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Commentary: Refs never had control

In the wake of an embarrassing 76-53 loss to Xavier the talk is not about the game, but about a senseless brawl that erupted between the two teams with 9.4 seconds remaining on the clock.

Xavier senior center raises his hands in victory after he recovered from being punched by UC center Yancy Gates. (photo credit: Brian Baker/Lacking Focus Photography)

It was an incident that had been brewing throughout the game and as Xavier started to pull away their guard duo of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons made it a point to aim their trash talk at not only the players on the floor, but in the direction of the Cincinnati bench.

Things finally boiled over as Holloway got in the face of Cincinnati freshman Ge-Lawn Guyn on a dead ball with 9.4 seconds left. As it started to escalate Cronin tried to call a time out to settle down the situation, but it wasn't in time as Guyn put his hands in Holloway's face and Xavier freshman Dez Wells shoved Guyn to incite the brawl.

What happened from there was an embarrassment to the schools, the fans, and the city of Cincinnati that both schools represent.

How it got to that point has got to fall squarely on the shoulders of the three officials that called the game. They had multiple opportunities to take control of the game and defuse the situation, but time and again nothing was done.

The first incident occurred at the end of the first half as Lyons stood in front of the Cincinnati bench on the final possession before the break. Lyons spent the entire trip trash talking the Cincinnati bench, and after the horn there was words exchanged between players on the Cincinnati bench and Lyons.

At that point in an emotional rivalry game, something has to be done by the men in stripes to show they have control of the situation. Instead after a brief look at the monitor it was decided that nothing would be done outside of issuing a warning to Cronin and Xavier coach Chris Mack before play resumed.

With the tone set at that moment, Holloway and Lyons spent the entire 2nd half barking at the Cincinnati bench. Even with Cronin pleading with an official standing right next to the bench, it was not addressed, and allowed bad blood to continue to bubble right at the surface.

While plenty of blame falls on the Xavier players doing the trash talking, the reality is why would they stop if an official standing two feet away not only allows it, but also tells the Cincinnati coach to shut up and sit down when he is pleading his case? It is much easier to be an instigator when an authority figure basically gives you the OK to let it fly with zero consequence.

As for the fight itself, there is no excuse for the actions of several players on both sides. First and foremost for UC it’s supposed senior leader Yancy Gates. What took this from normal basketball scrum with mainly mindless pushing and shoving was Gates landing a haymaker to the eye of Kenny Frease.

If Gates were truly a leader he would have been looking to calm the situation and get his teammates under control. Instead he went right for Frease and threw a viscous right hand that dropped him immediately to the floor. And if that wasn't bad enough, Gates then found another scrum and landed another punch. If the first wasn't bad enough, the video of the second could very well signal the end of Gates career at the University of Cincinnati.

If this is the end for Gates, he has no one to blame but himself. He had the chance to step in and be the leader he has said he was in his final season. Instead he took the easy way out and put not only his, but the entire program's season in danger of total collapse.

Other Bearcats that will likely face at least a single game suspension by NCAA rules are Cheikh Mbodj for kicking Freae while he was down, Ge-Lawn Guyn for his role in the beginning of the fight and Octavius Ellis who was involved on the back side of the action under the basket.

After the game Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons showed their true colors when they all but said they were proud of the fact that there was a brawl and Xavier coach Chris Mack and athletic director Mike Bobinski made it clear that any punishment of their student athletes would be done by officials at the Atlantic 10 Conference and not by the University itself.

Cronin on the other hand took the opposite route and took a hard-line stance that he would meet with Cincinnati AD Whit Babcock and President Gregory Williams to watch the tape and make their own decisions on what level of punishment will be handed out in each situation. The next step will be backing up those strong statements with actions that show Cincinnati is above what happened today, and hoping for the minimum from above would not be tolerated.

All in all it was a horrible black eye for everyone with any ties or allegiance to either school. It is the 4th year in a row something has happened on one side or the other, and this time it wasn't something that can be swept under the rug. As someone that has loved what this rivalry means to the city my entire life I hate to think the series should be stopped, but at what point is it doing more harm than good? After today I am not sure any more.

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