A foul that almost wasn't called resulted in a last-second free throw that caused millions of dollars to change hands in Las Vegas. And this time the sportsbooks took the worst of it.
Duke guard Quinn Cook made one of two free throws with 0.7 seconds remaining, capping the Blue Devils' 63-57 victory over Utah on Friday in Sweet 16 action in Houston. Duke closed as a 5-point favorite at the majority of sportsbooks, which were rooting for the underdog Utes.
"It caused a million-dollar swing with parlay liability, to the bad," MGM vice president of race and sports Jay Rood told ESPN.
With Duke leading 62-57, Cook rebounded a missed 3-pointer from Utah forward Jordan Loveridge with 10 seconds to play. Utah defenders tried to tie up Cook to force a jump ball, but nothing was called, and it appeared time was going to run out. The Utes started walking off the court. The Blue Devils began celebrating. But officials whistled a foul on Utah guard Brandon Taylor as the horn sounded. The refs went to the monitor and put 0.7 seconds back on the clock, before calling players back onto the floor for Cook's free throws. The senior missed the first one but made the second to give Duke a six-point win.
The favored Blue Devils were a popular public bet. Two hours before tipoff, 82 percent of all bets and 77 percent of the money wagered was on Duke at the William Hill sportsbook. Other books reported similar heavy action on the Blue Devils.
"Huge, six figures," William Hill director of trading Nick Bogdanovich said of the swing at his shop. "Public had a very good day."
Las Vegas sportsbook operator CG Technology reported a mid-six-figure swing against the house on Cook's free throw.
John Avello, executive director of the Wynn race and sportsbook and a 20-plus-year veteran bookmaker, said he has become numb to wild endings that affect the spread.
"It's crazy when it happens, but this is like a common occurrence to me now," Avello said. "Whether it's being on the 1-yard line at the Super Bowl or this, it happens so many times, that I'm kind of hardened to it."
All four favorites covered the spread in Friday's action, leading to the sportsbooks' worst night of the tournament. Earlier in the week, the MGM reported taking $100,000 bets on Duke and Louisville, the biggest bets the shop had taken on the tournament to this point. Louisville covered the spread in a 75-65 win over North Carolina State on Friday.
Michigan State's 62-58 win over Oklahoma was particularly ugly for the Westgate SuperBook. Four times more money was wagered on the Spartans than the Sooners at the SuperBook. The Spartans were 1.5-point favorites. Gonzaga also covered the spread in a 74-62 win over UCLA on Friday.
Don't feel too bad for the books, though. Rood said the opening Thursday, when underdogs covered 12 of 16 games, was the greatest start to the NCAA tournament he had experienced.
Favorites are now 27-29 against the spread in the NCAA tournament.
In the two Elite Eight games Sunday, Duke opened as a 2.5-point favorite over Gonzaga, and Michigan State opened as a 2-point favorite over Louisville.