Instead, the referee pointed out his arm signaling a charge, waving off what would've given Coleman two points and a trip to the line with a chance for Notre Dame-Fairfield to tie Kolbe Cathedral with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
It was a fitting finish for Gardner, who did a little bit of everything on his way to a game-high 21 points in the Cougars' 76-66 win at the Pitt Center Wednesday night.
"I thought it was going to be a defensive foul," Gardner said. "When he put his arms out, I was like, `Yes, our ball.'"
The Cougars (1-0) led by as many as nine points late in the fourth quarter before a spirited Lancers' comeback attempt spearheaded by Danny Upchurch. The senior guard scored the final of his team-high 20 points with a pair of free throws with 2:02 left, cutting the Kolbe lead to 69-66. Upchurch then leapt to intercept a long pass and fed it up court to Coleman, who collided with Gardner and was called for the charge.
On the next Kolbe possession, Gardner traveled. Coleman again cut to the basket only to have his shot swatted away in traffic, ending the late rally.
"We didn't get (the calls). That's part of the breaks," Notre Dame coach Vinny Laczkoski said. "We dug ourselves a hole and that was difficult to get out of. The kids, as you can see, don't give up."
Wednesday's game was the first of the new season for Kolbe after its contest scheduled for last Saturday against Stratford was postponed due to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. There was a 26-second moment of silence before tip-off to recognize the victims of the tragic event in Newtown.
"It was worth the wait," Kolbe coach Chris Smith said. "We had a whole two weeks of practice and my guys were anxious to play, but I didn't know what I was going to get out of them. We lost five seniors. We're trying to develop leaders."
Smith might have found one in the form of Gardner, an athletic 6-foot-3 junior forward with strong ball-handling skills.
Gardner set the tone early with 10 points in the first quarter. He finished with 10 rebounds, four blocks and three assists to go along with his 21 points.
"I feel like I can be a leader," he said. "I have a bigger role this year. Coach told me I had to step up and I did that tonight."
After a slow start, Notre Dame (1-1) got back into the game and tied it at 34-34 early in the third on a pair of free throws by Kevin Laing.
The Cougars found breathing room later in the third, again with an incident under the hoop between Coleman and Gardner. This time Coleman appeared to have a lay-up only for Gardner to block it into the rim. The Lancers protested for a goaltending call.
Seconds later on the other end, Hill drained a 3-pointer and was fouled. The four-point play made it 49-42.
KOLBE CATHEDRAL (1-0)
Jordan Tompkins 0 2-2 2 Jawon Pringle 0 0-0 0 Tyler Underwood 2 0-0 4 Donnell Stephenson 3 1-2 7 Ian Gardner 7 7-9 21 Chris Williams 8 0-0 17 Maurice Hill 4 4-7 15 Taivon Jones 2 5-6 9 Totals: 26 19-26 76
Dan Upchurch 5 8-15 20 Joe Mangiamele 1 0-0 5 C.J. Davidson 5 0-1 11 Kevin Laing 3 1-1 7 Jalen Jennings 2 4-6 6 Earl Coleman 6 2-4 14 Dante Peeler 1 1-1 3 Totals: 24 14-26 66
KOLBE CATHEDRAL 18 12 2323--76
ND-FAIRFIELD 12 19 13 22--66
3-pointers: KC--Hill 3, Williams; ND--Upchurch 2, Davidson, Mangiamele
Fouled out: ND--Coleman