Samford coach 'not faulting' refs' critical foul call

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SALT LAKE CITY — Samford coach Bucky McMillan didn’t want to say whether officials were wrong when they called a foul on A.J. Staton-McCray after he attempted to block a dunk by Kansas guard Nic Timberlake.

What the fourth-year coach did say after 13th-seeded Samford fell short of upsetting fourth-seeded Kansas 93-89 on Thursday was that if the block was clean, the Bulldogs would’ve been going the other way, down a point, five on four, with a chance to go to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“That’s how close the game was,” McMillan said. “That’s how well our guys played. What was the maximum we were down? We were down by 22. We’re going to have the ball there with a great opportunity.

“It is what it is.”

Throughout his postgame news conference, a dejected McMillan was careful not to lay blame on the officials.

“I have seen the play,” he said. “I thought A.J. made an incredible play on it, you know what I’m saying? I’m not faulting the call. Some people can see it different ways. But I was really proud of our guys’ ability to go make a play.”

Timberlake said he was “definitely” fouled on the play.

And Kansas coach Bill Self sidestepped discussing the actual foul when asked if he had a good view of the dunk.

“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.”

Samford shot its way back into the game from long distance. The Bulldogs finished with 16 3-pointers, 10 more than the Jayhawks, leading Self to say it was “remarkable” that Kansas won despite the disparity from long range. The Bulldogs hit eight 3-pointers during their comeback from 22 down, which started with about 16 minutes left.

Samford was pesky for most of the game, utilizing a full-court press on makes and misses that McMillan has made the identity of his team. It led to seven steals, which turned into 15 points off turnovers.

“That’s my first experience with Bucky ball,” Self said. “I’d as soon not play against it again for a while.

“It’s a hard game for us with very little depth. You have to play guys the entire game. We knew it’s going to be like that. There’s just never a break in the action where you can catch your breath.”

The Bulldogs couldn’t compete with the Jayhawks’ size. Kansas had 54 points in the paint, spearheaded by center Hunter Dickinson’s 19 points and 20 rebounds. He was one of five Jayhawks in double digits, led by K.J. Adams Jr.’s 20.

The Bulldogs were led by Achor Achor’s 23 points and Jaden Campbell’s 18. Freshman Riley Allenspach had 15 on an unexpected 4-of-4 shooting from 3-point range. He came into the NCAA tournament having made 6-of-25 during the season.

All of Allenspach’s 3s came during Samford’s run to cut its deficit to one point.

That led to the game-deciding play with 14.7 seconds left. Samford had come within one for the second time in a span of five minutes. After the foul call, Timberlake hit both free throws to extend the Jayhawks’ advantage to 92-89. A 3-point attempt from Jermaine Marshall with about six seconds left fell short, and Kansas won a chase to the corner for the possession.

“I think our guys really believed they were going to win,” McMillan said. “I even felt at halftime, if you would have asked me, I was very confident we were going to win. Then when we cut it, we had all the momentum, I thought we’d win.

“When we didn’t win, I was shocked we didn’t win.”

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