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Andy Wittry | | January 19, 2022

NCAA Video Vault: Down 12, Texas A&M made an epic comeback in the NCAA tournament

Texas A&M basketball's wild comeback in 2016 NCAA tournament

The score was 69-57 and the clock read 44.3 seconds were remaining. No. 11 seed Northern Iowa appeared to be on the precipice of an upset – and an emphatic one at that – of No. 3 seed Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA tournament. It's pretty common for a No. 11 seed to win in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They beat a No. 6 seed roughly 37 percent of the time.

But only 22 No. 11 seeds have ever made the Sweet 16 out of 140, or less than 16 percent, so Northern Iowa was about to achieve something that only happens once every six or seven years, on average.

Then this happened.

Here's how Texas A&M made one of the most unexpected, furious comebacks in men's college basketball history, and it came during the most consequential month in the sport's calendar: March.

Here is a complete breakdown of, well, a complete breakdown.

How did Texas A&M and Northern Iowa get here

Let's set the scene.

Texas A&M, with a roster featuring seven former top-100 high school prospects and four future NBA players, most notably future NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers Alex Caruso, share the SEC's regular-season title with Kentucky in 2016. The two conference foes played twice that season. Texas A&M won the schools' only regular-season meeting in overtime, then the 'Cats defeated the Aggies in the SEC tournament championship game in OT, which gave Texas A&M a 26-8 record and a No. 17 AP poll ranking on Selection Sunday.

In 2016, Texas A&M tied program-bests for its NCAA tournament seed (No. 3) and conference wins (13), it ultimately tied the program's best NCAA tournament finish (the Sweet 16) and its 28 wins were the best the Aggies' men's basketball program has seen.

By any measure, this was one of the two best teams Texas A&M had ever had, along with the '07 Aggies, led by guard Acie Law, which also won 13 conference games (out of 16, then in the Big 12), earned a No. 3 seed and advanced to the Sweet 16.

Texas A&M's opponent that day in March was Northern Iowa, a program which was making its seventh NCAA tournament appearance in 13 seasons – the same number as Texas A&M during that span. In 2015, Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson and the Panthers peaked in the top 10 of the AP poll and ultimately earned a No. 5 seed, a particularly impressive mark for a Missouri Valley Conference team that didn't even win its conference's regular-season title, and they won their opening-round game, their 31st victory of the season.

In 2010, Northern Iowa went to the Sweet 16 as a No. 9 seed, after having slayed the giant that was No. 1 seed Kansas.

So, the Panthers – both the program and the personnel, with four upperclassmen who had scoring averages in double figures – had proven they could punch above their perceived weight class.

In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Northern Iowa had already dispatched another name brand from Texas – Texas itself, that namesake university in Austin, then a No. 6 seed. The Aggies reaped the rewards of being a No. 3 seed, sending No. 14 seed Green Bay home after a 92-65 win for Texas A&M.

That leads us to March 20, 2016 in Oklahoma City.

Northern Iowa 69, Texas A&M 59

Time remaining when the offensive possession started: 44.3 seconds
Time remaining when the offensive possession ended: 34.0 seconds
Total dribbles: Seven
Basket made by: Admon Gilder

With Texas A&M trailing by 12 points  and 44.3 seconds remaining after Northern Iowa's Jeremy Morgan sank a pair of free throws, the Aggies would need to average one point ever 3.7 seconds in over to force overtime – forget winning in regulation – and not counting for any points the Panthers might also score.

Caruso took seven dribbles and considered a dribble hand-off to teammate Jalen Jones before firing a contested 3-pointer, defended by recently inducted March Madness legend Paul Jesperson, that clanked – thud – off the back of the rim but Texas A&M's Admon Gilder came flying in for the offensive rebound and put-back.

Northern Iowa's lead was down to 10.

Northern Iowa 69, Texas A&M 61

Time remaining when the offensive possession started: 30.4 seconds
Time remaining when the offensive possession ended: 25.8 seconds
Total dribbles: Two
Basket made by: Danuel House

The broadcasters were somewhat prescient before Texas A&M's next basket in its ferocious rally. Not of the win, no, but of how difficult of a position Northern Iowa was in for this one possession.

Still leading by 10 points after Gilder's basket, Northern Iowa was attempting to inbound the ball from the sideline, with one baseline and the Panthers' own basket to their left, and the Aggies' bench behind them.

"This is a tough place to take the ball out of bounds," said color analyst Mike Gminski. "You have no timeouts left, (Texas A&M's 6-10 center Tonny) Troch-Morelos on the ball."

