SALT LAKE CITY — Like any college basketball coach, Chris Collins can show a lot of emotion toward officials during a game.
But late in Saturday's NCAA tournament matchup with Gonzaga, Collins saw a Gonzaga defender stick his arm through the basket to block a shot and heard no whistle, prompting a special kind of reaction.
Collins ran out on to the court while play was going on and started screaming at the official, earning himself a technical foul in the process.
"I wasn't trying to get a technical," Collins said after the game ended in a 79-73 loss for Northwestern and the team's elimination from the NCAA tournament. "I saw someone go through the rim and block a shot. I've been playing basketball since I was five years old. To me that's a goaltend. And I saw it. So the game kept going on, I got excited. I wasn't doing anything other than reacting to something that I saw blatantly."
Collins took tons of heat on social media for what ended up a pretty costly technical foul.
Northwestern had scored six straight to cut what had at one point been a 20-point second-half deficit all the way down to five. The pro-Cats crowd was going nuts, cranking up the volume as all the momentum was on Northwestern's side. But the missed goaltend plus the two free throws Gonzaga hit off the technical foul turned what could've been a three-point game into a seven-point game, and the Bulldogs never led by fewer than five the remainder of the game.
"It was disappointing because we were still in the game," Northwestern point guard Bryant McIntosh said. "You don't fault him for it. It was a missed call. Looking back, I understand it. He did, he lost his mind. You can't fault him for it. But it was just, 'No, we're in the game, don't,' but it's part of it. You can't fault him because he's standing up for us at the end of the day. Can't be too upset with that."
The NCAA released a statement after the game admitting that the officials missed the goaltend, not that there needed to be official messaging for people to know that.
And while the sequence came at a critical juncture, with the Cats making a huge run to erase a gargantuan lead, it would still be foolish to suggest that it was what determined the outcome.
Northwestern was abysmal on the offensive end in the first half, trailing by as many as 22 during the opening 20 minutes and by 18 at halftime. The best way to avoid the game turning on one late sequence would've been to not have dug such a deep hole in the first place.
But, yes, it's also not difficult to imagine the game ending differently had the missed call and the technical foul not happened.
"I thought we were in a great position, and I really felt if we got that bucket to cut it to three, there was four minutes to go, the crowd was into it, I thought we were in a great rhythm, we had a lot of momentum. I thought we were going to win, I really did, all the way until the last minute," Collins said. "I really thought our guys were going to find a way because that's the way we've been all year."
Despite mocking a shocked face throughout a reading of the NCAA's statement during his postgame press conference, Collins also said that he had to live with the calls — and the lack of calls — made by the officials, even if he wasn't quite through with his sarcasm.
"It's a very easy call, in my opinion. But it's an honest mistake," Collins said. "Referees are human beings, they're here for a reason, because they're outstanding officials. They made the calls. We have to live with them.
"They made the calls. It is what it is. They issued a statement. I appreciate the apology. It makes me feel great."