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Illinois head coach Brad Underwood tore into officials Sunday after guard RJ Melendez was called for a controversial technical foul in the team’s NCAA men’s tournament loss to Houston.
Melendez’s emphatic breakaway slam dunk cut Houston’s lead to just four with less than nine minutes left in the second half of Illinois’ second-round matchup against No. 5 Houston.
As the crowd roared, Melendez hung on the rim to stop his forward movement, but he was given a technical foul by official Brian O’Connell for hanging on the rim too long.
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Underwood deemed the call “deflating” and said it “changes the momentum of the game.” He also noted that the ref told him he shouldn’t have made the call.
“To have that called in that moment?,” Underwood said. “(O’Connell) told me he should never have called it. Maybe it’s personal, I don’t know. To call it like that, when a kid has a head of steam going, 100 mph?”
“Come on. And then to kill momentum like that? Horrible,” the coach added.
The controversial call was also criticized by NBA legend Reggie Miller, who was on color commentary during the broadcast.
“No. No. Absolutely not. I’m sorry,” Miller said. “First of all, his momentum is taking him with him. He has to swing back. You cannot give this young man a technical foul for this. He’s not showing up or anything. Because if he doesn’t (hang on the rim), he’s going to almost kill himself. You’ve got to swing on the rim.”
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Illinois was outscored 22-11 after the call.
Melendez, a freshman from Puerto Rico, told reporters after the game that the official didn’t give him a reason for the technical foul.
“I don’t know what was the problem with that,” Melendez said. “I was going full speed in that transition, so I always thinking about Paul George’s injury, what happened landing on the mat, on the rim, so I just try to hang on, go a bit of rhythm, come back on both feet.”
It was another year of disappointment for the fourth-seeded Fighting Illini (23-10). The team was determined to go farther after being bumped by Loyola Chicago last year, but they couldn’t get past the opening weekend again.
Illinois ended up losing the game 68-53 at PPG Paints Arena. The team shot 34% from the field.
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Houston is on to the Sweet 16.
The Associated Press contributed to this report