There's a reason it's called March Madness.
All the No. 3-seeded Texas A&M Aggies needed to overcome the 11th-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers in the West Region on Sunday was a historic collapse and two overtimes. The end result was a 92-88 victory at Oklahoma City's Chesapeake Energy Arena, but the journey to that end is something fans in College Station, Texas, will probably never forget.
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead noted how Texas A&M went on an indescribable 14-2 run in 31 seconds to tie the game in regulation after it looked like the Panthers were going to clinch a relatively stress-free double-digit win.
NumberFire provided some statistical context to the collapse:
Here it is. 99.99%. This is an all-time sports collapse. Bar none. pic.twitter.com/A3f1iUlkXW— numberFire (@numberFire) March 21, 2016
Texas A&M kept the drama rolling by forcing a second overtime and finally put the Panthers away once it got there. Just like that, the Aggies advanced to the Sweet 16 in one of the craziest and most improbable finishes in March Madness history:
Texas A&M hands Northern Iowa the L! https://t.co/PTKD7ZSW0Z— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 21, 2016
Alex Caruso led the way for the victorious Aggies with 25 points and nine rebounds, while Danuel House chipped in 22 points and eight boards. Perhaps most importantly, Texas A&M's pressure defense forced 13 turnovers, including the ones that proved to be Northern Iowa's undoing at the end of regulation.
The Panthers received a double-double from Jeremy Morgan, who scored 36 points and grabbed 12 boards, but it was not enough.
Despite the loss, Northern Iowa didn't look the part of the underdog in the first half, jumping out to a 32-22 lead through the first 20 minutes. Texas A&M shot 6-of-27 from the field headed to the locker room, and Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News suggested Aggies fans maybe shouldn't mind the fact the broadcast feed cut out for some time:
A&M has hit one of its last 12 shots, so maybe TruTV cutting out wasn't such a bad thing for Aggie fans.— Kate Hairopoulos (@khairopoulos) March 21, 2016
Jeremiah Davis of the Gazette gave Northern Iowa's defense some credit for the halftime advantage:
A&M not shooting well at all, but UNI has forced them into bad shots for most of them. Pack line D doing its thing. #UNIHoops— Jeremiah Davis (@jeremiahdavis10) March 21, 2016
Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted the Panthers defense was shutting down Jalen Jones and House in the early going:
#UNI finished half on a 13-3 run. Ags top 2 scorers (House, Jones) are a combined 0-for-11 from field. And last shot of half was an airball— Jimmy Burch (@Jimmy_Burch) March 21, 2016
It wasn't all defense for Northern Iowa, as Wes Washpun turned some heads on the other side:
Davis summed things up for the Panthers:
A clinical half of basketball for #UNIHoops there. Got what it wanted on both ends, controlled the pace and finished. Just a few breakdowns.— Jeremiah Davis (@jeremiahdavis10) March 21, 2016
Tyler Davis tried to make a statement for the Aggies early in the second half:
It worked, as Texas A&M climbed back to within single digits when Tyler Davis scored again with less than 15 minutes left. Jeremiah Davis pointed to a strategy change for the SEC team as the gap diminished:
A&M taking it to UNI in the paint now instead of taking jumpers. That's how they'll get back in it. #UNIHoops— Jeremiah Davis (@jeremiahdavis10) March 21, 2016
Northern Iowa's lead was only five at 41-36 during the under-12-minute timeout, and Jim Sullivan of the Courier pointed to one problem in particular:
UNI has 6 team fouls 8 minutes into 2nd half— Jim Sullivan (@Sullyside73) March 21, 2016
That's when Klint Carlson took over. He scored 10 points on four straight possessions for Northern Iowa and capped it off with a beautiful three-pointer:
After a Morgan three, suddenly the Panthers were on top again by double digits. Part of the magic of March is unexpected heroes arising in important moments, and Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports suggested that is exactly what was happening for the Cinderella Panthers:
Klint Carlson. Who knew?— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 21, 2016
Sullivan commented on the underclassman's momentous spurt:
In a moment of truth, a sophomore shall lead them. Carlson scores 10 points during 13-6 UNI run. Lead at 54-42, 7:59 left— Jim Sullivan (@Sullyside73) March 21, 2016
Northern Iowa's momentum ended when Washpun picked up his fourth foul. Texas A&M cut the lead to six on the ensuing free throws, and Davis described what the Panthers would miss if their guard fouled out in the final minutes:
Wes Washpun running the point like a Swiss watch. Deft passing, great timing. #UNIHoops came out of the half strong.— Jeremiah Davis (@jeremiahdavis10) March 21, 2016
Jeff Borzello of ESPN thought he sensed something with Northern Iowa up 56-50 with less than five minutes left:
Northern Iowa is just letting the game stay close so they can hit a three-quarter-court buzzer shot. Simple math: top of key -> halfcourt ->— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 21, 2016
Things again looked dicey for the Panthers, but Carlson drilled yet another three from the top of the key with less than four minutes left to push the lead to 59-50. Raphielle Johnson of NBC Sports reacted:
