The improbable happened Saturday night in Madison Square Garden. Notre Dame held an eight-point lead on undefeated Ohio State with less than a minute remaining. It wound up losing, and not even losing by one. The books have it at Buckeyes 64, Fighting Irish 61. It is one of the more unbelievable losses by a team that seemingly was cruising to victory in recent college basketball history.
Which led me to wonder: How many times has a similar situation played out over the past some-odd years?
Big-time collapses happen every now and again in all sports. The all-time fold jobs usually involve big-time teams in big-time moments, so we remember them forever. Maryland against Duke in '01; Norman at Augusta in '96; Houston pu 35-3 on Buffalo in '93, then giving it all away; the Red Sox in '86.
But there are plenty of stomach-destroying losses that fan bases remember. Those defeats stay with them forever. So I crowdsourced on Twitter and asked the hoi polloi for help. It's one thing to watch the slow wave curl and crash and overwhelm a team amid a collapse, like how Mississippi Valley State led Western Kentucky by 16 with 4:50 to go in the 2012 First Four only to lose by one. Memphis blowing a nine-point lead to Kansas in '08 title game with less than 2:15 to go is another that springs to mind. But it's another kind of cruel way to lose when you have a lead, are up "comfortably" with less than a minute to go, then see it disintegrate in your palms.
I wanted to book-end that Duke-Maryland ending from 2001 with what we just saw happened. Specifically, which teams have led by eight points or more with 60 seconds or less in college basketball and lost? Here's what we've come up with. If you know of a game like this that's not listed, hit me up on Twitter and I'll add it to the list.
Had this furious comeback ended in a win for St. Joe's, perhaps it would sit atop the list. Or is this Oral Roberts-Memphis State ending tickling your brain? And of all the bonkers way to lose, is this UMKC shoe-vomit job against Chicago State in '05 the worst this century? Or does Purdue's womp-womp against Colorado State in '03 seem even worse? Imagine losing a title game in the final 50 seconds, like what happened in D-II in 2007.
But at the D-I level from 2001 through Saturday, here's who's coughed, choked, caved, crumpled and keeled over in the final minute, giving victory up in the most painful of ways.
-- Duke 98, Maryland 96 (OT); down 10 with 55 seconds to go on Jan. 27, 2001. Probably the most famous -- or infamous, depending on your rooting interests -- example of a college basketball victory miscarriage since the century turned. That's why it begins this timeline. Yet the thing many don't remember is that this one actually went to overtime, was competitive, and didn't have Maryland give up its ghost in this game until the closing seconds. Steve Blake fouling out proved to be pivotal.
-- Louisville 73, Tennessee 72; Dec. 20, 2001. I can't find the play-by-play from this one, but Phillip Conway tipped me to it. Here's the Louisville recap, which says the 'Ville trailed by at least seven in the final 32.5, so it stands to reason they could've been down by eight in the previous 28 seconds. It is blowing my mind to know that it's been more than a decade since Reece Gaines played college basketball. Holy crap. And a few people have passed along video:
-- Pacific 64,
-- UNLV 93, San Diego State 91 (OT); down 10 with 18 seconds to go on Feb. 12, 2005. Two comebacks like this on the SAME NIGHT?? I had no memory of this one. Thanks to Ken Pomeroy (and @gotohellcarolina) for pointing it out. The tying shot via Curtis Terry gave me anxiety. Hurry! Oh, that angle! This one seems like the best/most improbable on the list. I'd love to hear those players, every one of them, tell a story about this game to me tonight.
-- SPECIAL EXCEPTION: Illinois 90, Arizona 89; down eight with 62 seconds to go on March 26, 2005. This is the Elite Eight. It's probably the worst choke in NCAA tournament history, only in competition with Gonzaga's gag job against UCLA the next year, which remains the single most frustrating loss I've ever witnessed. Many people mentioned that Gonzaga giveaway when I was asking for suggestions, but actually the Bulldogs only had a three-point lead as the game closed in with less than a minute to go.
-- Miami 69, Virginia 62 (OT); down 10 with 42 seconds left on March 10, 2011. This one was an afternoon ACC tournament game, had horrible attendance, and most were probably focused on the Big East. So it's kind of forgotten. (It came the day after Kemba Walker hit the biggest shot of his career.) The collapse came to be for the Cavs after they cruised via a 20-2 run to get out in front of the Canes. Dramatic irony played out the next day, when Miami blew a 19-point lead against North Carolina and lost in the ACC semis. In general, Miami has been involved in some end-of-game ridiculousness over the past 10 years. (Hat tip, Evan Hilbert, Will Ojanen and Brian Hammond.)
-- Notre Dame 104, Louisville 101 (5OT); down eight with 50 seconds to go on Feb. 9, 2013. A 56-48 Louisville advantage in a slog of a game went to overtime after Jerian Grant scored 12 points in the final 44 seconds to send it to overtime. The game was so classic it needed another four free sessions before figuring a victor. Here's our write-up from that one.
-- Arkansas Little Rock 85, Southern 82 (OT); down nine with 50 seconds to go on Nov. 22, 2013. Could Notre Dame's collapse not even be the worst of this season so far? The team was also down 11 with a minute left. The rally was completed once Josh Hagins hit a 3 to send this one into overtime, on the road, and helped the Trojans get the win in the extra session. (Via KenPom.)
So that's the lot of the legendary losers in college hoops over the past 13 seasons. The worst of all-time? The greatest gack ever? Hard to argue blowing an eight-point lead in 17 seconds -- without a 3-point line -- will ever be topped. It happened. And it involved the greatest rivalry in college hoops. (Thanks, Jordan Hutchens.)