ATLANTA - Chuck Eidson waited for the whistle to blow but never heard it - at least not when he or the rest of South Carolina's basketball team wanted.
Eidson lay sprawled on the floor after a collision with No. 8 Alabama's Maurice Williams resulted in a turnover and a 65-57 Crimson Tide victory Saturday in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
With the game tied at 57, Alabama's Rod Grizzard grabbed the loose ball after Eidson's turnover and passed to guard Antoine Pettway, who missed a layup while being guarded closely by point guard Aaron Lucas.
Official Anthony Jordan blew his whistle, waved off the basket and called a foul on Lucas with 26.3 seconds left, then Crimson Tide forward Kenny Walker followed with a dunk that appeared insignificant.
But appearances were deceiving as 19,127 fans watched at the Georgia Dome. After a brief huddle, officials Tom Lopes, Andre Patillo and Jordan concluded that the basket counted and that Walker, who dunked over Gamecock forward Carlos Powell, would shoot a free throw.
One problem, though: The officials called the foul on forward Rolando Howell, not Powell. Howell happened to be on the other end of the court during the sequence.
Final records indicated the foul was on Powell, but the correction wasn't announced during the game.
Walker, who scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, made the free throw to put Alabama ahead 60-57. The Gamecocks missed their last three shots, all by Powell, and the Crimson Tide (26-6) hit three of four free throws to end the game - but not the interminable confusion.
Lucas said Lopes initially told him the foul occurred on the first shot.
"I understood the call was on the first shot, on the miss by Pettway - which would have been on me, because I was the only guy down there," Lucas said. "Then after they reviewed it or discussed it, it was more or less a foul on the follow."
But no one could explain why the basket counted when the whistle blew before Walker's dunk.
"I think everybody in the arena was confused," said Lucas, whose sixth-seeded Gamecocks were scoreless on their last four possessions after they scored on six straight trips to tie it at 57 with 1:13 left.
Despite considerable attempts to avoid criticizing the officials, Gamecocks coach Dave Odom appeared baffled at the explanation he received.
"I have a hard time with that one, but I'm sure they're right," Odom said. "I hope they're right. I'd feel a lot better about it."
It was difficult for the Gamecocks (18-14), seeded sixth in the Eastern Division, to achieve resolution after their bid for an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament was cut short. Lost in all this was another sterling performance by South Aiken's Tony Kitchings, who scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, both team-highs, and a 15-point effort from Powell.
Kitchings overcame a disappointing regular season by averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds in three tournament games. South Carolina upset Mississippi in the first round and thumped No. 12 Kentucky in the quarterfinals before Saturday's disappointment.
Alabama, the top seed in the West, advanced to play Mississippi State in today's 1 p.m. championship game. The Gamecocks are considered a lock to receive a bid to the National Invitational Tournament. They'll know whom they're playing, where and when late tonight.
Eidson, whose team was 3-of-8 from the free-throw line, was hoping to be playing next week - in the NCAAs, not the NIT.
"I just know that my legs felt like they were on skates," he said of the collision with Williams. "But the way the game was going, I wasn't surprised about a non-call."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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