Anatomy of a meltdown: Breaking down Northern Iowa's historic collapse

The Dagger

Two nights after Northern Iowa won on a half-court buzzer beater that will be replayed for decades to come, the Panthers discovered what it's like to be on the wrong side of an iconic March moment. 

They suffered the largest final-minute collapse of any team in college basketball history.

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Eleventh-seeded Northern Iowa squandered a seemingly insurmountable 12-point lead in about 35 seconds on Sunday night during a second-round NCAA tournament game against third-seeded Texas A&M. The Panthers gave up 14 points during that stretch, committed a costly foul and turned the ball over four times, enabling the Aggies to tie the game on an Admon Gilder layup with 1.9 seconds left and escape with a 92-88 double-overtime victory.

According to the NCAA, no Division I team in college basketball history has ever lost a 12-point lead inside the final minute, let alone done so in the NCAA tournament with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.

The previous record was set in Feb. 2005 when UNLV rallied from an 11-point deficit with 59 seconds to go against San Diego State. Duke also famously stormed back from a 10-point final-minute deficit against Maryland in a Jan. 2001 game known as the "Miracle Minute."

From Arizona's 2005 Elite Eight collapse against Illinois, to Rhode Island's 1998 Elite Eight meltdown against Stanford, other teams have suffered some painful late-game NCAA tournament losses, but Northern Iowa's may top them all. Here's a detailed frame-by-frame look at how the Panthers unraveled on the cusp of earning a trip to Anaheim to face Oklahoma in the Sweet 16:  

37.7 seconds: As Texas A&M's Alex Caruso hoists up an off-balance 3-pointer, TV announcers are already anointing this Northern Iowa's 14th win in its past 15 games. It's such a foregone conclusion the Panthers will win at this point that you have to wonder if Texas A&M would have even bothered fouling to extend the game if it hadn't pulled down the rebound. A missed box-out by sophomore guard Wyatt Lohaus enables Aggies freshman Admon Gilder to secure the rebound and lay it in to cut the lead to 69-59. Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson then makes an ill-fated decision to use his last timeout.

31.1 seconds: With their usual inbound passer Matt Bohannon sidelined with a knee injury he suffered minutes earlier, Jacobson asks Lohaus to fill that role. To say the least, does not go well. It's difficult for the 6-foot-2 Lohaus to see around 6-foot-10 Tony Trocha-Morelos, but he spots guard Jeremy Morgan free along the sideline. Morgan fails to handle the ball cleanly, however, and Gilder steals it and lobs a pass to Danuel House, who attacks the basket for a layup to pull Texas A&M within eight. "Jeremy had that pass," Jacobson tells reporters in Oklahoma City afterward. "If he dribbles it over and gets fouled, it's probably over."

25.8 seconds: When Lohaus goes to inbound the ball after House's layup, there's still no heightened sense of alarm. Northern Iowa is up eight with the ball and less than 30 seconds to go. This game is theirs. None of the Panthers break free from their defenders, so Lohaus inbounds the ball to Paul Jesperson right along the baseline. Jesperson pivots into a double team, panics and tries to chuck the ball off Trocha-Morelos and out of bounds. The ball instead goes right to Texas A&M's Jalen Jones for an easy dunk to slice the Aggies' deficit to six.

22.0 seconds: Another Northern Iowa turnover, this time by Lohaus, gives Texas A&M the ball underneath the Panthers' basket. A cross screen by the Aggies gets House a favorable matchup against 6-foot-7 sophomore Klint Carlson. When Carlson gives House too much space, the 31.2 percent 3-point shooter walks into a left-wing three and buries it. Three-point game, 19.6 seconds to go, and it's officially panic time for Northern Iowa.

19.6 seconds: This time it's Jesperson who inbounds the ball for Northern Iowa, and he makes his team's first — and only — shrewd final-minute decision. He throws a baseball pass to a wide-open Carlson for a breakaway dunk that extends the margin to five. Why couldn't Northern Iowa go long more frequently when Texas A&M was choking off every passing lane? Jacobson admitted the Panthers probably could have. "We talked about throwing the ball long if you were in any trouble," he said. "Unfortunately, in that situation you don't think about throwing it long, even after you've talked about it."

17.9 seconds: Texas A&M caught a break that clock operators did not start the clock in time on the previous possession, forcing referees to stop play and go to the monitor. That enabled Aggies coach Billy Kennedy to draw up a well-designed play in which Trocha-Morelos and Jones both set screens for Caruso, allowing him to attack the rim at full speed. Not only does Caruso score on a driving layup, he draws a phantom foul on Jesperson and converts the free throw. "We didn't have guys just coming down jacking up threes," Kennedy told reporters. "We tried to drive the ball."

11.8 seconds: The single biggest error a team can make against full-court pressure is throwing the ball into the corner because the baseline and sideline become two extra defenders. Where does Jesperson inbound the ball? You guessed it. Straight to guard Wes Washpun in the corner. Trapped by Gilder and Trocha-Morelos, Washpun takes too long to spot Morgan along the sideline, gets bumped further toward the baseline and then out of desperation attempts to hurl it off a defender and out of bounds. The ball bounces right to Gilder, who drives for a game-tying layup with 1.9 seconds left.

1.9 seconds: This was almost the exact situation in which Jesperson sank his game-winning half-court shot Friday night, but this time Washpun's 60-foot heave caroms hard off the backboard to force overtime. Northern Iowa shows resolve in the first extra session, but Texas A&M pulls away behind House in the second. Says House afterward, "Craziest game I've been a part of in my life. I'm just so excited right now. I can't talk." "Amazing game," adds Caruso. "This is what March is about."

 

Watch the whole gut-wrenching sequence here:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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