“I wish I could get some time back,” said Northern Iowa’s Paul Jesperson, but the problem for the Panthers wasn’t really that there was not enough time, was it? Up 12 points on Texas A&M, 44 seconds remaining, a Sweet 16 berth within view, just about every metric and every win probability calculator and the experience of every basketball game anyone has ever seen handing UNI the victory. Well. Forty-four seconds, on at least this night and maybe not again for a hundred years, was too much time.
The Aggies did everything right, had everything go their way, while the Panthers had the most disastrous 44 seconds of any team, anywhere. Texas A&M would tie things up and eventually win 92-88 in double overtime, but it’s the end of regulation that goes into the record books. Literally: according to the NCAA’s director of media coordination and statistics, there has never been a comeback that big in that little amount of time in the history of college basketball. Never ever.
It just...it happened so fast. In realtime, it was happening too quickly for me to even realize it was happening, that it was plausibly, until it had just about been completed. Please, just watch the whole thing, if only to assure yourself that it was even possible.
The thing you’ll notice, maybe the craziest thing about this whole crazy sequence, is that A&M never fouled. Conventional wisdom—which, we remind you, has never completed a 12-point comeback in 44 seconds—says you foul. You stop the clock. You give your opponents chances to miss at the line and give back points. UNI never made it to the line. They barely even made it to half-court.
The Aggies’ swarming inbounds defense simply overwhelmed the Panthers, deflecting passes and forcing turnovers on every possession, and setting up high-percentage buckets to gradually chip away at the deficit.
“We played the game the right way, even at the end,” said Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, who admitted afterward he would need time to wrap his head around what had transpired. “We didn’t have guys just coming down jacking up 3s. We tried to drive the ball.”
The game’s most crucial moment went unnoticed at the time. With about a minute remaining, UNI’s senior guard Matt Bohannon left with a knee injury. Bohannon handles the Panthers’ inbounds passes in crucial late-game situations, has for years. Without him, they looked lost. Wyatt Lohaus threw one pass high, that landed in Aggie hands. His next attempt, he put it where Jesperson could be trapped along the baseline. He threw it out of bounds. Jesperson then assumed inbounds duties, and after a successful home run pass, then provided a repeat of the play where he had been stranded by Lohaus—this time it was Wes Washpun, being pressed by two Aggies, giving the ball directly to Admon Gilder for the game-tying layup.
Just as easy and as brutal as that.
There’s a human need to classify an ending like this: comeback or collapse? Did Texas A&M masterfully and fortunately close an unclosable deficit on the strength of its defense and by getting every bounce possible? Or did Northern Iowa blow an unblowable lead through a combination of poor and nervous play and seeing every break go against it?
The answer, as it almost always is, is both. Something like this requires two teams playing at the opposing extremes of their abilities. Something like this had never happened before, may not happen again as long as you live. This was historic. It was insane. I will confidently call it “inconceivable,” even if we all just saw that it can be done. But just because a thing happened doesn’t mean I’m able to understand how it did, or even could. No matter how many times I watch the shockingly short late-game highlights, it still doesn’t quite process. In those 44 seconds, Texas A&M and Northern Iowa might’ve broken basketball.