By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Through the years, some Missouri Southern basketball games are remembered by a simple phrase.
There’s the “Winner at Weiser,” Chris Tuggle’s 3-point goal with one second left that gave the Lions an 85-84 victory at Drury and the 1987 NAIA District 16 championship.
And “The Comeback” when the Lions overcame a 28-point deficit in the final 13 minutes to win 86-84 at Pittsburg State on Jan. 11, 2006.
Then there is “The Call.” Yes, that call.
March 23, 2000: Missouri Southern and Metro State were tied at 74 in the waning seconds of their NCAA tournament semifinals in Louisville, Ky. The Lions missed two contested shots in the last 10 seconds before Carlos Escalera was whistled for a loose-ball foul with 1.5 seconds remaining. Shane Ah Matt made one free throw to give the Roadrunners a 75-74 victory.
“I remember everything about that game,” Escalera said in a telephone interview. “I wanted to win. The team we had, we were like a family. We were on a mission. I think about how good we were and how close we were to winning a national championship.”
Lions coach Robert Corn remembers, too, and to this day he has not watched the game film.
“I just can’t bring myself to do it,” he said. “Maybe before I die, I might say ‘put that tape in.’ That might speed up the process.”
The Lions led by nine points with three minutes left in the first half and 40-34 at halftime on Leo Gomes’ field goal at the buzzer. By the way, although the ball was released near the free-throw line, it should have been a 3-pointer because the athletic Gomes left the floor from beyond the arc.
In the second half the Roadrunners’ defensive pressure and drives to the basket produced an eight-point lead with six minutes left. The Lions shot 56 percent for the game but had 21 turnovers to 13 for Metro State. The Roadrunners had a 21-15 advantage in points off turnovers and a 16-10 edge in second-chance points.
Escalera, who led all scorers with 19 points, nailed a trey from the right corner and another from the left side during the Lions’ late comeback, the second one tying the game 74-74 with 52 seconds left.
“Brad Mann gave me the ball in the corner,” Escalera said. “I had a 2 first (he caught the ball straddling the 3-point arc). I knew we needed a 3, and I stepped back to the 3-point line and let it go.”
After Escalera’s trey, Metro State missed a shot, and Osiris Ricardo rebounded with 39 seconds left. The Lions did not call a timeout and worked the clock down below 10 seconds.
Terry Shumpert split two defenders on a move from the left side and got the ball to Ricardo in the middle of the lane, but Ricardo’s shot went off the rim with 6.8 seconds left. Shumpert rebounded on the left side, but his shot was knocked away with 3.7 on the clock. Ah Matt got the ball on the left side of the lane for Metro State and dribbled once before losing control as he fell to the floor and into Escalera’s leg; Escalera was called for a foul.
“The ball went loose,” Escalera said. “I went to get the ball, and the guy from Metro State went to get the ball at the same time. We both collapsed, and they called a foul on me. He kind of elbowed me, too. I know I didn’t foul him. I was trying not to touch him. I was trying to get the ball back and shoot it.”
The foul was called after the officials swallowed their whistles seconds earlier after contact on the shots by Ricardo, who had 16 points, and Shumpert, who had 17 points.
“It was a no-call when they fouled me, so it should have been a no-call on that one,” Shumpert said after the game. “I thought we were going to overtime, but it didn’t go that way.”
“That night, for all of us in the moment, we were crushed,” Blake Bard said. “You are in shock. You’re not sure what really just happened. I remember tears and I remember frustration and I remember hugging and trying to comfort teammates and comfort seniors as they go out. ... You try to balance your emotions. This was an unbelievable ride, a tremendous season (30-3). What was one of the toughest things to swallow was seeing Metro State go on to win the championship by a big margin (97-79 over Kentucky Wesleyan).
“Coach Corn in the postgame interview, that also has carried on with us. The class and the way to handle that situation like Coach Corn did, as an adult now and a parent and someone who has coached a little bit, I can’t imagine how he was able to compose himself like that.”
“Obviously the official thought there was a foul,” Corn said in the press conference. “I think any comments you make about the officials are out of line at this time … 10 minutes after an emotional basketball game. The officials did not beat us in this basketball game. Metro State beat us in this basketball game.”
Now, after a 13-year cooling-off period, “You try to get consistency out of your basketball team, and you want consistency in officiating,” Corn said. “If they are consistent, it’s up to the players and coaches to adjust to how the game is called. If there is no consistency, it’s hard for the players to adjust, it’s hard for the coaches to adjust. And that leads to problems.”
“That was a special team, special season,” Escalera said. “That was the best experience of my life. I love all my teammates. They are like my brothers, and I will always have them in my heart. Even though we lost, we are champions.”