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LuHi protest dismissed despite Federation’s admission of clerical error

Long Island Lutheran coach John Buck, right, makes

Long Island Lutheran coach John Buck, right, makes his case to officials after his team received a technical foul in Friday's semifinal loss to Stepinac. Credit: Hans Pennink

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Long Island Lutheran boys basketball coach John Buck criticized the New York State Federation on Saturday after it dismissed LuHi’s protest over what a tournament official admitted was a clerical error in the Crusaders’ controversial Class AA semifinal loss to Archbishop Stepinac.

“It shows a lack of courage to set a precedent and correct a mistake,” Buck said.

The error involved the number of timeouts Lutheran called. With 8.3 seconds left, the score tied at 72 and Lutheran in possession of the ball, the Crusaders called a timeout, and Buck and his staff insisted that it was their fifth. But after consulting with courtside scorers, the game officials said it was their sixth — one more than what is allowed — and a two-shot technical foul was assessed. Stepinac converted those free throws, retained possession by rule and made two more free throws after LuHi fouled in desperation on the inbounds pass. The result was a 76-72 Stepinac victory.

Buck said video reviews late Friday night backed up his words, but LuHi’s protest was dismissed by Federation officials after a meeting on Saturday morning. “My interpretation is that we can’t overturn a clerical mistake,” NYSAIS tournament director Jenny Smith said.

Lutheran had hoped its protest would result in the game resuming from the point of the timeout, with the score tied and LuHi in possession. “In the history of the United States, if something is wrong, you stand up for it,” said Buck, who this year became the headmaster of the private school in Brookville,

Buck brought his players back to Cool Insuring Arena Saturday morning, hoping for a chance to replay the final seconds. When their protest was dismissed, the Crusaders participated in a silent on-court protest. The school’s players, coaches and officials lined up along the court between games of the morning doubleheader, linked arms and stood impassively in silence for several minutes until they were asked to leave by Smith.

“This is nothing against Stepinac,” Buck said. “They played a great game and have a great team. This isn’t about me. This is about justice for my six seniors.”

Referring to Buck’s idea of replaying the final 8.3 seconds, Stepinac coach Pat Massaroni said Saturday night, “It would’ve been a really tough situation. It was definitely a little bit of a distraction to begin with. I thought our kids had fought so hard. The biggest thing I told our group is that nothing will take away from the game itself. Everyone is going to go look at the 8.3 seconds, but it was an unbelievable high school basketball game versus a really, really good team.’’

Buck texted Massaroni late Friday or early Saturday, but Massaroni didn’t return the text until later Saturday morning. “John had reached out to me very, very early in the morning — last night into this morning,’’ Massaroni said. “I did reach out back to him when I woke up, but we never had a chance to speak by that point.’’

Lutheran athletic director Todd Huebner, who was with Buck during the morning meeting with Federation officials at the arena, said, “The officials followed protocol, and even though they acknowledged a clerical mistake was made by a person on the book, our protest was not upheld.”

The timeout in question occurred with 5:29 left in the first quarter, according to Buck. “There was a [loose-ball] tie-up and a Stepinac player called a timeout. The PA announcer and the official called it a Stepinac timeout, but it got marked in the book as our timeout,” Buck said.

Buck and Huebner acknowledged that the mistake could have been caught at halftime, when coaches usually confer with the scorer’s table to check on timeouts and personal fouls. “But when you don’t use a timeout in a half, you don’t think you need to check,” Huebner said. “It’s frustrating because the kids suffer. You want the kids to decide the game, not a clerical error.”

Stepinac beat PSAL champion South Shore, 88-76, on Saturday night in the championship game.

Said Buck, “I think the Federation failed our program.”

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