It was 2016. The NCAA Tournament was actually happening. No. 11 seed Northern Iowa had blown a large lead in the first round against No. 6 seed Texas, but a half-court heave via Paul Jesperson gave the Panthers buzzer-beating salvation, 75-72, and a trip to the second round.
Once there, the Panthers did it again, although without the miracle 42-footer.
No. 3 seed Texas A&M had dismantled No. 14 seed Green Bay in the first round, 92-65, and set its sights on UNI in search of the program’s fifth-ever Sweet 16 appearance and first since 2007. It didn’t do a very good job of making that happen for about 39 minutes.
Texas A&M Breaks Northern Iowa Hearts
With 44 seconds remaining in regulation, Jeremy Morgan sank free throws to extend UNI’s lead to 69-57. It seemed the No. 11 seed would be pulling off the upset and marching on to the Sweet 16, while the Aggies would have to go home and lick their wounds after a disappointing tournament run, or lack thereof.
What happened in the following 44 ticks turned the college basketball world on its head.
Through turnovers, clutch shots, some favorable calls and a never-quit attitude, the score was even at the sound of what would normally be the final horn, 71-71. Texas A&M scored 14 points in not even two minutes to send the showdown into overtime.
It was the sort of thing that you couldn’t believe you were watching. With that scoreline that late in the game, no one would think a comeback would be possible. In fact, many fans would be actively upset at the losing coach for even attempting to come back at that point. They’d rather get the game over with as the result seems inevitable.
But Billy Kennedy didn’t have his team roll over, and boy oh boy did it pay off.
“We knew it was kind of impossible, man, but we just said that we were going to fight until the end,” said Texas A&M’s Danuel House, who was responsible for 22 points that night.
Naturally, the Aggies still had to get it done in overtime, and it took two of them to ultimately separate the sides. Both overtimes were largely neck and neck until A&M opened a slim lead in the second half of double OT. When it came time for Texas A&M to protect a minor advantage near the end of the clock, it did so successfully, a painful reminder to Northern Iowa of its incredible failure at the end of regulation.
What looked like an unforgettable March Madness for the Panthers just two days earlier remained so following the blunder against Texas A&M, just in a different way. It has been described as “the worst March Madness collapse,” and it is difficult to argue otherwise.
But as horrific of a choke job as it was on the part of the Panthers, it was also an impressive showing from the Aggies to continue even when the odds appeared impossible, and that’s something worth remembering.
“Craziest game I’ve been a part of from beginning to end,” Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso, who had 25 points on the night, said after the game. “Just an amazing game. This is what March is about.”