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Zach Pekale | | July 7, 2020

9 of the craziest comebacks in NCAA college basketball history

Relive Drexel basketball's record rally against Delaware

Only three teams in NCAA Division I history have overcome a deficit of 30 or more points to win. Drexel was the last to do it, setting an NCAA record after rallying from 34 points down to stun Delaware in Feb. 2018. But the wild unpredictability of college basketball doesn't stop there. Teams have made headlines for comebacks of all shapes and sizes. These are 9 of the craziest:

Largest deficit overcome to win — Drexel vs. Delaware on Feb. 22, 2018 (34 points)

The situation: Drexel, riding a four-game losing streak, appeared to be heading for a fifth against Delaware. The Dragons went more than five minutes between their first and second field goals of the game, staring at a 22-point deficit by the under-12 official timeout. In the closing minutes of the half, the hole had deepened to 34 points as Delaware shot 62 percent from the floor and 63 percent from 3.

The result: Enter Tramaine Isabell. The junior sparked new life into Drexel while nearly outscoring Delaware by himself in the second half. Isabell dropped 22 points and six assists against one turnover in the half as the Dragons' field goal percentage surged to 57 percent, closing the game on a 22-6 run. Isabell had seven of the Dragons' last nine points over the final 3:50, including the game-winning free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining. He finished an assist shy of a triple-double as he willed the Dragons to an 85-83 win.

Largest halftime deficit overcome to win — Duke vs. Tulane on Dec. 30, 1950 (29 points)

The situation: Trailing Tulane by three points in the first half of the 1950 Dixie Classic, Duke went cold from the floor for more than seven minutes. During that time, the Green Wave's lead ballooned to 25 points and topped out at 29 by halftime.

The result:  Before Drexel's monumental rally 68 years later, Duke held the record for college basketball's largest comeback. The Blue Devils trimmed the lead to 20 with eight minutes to go before Dick Groat took over. Groat netted 24 of his 32 points in the second half, including 12 in the last four minutes. Fatigue may have affected Tulane, which attempted 105 shots for the game. The Green Wave struggled to find the bottom of the net over the last 10 minutes as Groat leveled the game at 72 before Dayton Allen put in the game-winning shot.

Largest second half deficit overcome to win — Kentucky vs. LSU on Feb. 15, 1994 and Duke vs. Tulane on Dec. 30, 1950 (31 points)

The situation: LSU led Kentucky by 16 points at the half in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A massive run to open the second half put the Tigers ahead 31 points less than five minutes into the period.

The result: Kentucky began to fire away from deep, closing the gap by connecting on 12 of 23 triples in the second half. After falling behind 31, UK scored 24 of the next 28 points. LSU, despite missing 11 free throws over the final 12 minutes, pushed the lead back to five in the closing minutes before Tony Delk and Walter McCarty nailed back-to-back 3-pointers that put the Wildcats in front. McCarty finished with a team-high 23 points while Travis Ford added 10 points and 12 assists in Kentucky's 99-95 win.

Largest deficit overcome to win with under 5 minutes to play — Nevada vs. New Mexico on Jan. 7, 2017 (19 points, OT)

The situation: New Mexico's Elijah Brown split a pair of second-half free throws, putting the Lobos up 19 points at home over Nevada with 4:27 to play.

The result: Short answer? Jordan Caroline happened. The sophomore had 32 points of Nevada's 63 in the second half, not to mention a game-winning 3 in the closing seconds of overtime. Missed opportunities played a role in this game as well. In addition to Brown's previously mentioned free throws, UNM went 6-for-15 from the line in the final five minutes. In that same timeframe, Nevada drilled eight 3-point shots — four from Marcus Marshall and two by Caroline — to erase the deficit and force the extra period. With the Wolfpack down in the closing seconds of overtime, Brown split another pair of free throws before Caroline buried a 3 for a 105-104 win.

Largest deficit overcome to win with under 1 minute to play — Texas A&M vs. Northern Iowa on March 20, 2016 (12 points, 2OT)

The situation: No. 11 seed Northern Iowa leads No. 3 seed Texas A&M 69-57 with 44 seconds to go in the second round of the 2016 NCAA tournament. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Aggies had just a 0.04 percent chance of winning the game.

The result: Anarchy. Jeremy Morgan pushed the lead to 12 points with a pair of made free throws before Texas A&M roared back in a way few could predict. Admon Gilder started to rally with a layup and a steal, the first of four UNI turnovers in the final minute and the beginning of the Aggies' stifling full-court trap.

Out of an A&M timeout, Jalen Jones stole the inbounds pass and flushed it, cutting the lead to six before a Danuel House 3-pointer made it a one-possession game. The Panthers scored once more, but Alex Caruso answered with a 3-point play and Gilder picked up another steal along the baseline before tying the game at 71. The game needed double overtime to be decided. But the Aggies had momentum and history on their side, advancing 92-88 into the Sweet Sixteen.

Largest deficit overcome to win with under 20 seconds to play — UNLV vs. San Diego State on Feb. 12, 2005 (10 points, OT)

The situation: UNLV, riding a three-game winning streak, trails 81-71 at San Diego State with less than 20 seconds to play.

The result: Odarty Blankson — who finished with a game-high 23 points — started a rally with five quick points, first putting back an offensive rebound before a quick change of possession and a foul while attempting a 3-pointer. With the deficit halved and 13.6 seconds to play, SDSU's Trimaine Davis missed a pair of free throws and Jerel Blassingame buried a triple. SDSU had one more opportunity to push its lead back to two possessions but Davis split free throws, allowing Curtis Terry to get up the floor and knock down an off-balance 3 as time expired. UNLV used that momentum to win 93-91 in overtime. 

Largest deficit overcome to win with under 1 minute left in overtime — New Mexico State vs. New Mexico on Dec. 11, 1993 (7 points, 2OT)

The situation: New Mexico State trailed New Mexico by nine points in the final minute of regulation. After forcing overtime, NMSU found itself down seven points with 47 seconds to play.

The result: Keith Johnson's 26 points helped New Mexico State extend the game before fouling out in the first overtime. Without its leading scorer and a seven-point hole to close, NMSU turned to Corey Rogers, Skip McCoy and Lance Jackson as each drilled a 3-pointer in the final 40 seconds to force a second extra period. Jackson — who also tied the game late in regulation — took over in double overtime, scoring seven of his 18 points in the period as the Aggies won 112-104.

Largest deficit overcome to win before scoring — New Mexico State vs. Bradley on Jan. 27, 1977 (28 points)

The situation: New Mexico State was held scoreless for the first six-plus minutes of its 1977 game against Bradley as the Braves raced out to a 28-0 lead.

The result: Notie Pate ended the Aggies' scoring drought with 13:33 to go in the first half and NMSU used two big stretches  — a 17-2 run and a 16-6 run — to trim the deficit to seven points by halftime. Roger Paggley, who finished with 40 points, kept Bradley ahead before Billy Myers pulled the Aggies level with 9:57 to go. In a back-and-forth contest that was tied seven times in the half, NMSU took its first lead with 3:20 remaining on a layup by Richard Robinson and went ahead for good on a Robinson jumper with 1:53 to go. The Aggies pulled off a 36-point turnaround, winning the game 117-109.

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