Peppers prevails, despite bad call
Posted: Saturday March 25, 2000 10:22 PM
By Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated
AUSTIN - There's a kind of voyeuristic pleasure in watching a ref who has whistled a really, really bad call. A call that you know is wrong, I know is wrong, and every soul in the building knows is wrong, except for the pitiable chump in the piebald pullover who made it.
Allow me to describe the scene courtside during last night's South Regional semifinal between North Carolina and Tennessee. Matters had pushed into the final minute. Carolina had just taken a 66-64 lead after trailing most of the game. Joseph Forte , the Tar Heels' smooth freshman, launched a jumper several seconds before the shot clock was to expire. An air ball, the shot fell well short. But as is his wont, Tar Heels walk-on Julius Peppers plucked the ball out of the air, spun his body smartly, then tossed a shot softly off the glass and through the hoop.
There to save the day, to vouch for truth and justice, was referee Bob Donato . Donato freight-trained onto the scene, tapping the palm of his hand to his pompadour like someone auditioning a silly walk for a Monty Python skit. No basket! Shot-clock violation!
It was a call so irremediably wrong that everyone in the Frank Erwin Center here felt sorry for Donato, including, at some level of their choleric consciousness, the North Carolina fans, incensed at him for having made the call in the first place.
At the CBS broadcast station to my right, Dick Enberg and James Worthy cued up the replay. A scrum of sportswriters formed around them, hoping to confirm what they already knew -- that Peppers had put up his bank shot a good half-second before the buzzer sounded. Worthy, not an entirely disinterested party, given his place in the Chapel Hill pantheon -- wasn't beyond making the two-fingers-down gesture, signaling to the assembled that the basket should have counted.
Right behind Enberg and Worthy, wedged into a seat next to NCAA grand pooh-bah Ced Dempsey , tournament officiating supervisor Hank Nichols shook his head dolefully.
For minutes, from the light-blue tribunes beyond Dempsey and Nichols, a cascade of boos tumbled Donato's way.
No harm done, as it happened: Carolina pulled away from Tennessee, winning 74-69. Peppers struck just the right grace notes in the locker room afterward.
"I knew it was off in time," he said. "But you get some calls, and you don't get others. It's all in the game."
Easy for Peppers to say, seeing as he had more or less won the game just the same, subbing for Brendan Haywood , who had prematurely fouled out. Peppers plucked every critical rebound, subdued Tennessee freshman Ron Slay down the stretch, and led the Tar Heels to the unlikeliest of Elite Eight berths, one made all the sweeter by Duke's sudden exit in the East only hours earlier.
If he were to view the tape, even Donato would probably join in the raspberries, seconding Peppers' comment: You get some calls, and you don't get others. It's all in the game.
Alexander Wolff is a Sports Illustrated senior writer. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer.