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About Last Night: Virginia 63, Auburn 62

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It hurts.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Semifinals-Virginia vs Auburn Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

About 14 hours later, it doesn’t really feel all that much better.

My face is a little less hot, and I appreciate all of the righteous indignation on our behalf from basketball dignitaries around the country.

Auburn’s season ended in the most gut-wrenching way in the Final Four, losing to Virginia by a single point. The Cavaliers got three free throws in the final second after Samir Doughty fouled Kyle Guy on the last-second shot. Guy nailed all three and Auburn’s last play fell off the mark.

I can live with the foul call. It was correct. The only issue comes when there aren’t consistent fouls called throughout the game. The same contact was allowed all game long. It’s like a baseball umpire defining a strike zone. You can’t suddenly decide that something’s a strike in the bottom of the ninth when it’s been a ball all game long. That’s what James Breeding did last night on the final play.

What’s a bigger issue is the fact that Ty Jerome should have been called for a double dribble as he came down the court. Auburn led 62-60, Jerome got the ball, dribbled the ball off of his heel near midcourt, had to go back and get the ball, and then started another dribble. The referees missed it. A turnover there gives Auburn the ball with roughly 2 seconds to play, inbounding near midcourt. At worst, there’s a fight for a turnover on the inbound pass, and Virginia gets a mess half-court heave for the win. Most likely, Auburn’s shooting a one-and-one with about a second to play with a chance to ice the game. At best, Auburn gets the ball in and there’s no foul, and the game ends.

Afterward, Charles Barkley was gracious on TV. Shocked, but gracious. He said “I didn’t see the foul call, and if I was reffing the game, there wouldn’t have been a whistle either.” That’s nice, but it’s the job of the referees to make the correct calls. This isn’t a judgment. It’s not up for interpretation. It’s a missed call that cost the Auburn Tigers a berth in the national championship game. It’s black and white. Either it is a double dribble or it isn’t, and last night should’ve been called a turnover.

It sucks.

There’s no recourse either. Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, and Bruce Pearl had to get up and field questions about the game. Samir Doughty had to rain platitudes about the officiating in the locker room when it never should’ve come down to him fouling Kyle Guy.

You know who didn’t have to answer for anything? The officials who missed the call, and that’s wrong. In a perfect world, I’d love to have a system that allows for a review of a play like that. It’s honestly not hard to make the decision.

Okay, under review, it’s a turnover. It’s clear. He double-dribbled. Auburn ball, inbounding here. This time on the clock.

That’s what should happen, but we’re not there yet. In the end, Auburn’s going to be back on the Plains tomorrow night instead of battling Texas Tech for a national championship.

The worst part is that we’re talking about these issues instead of the voracious comeback that Auburn put together to take the late lead. Down 57-47 with less than six minutes to play, it looked over. Virginia had just buried two straight threes to take the first double-digit lead of the game, and the Tigers looked lost. Enter Bryce Brown.

Bryce hit three three-pointers over the next few minutes, with the third putting Auburn on top 59-57. Anfernee McLemore got to the foul line for a one-and-one, and banged home both shots to go up 61-57. The best part? Watch the video below.

Man, that should’ve been the thing that clinched it. For Chuma. They nearly did it for Chuma. And that brings up a partially-satisfying, partially-crushing realization — with Chuma Okeke on the floor, I don’t think there’s much question that Auburn strolls to a national championship. He would’ve been a humongous difference-maker last night with his ability to score all over the floor when the threes weren’t falling. I don’t even want to think about the possibility of playing that game with a fully-operational roster.

However, the big takeaway from all of this is that Bruce Pearl has turned Auburn into a basketball school. Yes, football is king. That’s always going to be the case, but how much attention has been paid to spring football? We on this site have written exactly zero words about spring practice. We’ve gone all out for this run to the Final Four. 212 days until Auburn basketball returns to the court this November.

Now we enter the long offseason. We could have a fantastic outlook for next year. If Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke, Austin Wiley, and Anfernee McLemore decide to return to the Plains next season, then it could be historic. Another 30-win season isn’t out of the question, and the Tigers would be the runaway favorite in the SEC. We could lose all of those guys, though. Add in the loss of Bryce Brown, and the emotional leaders in Horace Spencer and Malik Dunbar, and there are some serious lineup changes that we could see.

Jared/Samir/Chuma/Anfernee/Wiley

Jared/Samir/Danjel/Anfernee/Wiley

J’Von/Samir/Okoro/Danjel/Anfernee

There are endless combinations. I think all of them make a winning combination, but there’s one that could be the absolute killer mix. I hope that all of our guys do what’s best for them and their families, but I also hope that they see how close they got, and how they were able to play, and they decide that there’s even more #UnfinishedBusiness to take care of during the 2019-2020 season.

Hey, the sun rose this morning, and we got even further than any Auburn basketball fans have ever dared to venture. It sucks that the ride has to end, but there will be banners, songs (“We’ve Got Jared”), and unbelievable memories about this season. I’ve never had as much fun with Auburn basketball, and I have to thank all of the rest of the College and Mag staff — Ryan Sterritt, Son of Crow, James Jones, AU Chief, AU Nerd, Drew McCracken, Will McLaughlin, and Josh Dub — for being a part of this ride as well.

We’re not close to being done wrapping up this season, so stay tuned for more, and I guess for some spring football as well.

War Eagle, always.