On an otherwise average Wednesday, a game between middling men’s basketball teams in a forgettable league developed into a noteworthy national story.
Seriously, how often have you seen both head coaches simultaneously ejected for being too chatty with each other in the heat of battle?
Unless you had a vested interest, why would have anyone bothered investing two hours watching UConn play Tulsa, even though the game had been tagged as the “Rumble in Reynolds?”
Both are already struggling in American Athletic Conference play. This was more or less about avoiding obscurity before the first blizzard blankets each campus.
But if you happened to be channel surfing with 11:40 to play in the Hurricane’s 89-83 win over the Huskies, what you saw would have kept you glued to ESPNews.
Here’s what occurred: Tulsa was leading 61-47 when its coach, Frank Haith, and UConn coach Dan Hurley, got upset and starting yapping at each other at the scorer’s table after Haith questioned a foul call on one of his players.
Taking notice, the officiating crew – Pat Adams, Marques Pettigrew and Bill Ek – took the rare step, in terms of controlling coaches, of hitting each with a technical. Adams made the first call.
So, Hurley, the progeny of a heralded basketball family including father Bob Sr., who coached boys basketball at St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J., for 45 years, and brother, Bob Jr., coach of Arizona State, went over to shake Haith’s hand.
As Hurley was doing so, Pettigrew T’d them up again and pointed them to the door. This did not sit well with Haith and Hurley. After the game, both told the scrum of media around them they felt the officials misread the situation and overreacted by ejecting them.
After the game, the officials offered an explanation to a pool reporter.
“The first double technical fouls on the coaches was for unsportsmanlike conduct, according to the NCAA (on taunting and baiting). The second technicals were for continuing to violate Rule 10, section one, bench decorum. The head coach or any other coach may not be outside the prescribed coaching box except when otherwise permitted by rule. After a warning, for the first violation, a technical foul should be assessed for any subsequent infraction.”
Hurley said his only purpose was to explain to Haith how he felt about UConn not getting equal treatment from the refs after the foul was called on the Tulsa’s DeQuan Jeffries.
“I’ve never seen anything like that. It was surreal. I was interacting with the official,” said Hurley. “Yeah, that was a foul because they (Tulsa) were getting the call all night.’ I was talking to the official, then I was engaged by somebody on the other sideline that said my name, so I turned and looked, kind of a look of surprise. I’ve known Frank a very long time, 15-20 years. I feel as though that situation escalated because of the officials’ handling of it. …(The ejection) was “embarrassing for me, for the university and the conference and it shouldn’t have happened.”
According to the Associated Press, the double-ejection was just the latest example of questionable officiating in AAC games. On Tuesday, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, normally well-mannered even during especially stressful times, was tossed for the first time 426 games
“What they did, they almost penalized a group of kids, and they should be suspended,” said Cronin. “Instead, the league office is monitoring my press conference right now to see if I say anything wrong. That’s the problem with our sport.”
This is not to say Hurley is also an altar boy. He’s an extremely passionate guy, already known in his first season at UConn for his emotional comportment on the sideline. He’d already been tossed from another game this season, a loss to Iowa at Madison Square Garden in November. But this was Haith’s first ejection in 12 years.
“We (Hurley and Heath) were looking to come together and shake hands and show some sportsmanship there,” said Hurley. “But the mishandling of it led to just embarrassment and it looks worse on television. …Even though I feel that’s on the officials and the way they handled it, I’d like to apologize to the university and the fans. It was just bad.”
Heath confirmed that he and Hurley are friends and there was no backstory leading to the confrontation.
“I was just competitive banter,” said Heath. “Both coaches are competitors, both trying to help their team win. I think it started out like that. I don’t think it escalated to both of us being ejected and that’s disappointing,”