Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Poorly Played On All Streets

I have at least one more “poker’s precursors” post I want to do -- perhaps a couple, actually -- but am taking a break again here today for a quick reflection on the amazing end of that Northern Iowa-Texas A&M game Sunday night.

Once upon a time -- especially around these parts -- the classic “never give up” example from college basketball was the 1974 Duke-UNC game in which the Heels came back from eight points down with 17 seconds to go, needing a long buzzer beater from Walter Davis (banked in!) to tie before going on to win in overtime.

“Eight points in 17 seconds” became kind of a mantra we’d always hear time and again at the end of ACC games thereafter, a shorthand reminder to viewers not to shut off the television early. There have been more remarkable comebacks over the last four decades, but that one continued to hold on as a commonly-evoked referent (with the lack of a three-point shot then making it even more noteworthy).

But what happened Sunday night was just mind-boggling. I didn’t shut the TV off, but I did walk away from it when NIU had a double-digit lead with about five minutes left. Spent the next half-hour or so up at the barn occupied with feeding some horses and other things, then walked back in the house to discover the game had reached double OT.

That’s when I picked up on the chatter about the Aggies’ big comeback. Was I hearing it correctly? Were they really saying they’d been 12 points down with less than a minute left and somehow had tied the game? How in the what in the who?

I immediately scrolled back on my teevee to watch that last minute play out again (here’s a condensed clip of what I saw). A follow-up basket with 34 seconds left cut the lead to 10, at which point Northern Iowa took their last timeout -- a seemingly innocuous decision that proved meaningful a little later once things began unraveling.

NIU would swiftly turn the ball over on the next three possessions, with Texas A&M converting each time right away, including knocking down a three. That suddenly cut it to 69-66 with 20 seconds left.

Then Northern Iowa scored on a breakaway dunk to make it 71-66 with 17 seconds left, and A&M responded immediately with a layup, with NIU getting called for a foul (perhaps questionably) on the shot. The free throw was converted, and the lead was just two with 12 seconds to go. Then NIU turned the ball over a fourth time, leading to the tying basket.

It happened so quickly, it wasn’t until later I realized the comeback had been achieved without A&M having to foul intentionally a single time. That the Aggies went on to win in double OT was predictable (and anticlimactic) -- I’m just surprised NIU managed to hold it together to compete during that first overtime period.

When I chatted with my buddy Dr. Pauly about the game afterwards, he provided what I thought was a good poker analogy for what had happened.

“Poorly played on all streets,” he said.

I suppose it was a bit like picking up a pair of aces, having been up by a dozen with less than a minute to go. Passive play then let the Aggies get to the flop cheaply, and missteps thereafter worrisomely bloated the pot while allowing Texas A&M to fill a wildly unlikely backdoor draw, paid off for the near maximum by NIU. I say “near maximum” because NIU didn’t bust, but essentially allowed Texas A&M a full double-up to survive before they rose up and finished off the Panthers.

“Twelve points in 44 seconds” will be the new rallying cry for those seeking the basketball equivalent of one-outers going forward, I guess.

(I’m just realizing -- the title of this post essentially describes my busted bracket, too. I played the preflop okay, I suppose, doing fair on Thursday, but mangled the hand terribly thereafter.)

Photo: “Aggie Hoop” (adapted), Stuart Seeger. CC BY 2.0.

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