HOUSTON — Nobody told Dana Kirk and his Memphis State Tigers it was going to be easy, but they never figured their assignment would include having to overcome a phantom basket.
Memphis State did, however, and the Tigers are among the last 16 teams competing for the NCAA title for the fourth straight year. A 67-66 overtime victory Sunday against Alabama Birmingham in the Midwest Regional second round did the trick this time.
Guard Andre Turner hit a 15-foot jumper with six seconds left to send his team to the regional semifinal round Thursday night against Boston College.
Had Memphis State lost by a point, everyone connected with the team would have said the Tigers were beaten by a basket that wasn't a basket.
With 12:20 to play in the first half, Alabama Birmingham's Archie Johnson appeared to dunk the ball. The officiating crew, headed by Hank Nichols of the Atlantic Coast Conference, saw it as a two-pointer. But Kirk, a lot of other people and CBS television cameras saw something else.
Johnson stuck the ball in the hole with so much force that his hands pounded down on the rim and forced it to bend toward the floor. When the rim whipped back into position, the net popped and flipped the ball out.
Kirk protested, but action continued for another minute before he could get Nichols' ear. Nichols then went to the scorer's table where Jimmy Clark, an official who worked the Duke-Boston College game, told him about the fluke. Nichols huddled with the other two officials. Each thought the ball had gone through.
It is rare for an official to comment on a call, but Nichols issued a statement moments after the game, saying: "In the judgment of the referees, it (the ball) went through the basket. If it didn't, it didn't. But we thought that it did at the time."