Northern Iowa's Wyatt Lohaus, 6-2, was the player tasked with inbounding the ball, with a player guarding him who had an eight-inch height advantage. Morgan made a break towards midcourt and he was open, with his defender, Caruso, looking in the opposite direction.

But Lohaus waited.

With Caruso, now turned and ready to defend Morgan, closing in on Morgan, Lohaus threw the pass high and Morgan went for the one-handed reception, but he was unable to corral the second-most prized possession at that point in the game. The most-prized possession? Well, that was the clock.

Gilder managed to recover the former and essentially retain the latter, as he scooped up the ball, took one dribble, lofted a pass to teammate Danuel House, who shimmied his way to the hoop, using one dribble, before floating a shot just over the rim. His defender, Jesperson, simply tried to avoid fouling House, given that Texas A&M was in the double bonus.

"Looking for a miracle," play-by-play man Carter Blackburn said on the broadcast, "House lays it in."

Caruso called a timeout, Texas A&M's last, as soon as the basket was good.

From the inbound pass to the basket, just 5.3 seconds came off the clock, which was ahead of schedule of the one-point-per-3.7-seconds pace that Texas A&M started with, when it trailed by 12 with 44.3 seconds to go.

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Northern Iowa 69, Texas A&M 63

Time remaining when the offensive possession started: 23.1 seconds
Time remaining when the offensive possession ended: 22.0 seconds
Total dribbles: Zero
Basket made by: Jalen Jones

Speaking of efficiency, the basket that arguably turned Texas A&M's comeback hopes from a fever dream for Northern Iowa to a burgeoning reality was the Aggies' third made basket during their improbable run.

Coming out of the timeout, with Northern Iowa leading by eight and inbounding the ball from under its own basket, Lohaus found a safety valve in Jesperson, although the 6-6 senior was near the corner and he was quickly double-teamed by two players taller than him, the 6-10 Trocha-Morelos and 6-7 Jalen Jones.

Oddly, Northern Iowa point guard Wes Washpun was near the play but he moved further from the ball and Jesperson, perhaps quick to sense a potentially looming five-second call, jumped and tried to throw the ball off of Trocha-Morelos and out of bounds. But he committed the worst kind of self-inflicted wound in this scenario: a live-ball turnover under his team's own basket.

Jones was able to catch the ball, gather without dribbling, and slam home an uncontested dunk, cutting Texas A&M's deficit to six. From start to finish, the play took 3.8 seconds, or 1.9 seconds per point.

Now, it was a two-possession game and with 22 seconds remaining, Texas A&M actually had more time to work with, on a per-possession basis, even though the clock was dwindling.

Northern Iowa 69, Texas A&M 66

Time remaining when the offensive possession started: 22.0 seconds
Time remaining when the offensive possession ended: 19.6 seconds
Total dribbles: Zero
Basket made by: Danuel House

After Jones' dunk, Lohaus was unable in inbound the ball, committing a turnover and giving the ball back to Texas A&M, under Northern Iowa's basket. For the third offensive possession in a row, the Aggies would start their offensive possession on that end of the floor, each of which added up to significant savings in terms of the time left on the clock.

Caruso was the one to inbound the ball. Texas A&M's four other players on the floor assembled themselves in what was nearly an isosceles trapezoid, a symmetrical formation where Jones and Gilder each occupied one corner, and Trocha-Morelos and House stood at the elbows. Trocha-Morelos set a down screen for House, who ran to the left wing, where Northern Iowa's Klint Carlson had switched onto him.

But Carlson, who looked right at Caruso, then left at House, then repeated this checks-and-balances process twice more, briefly lost the Aggies' guard, who would later shoot 37-percent from the NBA 3-point line during four seasons with the Houston Rockets. Without dribbling, House caught the ball and fired. The ball was out of his hands before both  of Carlson's feet had left the ground to contest the shot.

It clanked in. Three-point game.

Then, for the first time in 197 seconds of game action, Northern Iowa made a basket. Ten consecutive Panthers points had come from the free throw line, but the next two, which were much, much-needed for this eager, eleventh-seeded team, came in the form of a dunk.

With Jesperson now inbounding the ball for the Panthers after their previous troubles, Carlson leaked across midcourt undetected and Jesperson hit him with a one-handed, overhanded pass, which Carlson caught, then dribbled once and dunked, putting Northern Iowa up by five.

