Let’s continue the countdown of the least likely victories from the past season…
The Game: Austin Peay at Akron, November 15.
The Situation: Akron 72, Austin Peay 57, 7:36 left, Austin Peay ball. (1.6%)
The Outcome: Austin Peay 80, Akron 77
The Quote: “First off, when you’re up 15 points with 7:36 to play, you should win the game. We can say whatever, we can blame the players or me but I thought today we did a very poor job of handling prosperity first and adversity second.” – Akron head coach Keith Dambrot
I think it was Tony Robbins who said that if you can’t handle prosperity or adversity, you are not likely to be very successful. But all things considered, the season opener isn’t a bad time to produce an epic collapse. There are always about 30 more games to make amends, and the Zips would end up winning 24, which earned them a CIT appearance. But in this one, they somehow blew a 15-point lead over a final stretch that included but 13 possessions. And it wasn’t like Akron missed a bunch of free throws – they only took four in the final five minutes. Their scoring over the final 7:36 was a pair of free throws by Steve McNeed at 5:26, and a fairly meaningless three-pointer Anthony Hitchens with three seconds to go.
The Game: Stetson at East Tennessee State, January 14.
The Situation: East Tennessee St. 30, Stetson 19, 19:41 left (Stetson ball) (1.3%)
The Outcome: Stetson 54, East Tennessee St. 52
The Quote: “It’s a tough loss. We didn’t play well. I want to commend Derek (Waugh) and his team. They played a good game. We felt OK after the first half, but we obviously struggled on the offensive end in the second half. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am with this one.” – ETSU head coach Murry Bartow
If you weren’t in tune with the A-Sun last season (and I’m not going to pretend that I was), then the significance of Stetson winning at ETSU while needing to overcome an 11-point deficit in the second half is lost on you. Given the home court advantage, the chances of a Hatters’ win before the game were approaching 16-over-1 levels. Even after Stetson went on a 10-0 run to close the game to 30-29, WP kept the Hatters’ chances under 5%. On the final possession, ETSU had a chance to force an OT in which they would have been heavily favored again. “MISSED LAYUP by HUBBARD, Tommy” is all the play-by-play says, without a mention of how this occurred in the game account. ETSU would win the return game at Stetson by 15.
The Game: Fairleigh Dickinson at Sacred Heart, February 25.
The Situation: Sacred Heart 43, Fairleigh Dickinson 24, 11:52 left (Sacred Heart ball) (1.3%)
The Outcome: Fairleigh Dickinson 64, Sacred Heart 59 (OT)
The Quote: “I wasn’t around with the Romans when that fell, but it probably felt the same way.” – Sacred Heart head coach Dave Bike
Amazingly, these two teams pulled off a virtual reenactment of game #7 on this list. The rematch was a much lower scoring game, what with FDU missing 19 of its first 20 shots, but the rest of the script played out just as it did in the January meeting. The difference here was that Sacred Heart was on its home floor, making the large lead slightly more difficult to blow.
The Game: Illinois at Clemson, December 2.
The Situation: Clemson 57, Illinois 35, 16:48 left (Illinois ball) (1.2%)
The Outcome: Illinois 76, Clemson 74
The Quote: “It was certainly a tale of two halves. We couldn’t play much better in the first half. At halftime, we talked about the fact that Illinois would give us everything we had in the first five minutes. We gave up some threes that allowed them to get back into the game. Illinois just kept coming.” – Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell
With home court, the Tigers were a decent favorite (77%) to win this one from the outset. Clemson’s chances were at around 98% when they held a 61-46 lead with just under 15 minutes to go., and then Illinois scored 17 straight in about five minutes to take the lead. Clemson had two possessions to take the lead in the final minute, both of which produced missed field goal attempts. The Purnell era at Clemson saw its share of crazy comebacks, but none more unlikely than this one.
The Game: Fairfield at George Mason, March 16 (CIT 1st round).
The Situation: George Mason 63, Fairfield 36, 16:08 left (Fairfield ball) (1.2%)
The Outcome: Fairfield 101, George Mason 96 (OT)
The Quote: “This is the best comeback I have ever been a part of.” – Fairfield freshman point guard Derek Needham
I realize this was the CIT and all, but how come this game slipped under the collective radar of hoops’ nation? It was the biggest comeback in D-I post-season tournament history. The Stags scored 36 points on their first 43 possessions, and 65 on their last 41 over 21:08. The Patriots were still in great shape with just over a minute left in regulation, owning a nine-point lead and a 93% chance of victory. But the Stags would force overtime on a Mike Evanovich three-pointer with 20 seconds left. You might wonder why Fairfield’s chances were as high as 1.2% when trailing by 27. Well, there aren’t many cases of evenly matched teams separating themselves by 27 points in 24 minutes, and here we have a case where a team blew that lead.
Honorable Mention: The least likely overtime
The Game: Indiana State at Missouri State, January 19.
The Situation: Missouri State 58, Indiana State 34, 13:24 left (Missouri St. ball) (0.5%)
The Outcome: Missouri State 99, Indiana State 92 (OT)
The Quote: “Great job” – Missouri State head coach Cuonzo Martin (Martin isn’t the most verbose fellow, judging from his own recap of the game. Although he doesn’t get much help from the show’s host in that clip.)
It was disappointing that no team was able to overcome less than a 1.2% chance of winning, so I had to look for other games that almost produced a more remote comeback. At home, Missouri State was a significant favorite over the Sycamores and when the Bears jumped out to early leads of 10-2, 22-5, and 34-12, there couldn’t have been much expectation for late-game drama. A 20-point halftime lead grew to 24 with about 13 minutes left before ISU would produce a 14-possession offensive explosion that looked like so: 2-2-0-3-4-2-3-3-2-2-2-3-2-2. Over that stretch, the Trees made all ten of their field goal attempts (including five threes) and 7-of-8 free throws, with just one turnover accounting for the lone scoreless possession. That improbable 32-point sequence was what it took…to get within seven. The Sycamores then had to erase a ten-point deficit with two minutes left, forcing OT on a three by Harry Marshall with nine-tenths of a second left. That capped a 60-point/35-possession second half. This from an offense that ranked ahead of only Evansville in the MVC.