seconds put back on the clock, instead of a full 8.9, basically doing the play over?
In essence, it appears the officials were splitting the baby.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox seemed confused - though not angry - about the ruling.
"I thought it was the '72 Olympics all over again," Fox said. "Looking back, it made sense to me at the time. Now, hell, I don't know."
UPDATE: Here's an official statement from SEC spokesman Craig Pinkerton:
"With 8.9 seconds left in regulation there was a malfunction involving the clock at the Georgia-South Carolina game. The game clock erroneously started during a dead ball situation. This error was caused by a malfunction of the timing equipment used by officials during the game. The equipment in question is being replaced by the University of Georgia to avoid any further issues. The SEC has reviewed the play in question and is satisfied with the way the officials handled the situation."
As the SEC statement indicates, the clock is actually maintained by the officials on the floor, through equipment that the SEC says Georgia is replacing. Just to clear that up, because there's still a faulty impression that the home scorekeeper is running the clock. That's not the case. ________________________________________