By David Rogers. LENOIR, N.C. — It is pure speculation — and maybe even folly — to suggest that a different trio of game officials would have resulted in a different outcome than Hibriten’s 62-49 men’s basketball win over visiting Watauga on Feb. 3.
And yet, when 56 fouls are called, producing 71 free throws, a total of five players fouling out, and a head coach awarded a technical for protesting a questionable call perhaps a bit too cynically, the scorekeepers are excused for having to unpack their slide rules and an abacus, to tally things up after the game.
The irony, of course, is that it was the NCHSAA’s “Appreciation Night” for game officials. Without question, arguably underpaid game officials need to be respected for their service and willingness to endure the sometimes over-the-top criticism. The games could not be played without them. In this case, players, coaches and fans from both sides might well have appreciated a do-over.
The best officiating is when the referees have control of the game but you hardly realize they are there. They won’t be remembered for affecting the outcome.
By calling nit-picking violations away from the ball and letting the big stuff go, like flying elbows cracking into ribs and skulls under the basket or offensive players lowering their shoulders in making contact as they drive into an opposing defender, the Feb. 3 game officials were on the verge of losing control by early in the second quarter. Then, perhaps sensing that they were losing control, they started calling everything big and little, real or imagined (those they suspected had occurred, whether they had or not).
Admittedly, the game officials might well have been intimidated by a vocally abusive, even at times openly hostile home crowd in Panthers Gymnasium, although to be fair there were points where the bewildering calls raised the ire and consternation among the usually reserved and (mostly) polite Watauga supporters, too.
“It was frustrating,” Watauga head coach Bryson Payne said as the gym was emptying afterwards. “I just didn’t feel like we were allowed to play basketball.”
That said, Watauga’s players were missing shots while Hibriten’s took advantage of their opportunities. For the Panthers, Kalen Bowers was good on a pair of 3-pointers en route to a game-high 17 points. Teammate Jay Maxwell was close behind with 16 points, including the only other successful shot from behind the arc.
For Watauga, seven players got in the scorebook for points but only Wyatt Kohout managed double figures, with 14 points. Junior forward Jackson Pryor did yeoman’s work inside, collecting 9 points on the night.
With the loss, Watauga’s season record evens out to 11-11 overall and 4-4 in Northwestern Conference play. With the regular season winding down to a close (only two more games remain to determine the seeding for the conference tournament), the outcome of every game becomes critical.
On Feb. 7, the Pioneers travel to Morganton to play Freedom before returning home to close out the league schedule vs. Ashe County on Feb. 10. Conference tournament play begins on Feb. 14.