Behind the split second that saved Saint Joe's season and ended Cincinnati's

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Octavius Ellis sat in a chair behind the crowd. Troy Caupain crouched over. Farad Cobb held a towel at his chest while Coreontae DeBerry draped one over his head.

All of them were staring at the three men huddled near the tiny screen who were asking the most difficult question: "Did the ball leave Ellis' hands before the clock struck zero?"

If the answer was yes, the Bearcats would have forced overtime in a first-round NCAA tournament game Friday that had gone back and forth but in which they had also trailed by 12 in the second half.

If the answer was no, their season was over.

Cincinnati players stood huddled, flipping their wrists, making the "count it" sign they hoped to see from the officials.

Then the referee made an X and waved his arms out. No good. Didn't count. Saint Joseph's would move on with a 78-76 victory and Cincinnati would take the next flight home.

Towels flew from the Cincinnati bench. Players put their jerseys over their heads. The Saint Joe's fan section erupted and chants of "S-J-U" began to fill Spokane Arena.

Through the entire second half, it seemed to be anyone's game. Saint Joe's put on a 15-2 run to grab a 12-point lead before Cincinnati charged back with a 20-5 spurt of its own to go up three. Seven points from Saint Joe's. Three from Cincinnati to put the Bearcats down one with 1:32 left.

"Saint Joe's shot. Cincinnati blocked it. Layup on the other to put Cincinnati up one," the radio play-by-play people shouted.

An emotional overdose, and it all was ending with this: Good or not? And by the smallest of margins, they decided the shot wasn’t. Saint Joe's turned to its fans, flexed its muscles and felt the thrill.

And 30 feet away, Ellis sat on chair by himself.