It’s your world, Klint Carlson.— Raphielle Johnson (@raphiellej) March 21, 2016
From there, Sullivan thought the underdogs were beginning to get a sense of things:
Just saw Carlson smile in that huddle. They can smell it.— Jim Sullivan (@Sullyside73) March 21, 2016
Mike Sherman of the Oklahoman had some fun at the expense of Texas and Texas A&M after it appeared clear Northern Iowa would knock them both off in the Big Dance:
Northern Iowa is 1:31 from the Texas state championship— MikeSherman (@MikeSherman) March 21, 2016
Just when it looked like it was completely over, Northern Iowa turned it over three times in a row in the final 30 seconds. House drilled a three-pointer to cut the lead to 69-66, but Mr. Carlson again looked to save his team with a dunk in transition off the inbounds pass. Davis weighed in on the sequence:
Klint Carlson with an exclamation point. UNI uncharacteristically shaky in those last several moments. #UNIHoops— Jeremiah Davis (@jeremiahdavis10) March 21, 2016
However, the collapse continued, as Caruso converted an and-1, Washpun turned it over, and Admon Gilder scored in the final seconds to force overtime tied at 71. Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports didn't hold back on his assessment:
This is among the worst collapses in college basketball history. Maybe the very worst given the context.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) March 21, 2016
Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated also reflected on what happened:
I have never seen a team literally forget how to play basketball.— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) March 21, 2016
Even after the letdown, Northern Iowa held a three-point lead with less than a minute left in overtime, but House answered with a step-back three to tie it once again, this time at 79 apiece. From there, Wyatt Lohaus converted a cold-blooded three for Northern Iowa, but Caruso answered with a layup to trim the deficit to 82-81 with 21 seconds left.
Morgan hit one free throw to put the Panthers ahead, 83-81, but Caruso forced double overtime with a clutch runner in the lane. Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle gave the "they never die" treatment to the Aggies:
Right now Jason from Halloween is in awe of the Aggies.— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) March 21, 2016
That spirit continued in the second overtime, as House hit a jumper to put his team up 90-86 with less than a minute remaining. Still, the Panthers had an opportunity down 91-88 with less than 20 seconds left. But Morgan missed a contested shot in the lane, and House converted one of the subsequent free throws.
From there, Morgan air-balled a three, and the dream ended for Northern Iowa with the 92-88 loss.
Next up for Texas A&M is the No. 2 seed in the West Region, Oklahoma, in a throwback to the days of Big 12 past before the Aggies jumped ship for the SEC.
The Aggies will have to deal with arguably the best player in the nation, Buddy Hield, after he poured in 36 points against Virginia Commonwealth in the round of 32 and 27 against Cal State Bakersfield in the first round. He can catch fire at any moment, which means Texas A&M will have to find a way to contain him if it plans on reaching the Elite Eight and keeping its title hopes alive.
The Aggies likely won't be intimidated by the Big 12 power. They already beat Texas, Gonzaga, Baylor and Iowa State out of conference and also played Kentucky in the SEC and faced off with LSU’s Ben Simmons. Thanks to that matchup with Simmons, the Aggies will have an understanding of what it takes to tailor a game plan around stopping an individual star.
If they slow down Hield, the Final Four will be one game away.
Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson discussed his team’s collapse, per Davis:
I’ve been with these guys all year and they haven’t panicked for two months, so I don’t think they panicked. I suppose anyone who watched it is going to describe it as that. But I’ve been with these guys for two months, and all you have to do is look at the situations we’ve been in…We just had 30 seconds where everything went the wrong way. You give Texas A&M credit.
Washpun also talked about the end of regulation, per Davis:
They just turned up the pressure a little bit, started denying the passing lanes. Credit to Texas A&M for turning up the pressure and making some plays when they had to. I think they made a bunch of great individual plays. We turned the ball over and they capitalized on it. That’s a credit to them.
As for Texas A&M, Caruso discussed his team’s mentality, per Zwerneman: “We weren’t ready to be done with our careers yet. We weren’t ready to be done playing yet.”
House put things in perspective, per Burch: “I'm just happy to be a part of this. This is the craziest game I've been a part of in my life.”
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy also reflected on the win, per Zwerneman: “We were fortunate and blessed to win. I’m proud of my guys, just hanging in there. They hung in there and didn’t quit.”
If the Aggies were tough enough to hang in there and overcome that deficit, an impending showdown with Hield may not be that difficult after all.
Check out Bleacher Report's live updating bracket to track your picks along the road to the Final Four.