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Northern Iowa 71, Texas A&M 69

Time remaining when the offensive possession started: 17.9 seconds
Time remaining when the offensive possession ended: 11.8 seconds
Total dribbles: Six
Basket made by: Alex Caruso

After Northern Iowa made it a two-possession game once again, Texas A&M had the task of going the length of the floor in order to score – something it hadn't faced since it trailed by 12. But Northern Iowa was ill-prepared, if not seemingly unwilling to stop Caruso, as he didn't face any pressure in the backcourt, then he got some daylight thanks to a screen set by Jones and the Panthers defenders were on their heels.

He Euro-stepped past Jesperson and drew the foul, setting up a three-point play that cut Northern Iowa's lead to two. Ten points had been erased in 32.5 seconds – less than one full, 35-second shot clock.

"You can't even be near this guy right here," remarked Mike Gminski, the color analyst, of Jesperson's foul on Caruso.

Northern Iowa's bench was incredulous at some combination of the call or Jesperson's decision-making, as the game was first slowly, now rather quickly, slipping from the claws of the Panthers.

Northern Iowa 71, Texas A&M 71

Time remaining when the offensive possession started: 4.8 seconds
Time remaining when the offensive possession ended: 1.9 seconds
Total dribbles: One
Basket made by: Admon Gilder

It must've been a bad case of deja vu for Northern Iowa as once again a Panthers played was trapped in the far right corner of the floor, only this time it was Washpun, the point guard. He had nowhere to go, and feeling the pressure – the pressure of the defense, the pressure of time, the pressure of one of the most unlikely collapses in the sport's history – he, like Jesperson, attempted to jump and throw the ball out of bounds off a Texas A&M defender.

He, too, missed.

In reality, he should've been called for a five-second call, which actually would've been a better alternative for the Panthers. He caught the inbounds pass with 11.8 seconds remaining and held onto it until there were 5.6 seconds left on the clock.

But the call, which at least would've allowed Northern Iowa to set its defense, wasn't made and Gilder picked it up after one bounce. He dribbled once, with Jesperson as the Panthers' last line of defense. Jesperson, now protecting just a two-point lead and having just given up a three-point play on a similar play, actually moved out of the way to ensure that he didn't foul Gilder, potentially setting up an Aggies win in regulation.

Gilder laid the ball in high – very high – off the glass and it dropped in.

Northern Iowa, which just two days earlier had dispatched the University of Texas on Jesperson's 50-foot prayer – the longest, game-winning buzzer-beater in the history of the NCAA men's basketball tournament – now had the chance to do the same to another flagship university in the Lonestar State, one that's about two hours northeast of Austin.

One more fortuitous heave would erase all of the live-ball turnovers and defensive lapses.

This time Jesperson was the inbounder. Washpun was the recipient. He turned and fired a shot from some 70 feet away from what would've been the world's greatest magic eraser. He hit the backboard, but his shot was too high, and the game, which was on pace for a double-digit defeat only breaths earlier, went to overtime.

"OT in OKC," said Washburn, the play-by-play man.

The first overtime

Below, you can watch the game starting at the first overtime period.

Northern Iowa, which closed regulation on a remarkable 14-2 run, also scored the first three points of overtime on an old-fashioned three-point play from House. Neither team led by more than three points in the first overtime, with Texas A&M needing a two-handed runner in the lane from Caruso with 5.9 seconds left.

"Plenty of time," Gminski, the color analyst said. This time, Jesperson did receive the inbounds pass and he tried to see if you could pull two rabbits out of the same hat. With just over four seconds left in overtime – enough for maybe two more dribbles, or one pass and one dribble – he pulled up from very nearly the same spot of his shot that beat Texas.

"Jesperson, are you kidding me!?" said Blackburn. But Jesperson's shot was off the mark and there was actually enough time for Caruso to attempt a last-second heave of his own, which appeared to have the right trajectory, but it was short on length.

The teams went to a second overtime.

The second overtime

Texas A&M outscored Northern Iowa 9-5 in the second overtime, when perhaps the law of averages caught up to the once-powering Panthers. Give a more talented team, as defined by things like NBA careers and recruiting evaluations, more time, and odds are they'll be more likely to win.

No one scored for the first minute and 28 seconds of overtime, until Northern Iowa's Morgan made a free throw. Texas A&M then rattled off five points in a row. With about seven seconds left and Texas A&M up four, Morgan's 3-point attempt was off the mark, and the collapse was complete.

Texas A&M went down in the record book as the team that overcame the largest deficit with less than one minute remaining to win the game.

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