Was it a foul? Samford reacts to ‘terrible call’ after being denied upset of Kansas


Nicolas Timberlake of Kansas swears he got fouled. If he did, Samford’s A.J. Staton-McCray insisted, then “I guess Casper hit him.”

The fourth-seeded Jayhawks took advantage of what looked like a phantom foul in the waning seconds Thursday night that set up two key free throws by Timberlake for a 93-89 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

[2024 Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket]

The 13th-seeded Bulldogs used their frenetic press and deep bench to trim a 22-point deficit to one with less than a minute left. They were trapping KU in the backcourt when Timberlake took a long pass in stride as he was streaking toward the basket.

As he went up to dunk, Staton-McCray came from behind and blocked the shot, appearing to touch nothing but the ball.

The whistle blew and Timberlake calmly made both free throws with 14.7 seconds left to help Bill Self’s team push the lead to three and set up a second-round meeting against Gonzaga.

“I was definitely fouled on the breakaway,” Timberlake said.

Well, maybe not, according to Staton-McCray.

“I feel like it was a great play by me,” he said “Terrible call.”

The debate will play out for about a day back in Lawrence, where bigger things await, but will linger longer in Birmingham, where tiny Samford, champion of the Southern Conference, was denied the first tournament victory in program history.

“I thought A.J. made an incredible play, you know what I’m saying?” Samford coach Bucky McMillan said. “I’m not faulting the call. You can see it different ways. But I was really proud of our guys’ ability to go make a play.”

The call certainly didn’t detract from the game Hunter Dickinson had for Kansas.

Playing with a sleeve on to protect his recently dislocated right shoulder, the KU center finished with 19 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks. KJ Adams Jr., led the Jayhawks with 20 points, while Timberlake finished with 19 after his two game-deciding free throws.

Self’s team came into the tournament slumping — a popular pick to go down early without leading scorer Kevin McCullar Jr. (knee) and having lost four of its last five.

The Jayhawks play on. But the Kansas coach wouldn’t play into the good call-bad call debate.

“I thought Nic attacked the basket well,” Self said. “He’s a much better athlete than what a lot of people think. He attacked it strong, just like he should.”

That he had legs left to do that was a feat, given the way Samford played fullcourt basketball for 40 minutes, slowly wearing down a KU rotation that had essentially been reduced to six players.

Achor Achor had 23 points and eight rebounds for Samford, including a tomahawk jam with 38 seconds that cut the Bulldog deficit to two.

Dickinson then hit Adams with a long pass for a dunk, but Jaden Campbell (18 points) answered with a 3-pointer for the Bulldogs to set up the crazy finish.

Kansas, and the refs, walked off the court to lusty boos from the rowdy Samford contingent, many of whom stuck around, calling up replays of the foul call on their phones.

The Jayhawks won this game, but they were forced to do it Samford’s way. The Bulldogs rushed Kansas into tying its season high with 18 turnovers.

The tradeoff was that Kansas shot 60% from the floor and made this look like a dunk contest at times. Of KU’s 35 field goals, 14 were layups and eight were slams

The biggest shot, though, was the one that didn’t go in by Timberlake.

“I’m not blaming the whistle (but) if there is no whistle, we’re going to have the numbers advantage going the other way to advance to round two,” McMillan said. “That’s how close the game was and that’s how well our guys played when we were down 22.”

UP NEXT

The first tipoff Saturday in Salt Lake City will be at 10:45 a.m. local time between Arizona and Dayton, with the Kansas-Gonzaga matchup to follow. This will mark the third matchup between the programs; they split the last two.

MYSTERY TECH

A technical foul on the Samford bench gave Kansas two easy points in the first half that turned out to be important in a game this close. Samford officials said they weren’t told which coach was slapped with the ‘T,’ which was officially charged to the bench.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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