Say hello to the greatest basketball comeback in SEC history — and it’s not even close.
On Sunday night, Texas A&M pulled off the miracle of all hoops miracles, overcoming a 12-point deficit in the final 44 seconds to force overtime against Northern Iowa.
For good measure, the 3-seeded Aggies eventually earned the double-overtime victory (92-88), clinching a Sweet 16 matchup with Buddy Hield and 2-seeded Oklahoma. But for the purposes of this column — and hoops history, as we know it — Texas A&M’s actual win humbly runs second to The Comeback during regulation play.
How likely is it for a team to wipe out a 12-point deficit in 40-plus seconds? I’m no mathematician, but …
**You’d have a better chance of running a four-minute mile after a hearty Thanksgiving meal.
**You’d have better odds of draining five consecutive 3-pointers with both hands tied behind the back.
**You’d have a better chance of hitting a hole-in-one on a lengthy par-5 hole.
**You’d have better odds getting hit by lightning — twice in the same day.
And yet, here we are … incredibly lauding Texas A&M (28-8 overall) for being the only SEC team to reach the Sweet 16 round.
ANATOMY OF A COMEBACK
When Northern Iowa forward Jeremy Morgan (team-high 36 points) nailed a free throw with 44 ticks left, the upstart Panthers (who advanced to the Round of 32 on a half-court buzzer-beater from Paul Jesperson) had a seemingly insurmountable 69-57 lead.
And those victory odds were enhanced over the next nine seconds, as A&M scrambled to get a rebound off Alex Caruso’s missed 3-point try. Admon Gilder eventually secured the ball and made a layup with 31 seconds left. But still, do the math:
Needing 13 seconds to get a two-point basket, while down 12 in the final minute, was a formula for defeat.
But that’s when the Aggies took it up a notch:
a) A Gilder steal and subsequent layup from Danuel House (22 points, eight assists) trimmed the deficit to eight.
b) A Jalen Jones steal/dunk put the deficit at six with 21 ticks left.
c) House capitalized on yet another devastating UNI turnover, burying a triple to slice the lead to a suddenly manageable three points.
This put the crowd at Chesapeake Arena (Oklahoma City) in a raucous frenzy. But it was tempered — at least for a moment — after Klint Carlson dunked the ball to bump Northern Iowa’s lead up to five.
d) With little time to spare, Caruso (25 points, nine rebounds) drove to the hoop and manufactured an and-one bucket, knocking the deficit to just two points.
Amid all the chaos, Northern Iowa was still sitting pretty, assuming it could properly inbound the ball … and preferably not under its own basket.
But fate had a different plan for this game. UNI guard Wes Washpun cleanly fielded the entry pass, but quickly surrendered his dribbling advantage. That prompted two A&M defenders to stealthily surround the guard in the left baseline corner.
Now, if Northern Iowa had any remaining timeouts, that would have been the primary strategy to deploy; but Westpun was still flush with options.
He could have quarterback-tossed the ball to the other end, forcing the Aggies to desperately recover it and then reverse course to their basket (wasting precious seconds).
Or, Westpun could have tossed the ball straight up in the air (the goal: hitting the ceiling) — a tactic which might have drained the clock entirely.
e) Instead, the bewildered Westpun attempted to fling the ball off Gilder, who initially avoided the hard bouncing toss, collected the ball and then tallied the game-tying score with 1.9 seconds left.
Officially, A&M gets credit for cultivating a 14-2 run in 44 seconds of play. But in reality, the SEC co-champs from the regular season eradicated a 12-point deficit in 32 seconds.
Here’s something else to behold: The Aggies notched 92 points for the game … with only eight total assists. When does that ever happen?
So, using SEC history as our guide …
Alabama once blew a 16-point halftime lead to South Alabama (remember the Jaguars’ “Peanut Butter and Jelly” guard combo?) in the 1989 NCAA tourney.
During the 1994 regular season, Kentucky wiped out a 31-point deficit against LSU … before rallying for the win.
And what about the 1998 South Region final against Duke? Overcoming an 18-point deficit … against Coach K (above)? Surely, that has to be worth something.
But there’s no comparison here, given A&M’s double-digit deficit, the suffocating time constraints and the enormity of the moment.
The only real question now: Was this the greatest comeback in NCAA tournament history?
With apologies to fans of Illinois (down eight to Arizona in a 2005 regional final, with less than a minute left) and North Carolina State (down seven in overtime to UCLA in 1974 — a comeback victory which halted the Bruins’ seven-year championship streak) … the answer is ‘yes.’
And it’s not even close.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.