While his colleagues prepared for the postgame show that was minutes away from starting, Charles Barkley stood transfixed while watching the end of the first NCAA men’s basketball semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday.
Auburn’s most famous basketball alum had arrived in Minneapolis, after all, with a dual mission: Contribute to an entertaining CBS pregame and halftime show … and enjoy the ride his team was on.
After Auburn erased a 10-point deficit with five minutes to play, Barkley watched in horror — along with Tigers fans everywhere — as Virginia’s Kyle Guy made three free throws with 0.6 seconds left, giving Virginia a 63-62 victory over Auburn in an ending as dramatic as it was controversial.
Barkley stood stunned for at least 30 seconds, then sat down on the CBS sports set — located directly behind the Virginia student section — and presumably sorted through his emotions and what he would say on the air.
“Brother, I’m sorry,” Ernie Johnson said as the segment began. “I know how much it hurt.”
And guess what? Barkley agreed with the call.
“It might have been a good call. You can’t put yourself in that situation,” he said. “The kid from Virginia, great courage to make all three of those free throws. But I think it was a foul. … My guys played as hard as they could. … It’s just a tough loss. It hurt. It really hurt.”
It marked a dramatic and stunning end for Auburn fans who had waited in anticipation to see how their team would play Saturday in its first-ever Final Four.
“Seize this opportunity,” Barkley told Auburn players during a pep talk. “You ain’t got to do anything different.”
At least nobody will accuse Barkley of being a front-runner.
“The thing about Charles is he was cheering us on, supporting us, texting, calling, even in the years we weren’t very good,” Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said.