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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Comeback for the ages: Nevada tops Cincinnati 75-73 to reach Sweet 16

UPDATED: Sun., March 18, 2018

Nevada guard Hallice Cooke (13) and forward Elijah Foster (12) celebrate at the end end of the second half of a second-round game against Cincinnati, in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 18, 2018. Nevada defeated Cincinnati 75-73 after trailing by 22 points with 11 minutes remaining. (Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
Nevada guard Hallice Cooke (13) and forward Elijah Foster (12) celebrate at the end end of the second half of a second-round game against Cincinnati, in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 18, 2018. Nevada defeated Cincinnati 75-73 after trailing by 22 points with 11 minutes remaining. (Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
By Steve Megargee Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Nevada’s Jordan Caroline sat in the Wolf Pack’s locker room and shouted the three words that were being repeated in households across the country.

“What just happened?!?”

Only a comeback that matched the second-largest in NCAA Tournament history.

Nevada rallied from 22 points down in the final 11 minutes Sunday to stun No. 2 seed Cincinnati 75-73 and earn its second Sweet 16 appearance ever. Josh Hall converted an offensive rebound with 9.1 seconds left to make the tiebreaking basket and give Nevada its only lead of the night.

“It’s such an unimaginable feeling,” Caroline said.

The seventh-seeded Wolf Pack (28-7) move on to an all-upstart South Region semifinal matchup with 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago (30-5) on Thursday night in Atlanta. Nevada’s only previous regional semifinal appearance came in 2004.

Nevada earned its trip to Atlanta because Cody Martin led a comeback for the ages.

The only bigger comeback in NCAA history came in 2012, when BYU beat Iona after trailing by 25 points. Nevada’s rally is tied for second place with Duke, which erased a 22-point deficit to beat Maryland in the 2001 Final Four.

“That locker room right now, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “It’s the happiest I’ve ever seen. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”

While Nevada celebrated, Cincinnati’s players stood silently in their locker room wondering how their defense that ranked second among all Division I teams allowed 32 points in the last 11 minutes. The Bearcats also failed to make a single basket in the final 5 minutes, 45 seconds.

Cincinnati forward Gary Clark, the American Athletic Conference player of the year, calmly answered questions for several minutes and blamed himself for not beating Hall to the rebound that decided the game.

“I’ve probably got a million text messages saying you had a great year and career, but it comes down to that last rebound,” said Clark, who had 11 points and 10 boards. “It could have gotten my team over the hump.”

Hall instead got the rebound, made a move in the paint and put up a shot that hit the front rim, softly kissed the glass and went through the net.

“I saw an opening and tried to put as much touch on it as possible because of how close I was,” said Hall, who scored 14 points.

Cincinnati’s Cane Broome raced up the court, briefly lost control of the ball and then appeared to try putting up a shot that Nevada’s Caleb Martin knocked away. Clark and Caroline then chased after the ball as the final seconds ticked away.

Once the final horn sounded, a jubilant Caroline slid toward midcourt while Clark lay on his back under the basket. Television cameras caught Musselman taking off his shirt as he headed into a boisterous locker-room celebration.

“It’s crazy,” Caleb Martin said. “Coach works out every morning, so his shirt comes off a lot. So I know he’s definitely going to use this as an excuse to take it off, show a little bit of his muscle.”

“Especially in March, you know that nobody’s ever out,” Clark said. “I think we’re an example for many young people and many other teams in the tournament, that you can’t let up at all. You’ve got to just figure out a way to get stops and get baskets.”

Cody Martin led Nevada’s furious rally by collecting 25 points, six rebounds and seven assists with no turnovers. His twin brother Caleb tied the game by making a fadeaway 3-pointer from in front of Nevada’s bench with 54 seconds left.

Nevada’s rally came two days after the Wolf Pack erased a 14-point, second-half deficit to beat Texas 87-83 in overtime for its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2007.

Cincinnati (31-5) scored the game’s first 10 points and was up 44-32 at halftime, the fifth straight time Nevada has trailed at the intermission. Cincinnati extended its advantage to 65-43 on Jarron Cumberland’s basket with 11:37 left.

Nevada outscored Cincinnati 32-8 the rest of the way.

“Especially in March, you know that nobody’s ever out,” Clark said. “I think we’re an example for many young people and many other teams in the tournament, that you can’t let up at all. You’ve got to just figure out a way to get stops and get baskets.”

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