Should Tanner Holden's buzzer-beating 3-pointer have counted for Ohio State against Rutgers?

There’s no question that Tanner Holden’s only field goal against Rutgers on Thursday night was Ohio State’s biggest shot in years. When Holden’s 3-point heave from in front of his team’s bench swished through the net to give the No. 25 Buckeyes a 67-66 win, it set off a celebration after the first buzzer-beating win since Evan Turner vanquished Michigan in the 2010 Big Ten tournament.

In the aftermath, though, the question emerged: Should the shot have counted? According to the NCAA rule book, and a statement released one day later by the Big Ten, the answer is no.

With 5 seconds remaining, Ohio State’s Brice Sensabaugh rebounded a missed free throw and passed the ball to point guard Bruce Thornton. Trailing by two points, Thornton tried to push the ball up the court as 6-foot-7 Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell used his length to force the freshman toward the sideline. With the final seconds ticking off and an official trailing him while he tried to toe the line and stay in bounds, Thornton turned the corner just shy of the midcourt line, collected the ball and tossed it forward to Holden.

Ohio State guard Bruce Thornton passes the ball to teammate Tanner Holden, red shoes at left, in the final seconds against Rutgers. Holden hit a 3-pointer to win the game.
Ohio State guard Bruce Thornton passes the ball to teammate Tanner Holden, red shoes at left, in the final seconds against Rutgers. Holden hit a 3-pointer to win the game.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Holden, who had run out of bounds while heading up the court, jumped back in bounds, caught the ball and fired off the winning shot – a violation according to Rule 9, Section 3, Article 1 of the official NCAA rule book.

It states, “A player who steps out of bounds under the player's own volition and then becomes the first player to touch the ball after returning to the playing court has committed a violation.” There is an exception, outlined in Article 1b: “A player whose momentum causes that player to go out of bounds may be the first to touch the ball inbounds if that player reestablishes one foot inbounds prior to touching the ball.”

In a Friday night statement, the Big Ten cited the rule and concluded, "The play should have been stopped, and the ball ruled dead. The officiating crew that was on the court is one of the best in country, but unfortunately missed the call." Roger Ayers, Kipp Kissinger and Larry Scirotto were the officials.

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Since Holden went out of bounds under his own volition and not due to momentum caused by diving for a loose ball, for example, he should not have been permitted to be the first player to touch the ball on Thornton’s pass regardless of if he got at least one foot down before catching the ball.

Ohio State guard Tanner Holden high-fives students after hitting a shot to beat Rutgers.
Ohio State guard Tanner Holden high-fives students after hitting a shot to beat Rutgers.

The situation is not a reviewable play.

“Whether that was the case or not, it’s a live ball,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “Officials are going to make the right call. They’re going to miss some calls. Those things tend to usually even out.”

Ohio State players celebrate a buzzer-beater by Tanner Holden that beat Rutgers.
Ohio State players celebrate a buzzer-beater by Tanner Holden that beat Rutgers.

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said he felt Thornton “clearly” stepped out of bounds before making the pass and said he did not get an explanation from the officiating crew.

“I thought he kind of went out of bounds,” Pikiell said. “I’m not sure. They hit a huge three and won the game. I thought it was (out of bounds) because it was right in front of me. … Again, I’m not sure about the sideline thing. I thought he clearly was, but again, I didn’t see anything.”

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In a postgame interview with The Field of 68 After Dark, Holtmann pointed out that the official was right there to determine if his point guard had stepped out of bounds.

“The other part, we can debate that,” he said. “Did he establish himself back in or not? It’s obviously a tough way to lose. You could argue.”

Former Indiana coach Tom Crean, now a commentator for ESPN, said the official missed the call and also pointed out that McConnell possibly could’ve been called for a foul while defending Thornton.

Tanner Holden celebrates a last-second shot that beat Rutgers.
Tanner Holden celebrates a last-second shot that beat Rutgers.

“I’m sure the Rutgers coaches are going to be beside themselves,” he said. “It’s unfortunate to lose a game that way. I’m sick to my stomach basically for Steve Pikiell. To lose a game that way when you didn’t deserve to lose it that way, that’s really, really tough.”

Asked if he realized he had been out of bounds prior to catching the pass, Holden said, “I was just waiting, seeing what was going to happen. See what was going to unfold. Thankfully they didn’t call it.”

And when a reporter said it appeared Holden had reestablished himself in bounds – a moot point, given the rule – he said, “I was in, yeah. No changing it now.”

He's right. The Buckeyes won, 67-66, handing the Scarlet Knights their first Big Ten loss. Ohio State plays at Rutgers on Jan. 15.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Should Tanner Holden's shot have counted for Ohio State? Probably not