OKLAHOMA CITY — Thirty-three seconds of arguably the most unbelievable basketball in March Madness more than made up for the first 39 minutes for Texas A&M and the Aggies were still pinching themselves 15 minutes later in a shocked but raucous locker room.
A&M outscored Northern Iowa 14-2 over that final 33 seconds of regulation, tied the game on an Alex Caruso drive with five seconds left in overtime and then held on to win 92-88 in double overtime.
“We were not ready to be done with our careers, yet,” senior guard Caruso said. “Just fortunate and blessed the ball bounced our way a couple of times. We’re just not ready to be done yet."
Because of those final seconds, four Aggie seniors who were involved in the miracle comeback will extend their career at least 40 more minutes with a Sweet 16 appearance in Anaheim at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Oklahoma.
“I’ve never been a part of game like that, never saw one,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “I still really don’t know what happened. I don’t know what Vegas’ odds on a situation like that are, but people know about my faith and all I can say is I’m just thankful for that moment, for this moment.”
The decisive sequence started with a basket inside by Admon Gilder and finished with a Gilder steal and layup high off the backboard with 1.7 seconds remaining.
“He tried to throw it off my leg and I backed up and got it and I saw the lane open so I knew I had to take it for a layup,” Gilder said. “I actually didn’t [know we were down by two] I just knew we needed a bucket real quick. I had faith it was going in. When I came back down on the other side and I saw it go in I was happy.”
In between, Danuel House, who had not scored until two free throws late in the second half, drove for two, Jalen Jones converted a turnover into a dunk, House hit a 3 and Caruso drove to the basket and converted a three-point play.
“I think once I got that dunk, it kicked in we could win,” Jones said. “I got a little more energy and the next thing I know, Admon steals it and ties it up and I’m like, ‘Is it tied?’ I was in shock. I just knew if we kept fighting to the end we’d have a chance and that’s what I did. This is probably one of the best moments of my life.”
Between House’s 3 and Caruso’s three-point play, Klint Carlson broke free for a dunk on the only time the Panthers were able to get the ball inbounds without turning it over in the final minute.
“[Northern Iowa's Paul Jesperson] was in the way, so I had to go left or right and fortunately I chose the right way,” Caruso said of his play. I was honestly more worried about the free throw because I’d missed two in row, so I was trying to focus on that.”
The work wasn’t completely done once the Aggies tied it at 71-71.
Northern Iowa miraculously shook off its late collapse and led most of the first overtime thanks to three 3s, but Jeremy Morgan, the game’s leading scorer with 36, missed the first of two free throws with 20 seconds left and Caruso drove the paint and tied it at 83-83.
Both teams tried to match what the Panthers had done two nights earlier by making a shot from behind half court, and even though they came tantalizingly close, another overtime was needed.
The Aggies took control of the final five minutes. Jones had a highlight putback over a Panther. Gilder made two free throws and House made a basket in the paint.
The Aggies missed four of their final six free throws, keeping those who hadn’t left Chesapeake Energy Arena when all looked lost for the Aggies standing and wondering what was next. Morgan missed two jumpers, though, and the Aggies, who scored 22 points in the first half and trailed by as much as 15 early in the second half, started celebrating.
Caruso led the Aggies with 25 points and House had 22 after not making a shot until 25 seconds remained in the game. Jones had 16 points.
The Aggies shot 6 of 27 in the first half and ended up shooting 43 percent for the game.