It will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA men’s basketball tournament history. With 44 seconds remaining in regulation, #11 Northern Iowa held a 12 point lead over #3 Texas A&M. The upset was basically secured. Then chaos broke out. Over the final 44 seconds, Texas A&M outscored Northern Iowa 14 to 2, and the game went to overtime. Texas A&M eventually won in double overtime. Basketball fans everywhere, other than Texas A&M supporters, were heartbroken. Northern Iowa played so well for such a great portion of the game, and it ended in agony. Don’t feel bad for them, though. It wasn’t so much that Texas A&M won it, but more that Northern Iowa lost it. Here’s why true basketball fans should see the result as a teaching moment to players everywhere.
First of all, and this is played out in all sports, the game isn’t over until it’s over. This is so cliché, but it is as true as it gets. Northern Iowa, and their fans, should have known better than to start celebrating with under a minute to go, no matter how big of a lead they had. Second of all, the decision-making down the stretch was horrid. Northern Iowa had chance after chance to come up with a good play to get the ball inbounds. The player throwing the ball inbounds on multiple occasions stood directly under the basket, which makes it much harder to throw to certain spots on the floor or to lob the ball down the court. Also, after a made basket, a player is able to run across the whole baseline to try to throw the ball in. Northern Iowa players stood still and did not use this option. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the worst place to throw a ball inbounds is to the dead corner. On the last inbounds of regulation, Northern Iowa’s Wes Washpun caught a pass in this area of the court and was immediately double-teamed. He had nowhere to move, and eventually turned it over for an easy Texas A&M layup to tie the game.
Some of these mistakes are justifiable. The situation was tense, and Texas A&M was playing great defense. The important thing to learn here is that the mental side of basketball is just as important, if not more important, than the physical skills. Players are taught how to shoot, dribble, and pass on the offensive end. Knowing time and score is another skill that should become part of a practice routine as well. Learning different situations that could occur, and what to do in these moments, is in many cases the difference between a win and a loss. One can feel bad for Northern Iowa, but in the end it comes down to mental composure. On a bright note, they have six months now to figure it out.
About the author
Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He lives in Mobile, Alabama with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick. He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.