Bennett: ‘I believe I made a mistake’ at end of NC State loss

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Tony Bennett said Monday that he erred in judgment not to foul NC State’s shooter in the waning seconds of regulation in Friday night’s ACC Tournament semifinals, which allowed the Wolfpack to tie the game and send it into overtime, where State eventually won.

After Virginia’s Isaac McKneely missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 5.3 seconds to play, State rebounded and Michael O’Connell got off a desperation, buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the game into an extra period, tied 58-all.

UVA had three fouls to give, while State had no timeouts remaining. Had Virginia fouled O’Connell multiple times before he could get off a shot, the game would have ended.

One former ACC coach in the arena noted after the game that he would have fouled O’Connell as many as five or six times, even if it had sent him to the free-throw line for two shots, if that’s what it had taken to win the game.

“Look, I believe I made a mistake at the end of the game,” Bennett said during Monday’s “First Four” press conference in Dayton, where Virginia will meet Colorado State on Tuesday night (see related story for game time, TV channel, etc.). Bennett brought up the foul or not-to-foul question without being prompted by media.

“We had decided to not foul — we had fouled a 3-point shooter before and then we talked as a team and said let’s win it with our defense,” Bennett said Monday, explaining the decision. “We got a stop with five seconds left. Didn’t foul. We were up three. Got the rebound. And Isaac went to the line.

“I was going to call timeout but I didn’t want to ice him, but should have. If I could do that over, I should have had the guys at the line and thinking about it now, maybe fouled on that spot because we had some to give.”

Bennett said a lot can happen in the heat of battle, including mistakes, even by coaches.

“Look, all that stuff happens,” Bennett said. “There’s things in games — basketball is a game of mistakes. It’s the team that can knock down those mistakes. When I was talking about knocking down bad habits defensively or offensively, not being perfect, there’s going to be mistakes made.”

Later in the press conference, talking about learning the coaching trade from his father, Dick Bennett at Wisconsin-Green Bay, the University of Wisconsin and Washington State, Tony Bennett noted that coaches can make mistakes like anyone else.

“As coaches, you don’t have all the answers,” Tony Bennett said Monday. “We make mistakes. We screw up and sometimes in the heat of battle, things happen.”