Texas A&M sets NCAA last-minute comeback record, breaking Canisius’ mark

By Nick Veronica

Texas A&M set an NCAA comeback record Sunday by rallying from a 12-point deficit in the final minute to beat Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, 92-88, in double overtime.

The previous record for largest final-minute deficit overcome to win the game – 11 points – was set by UNLV in 2005 and matched by Canisius in December.

Here are the previous marks from the NCAA record book (which hasn’t been updated yet to include Canisius):

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How did this happen?

The Aggies’ comeback turned out to be very different from Canisius’ comeback, which was fueled by missed free throws and clutch 3-pointers.

Jeremy Morgan hit two free throws to put Northern Iowa up, 69-57, with 44 seconds to play. Then the wheels fell off. Texas A&M ripped off a 14-2 run over a span of 31 seconds (!) before UNI missed a potential game-winning shot just before the buzzer.

The biggest factor in the Panthers’ demise was turnovers. They blew a 12-point lead without missing a single free throw! The complete play-by-play is here, but here are the highlights:

Over the final 44 seconds:

  • Northern Iowa committed four turnovers
  • Texas A&M went 6-for-7 from the field, and got the rebound on its only miss
  • Danuel House led A&M with five points while Admon Gilder, a freshman, scored four and had two steals

Texas A&M made the only free throw taken over the stretch, on a traditional 3-point play from Alex Caruso. Jalen Jones added a bucket and had a steal for A&M while House hit the only 3-pointer. Klint Carlson scored UNI’s only points on a dunk.

Caruso hit a jumper to tie the game with eight seconds left in the first overtime before the Aggies got separation in the second overtime. Third-seeded Texas A&M advanced to play 2-Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 while the Cinderella run ended for 11-Northern Iowa in an epic collapse.


President Obama picks against UB in NCAA Tournament this year


By Nick Veronica

President Obama got burned by UB last year when he picked them to upset West Virginia in his annual March Madness bracket with ESPN.

Obama’s not letting that happen again. In his 2016 bracket, revealed Wednesday, the president picked Miami to beat UB and Arizona before falling to Villanova in the Sweet 16. His national champion is Kansas.

UB, seeded 14th, is being picked to beat Miami in only 7.7 percent of ESPN.com brackets. Vegas Insider lists the Bulls as 14-point underdogs.

Here’s Obama’s full bracket. It’s worth noting that his picks last year only finished in the 40th percentile of all ESPN.com brackets.

Obama has filled out a presidential bracket every year since 2009, correctly picking the national champion once in his first year (North Carolina).

The last 10 NFL Street players who haven’t retired yet


By Nick Veronica

Peyton Manning’s retirement this week meant we lost another member of an exclusive club: the list of active players who were in the original NFL Street video game.

Of the game’s 398 players, Manning makes 388 who have called it a career. Only three remaining players – all quarterbacks – are under contract for 2016 and definitely coming back, while seven more hope to get another year.

The classic game was released in 2004 with rosters from the 2003 season, so the atrophy of this list was inevitable and expected. (In fact, many players outlasted the game systems NFL Street was made for: Play Station 2, GameCube and Xbox.)

But still, going through and hoping to find active players was an exercise in futility. (Hat-tip to the Madden Ratings blog for help with the rosters and big ups to Josh for his research assistance). There were multiple occasions where we thought we might have an active player, only to learn he retired years ago.

Here are the results. Players who are definitely playing in 2016 are highlighted in green, while questionable players are highlighted in blue. Keep in mind that NFL Street was played 7-on-7 with no special teams. We’ll update as players sign/retire (which may been soon, since free agency opened at 3 p.m. Wednesday).

AFC rosters

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– Brady’s contract runs through the 2017 season.

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– Palmer’s contract runs through the 2017 season.

– Suggs tore his Achilles in September but vowed he wasn’t finished playing, even if it’s not for the Ravens.

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– The Colts are unlikely to bring back Johnson, but he said “I am playing, there’s no question about that.”

– Freeney nearly retired before signing with the Cardinals last season and enjoyed their playoff run. No word on yet on where he’ll be in 2016.

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– Brees will enter the final year of his deal with the Saints in 2016.

NFC rosters

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– Vick said Wednesday that he wants one more year. He’s willing to wait as long as it takes, but if an offer doesn’t come, 2016 will be it for him.

– Smith said 2015 would be his last year, but changed his mind after an injury.

– Peppers’ contract runs through 2016, but after the Packers’ playoff loss he said he was “not sure” if he’d return for another year or retire. We put him in blue, but he could switch to green.

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– Boldin is a free agent but said in December “right now it’s not the time” to retire.

So here’s the breakdown:

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Who will be the game’s final active player? I’d have a hard time betting against Brady (38 years young), even if he is older than Brees (37) and Palmer (36).

Immediate reactions: Iona 73, Canisius 55 (MAAC quarterfinals)

7-Canisius 28 27 – 55
2-Iona 43 30 – 73

By Nick Veronica

What it means: Iona eliminated Canisius from the MAAC Tournament for the third time in the last four years behind a barrage of three-pointers and its classic high-speed offense. The Gaels will face the Siena-Manhattan winner Sunday in the semifinals.

Canisius finishes the year 14-19 while Iona (20-10) clinched its seventh straight 20-win season.


How it happened: Canisius kept the game close for about eight minutes before Iona ran away with it.

The Griffs had kept up early coming off Thursday night’s triple-overtime game against Niagara, but Iona’s press and three-point shooting caught up with them quickly.

A late 10-1 run pushed Iona’s lead to 18 late in the first half (43-25), and Canisius didn’t fare much better after intermission. Iona pushed its lead to as many as 24 points while MAAC Player of the Year runner-up A.J. English dished out 10 assists and added a game-high 20 points. The Griffs led for only 29 seconds all night.

Phil Valenti paced Canisius with 13 points, Kassius Robertson scored 11 and Kevin Bleeker had 10. Leading scorer Malcolm McMillan, who didn’t seem 100 percent this weekend, finished with eight points.

Iona hit 13 of 30 three-pointers (43%) and shot 47 percent for the game.

End of the road: Canisius can’t play in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament this year because it didn’t have a winning record, so the loss marked the final game for seniors Kevin Bleeker, Malcolm McMillan and Jamal Reynolds. Bleeker was the last player remaining from the Tom Parrotta years.

Tired legs? The scoreboard did a pretty good job of proving Canisius was feeling the effects from Thursday’s marathon game. But if you were looking for areas where tired legs might show up on the stat sheet, three places I guessed before the game were inability to close out on opponent’s three-point attempts, not being able to step into your own threes, and lack of turnovers created.

Iona was on fire from deep hitting 13 three-pointers, including nine in the first half. Canisius made only 6 of 21 threes for 29 percent. Iona was credited with seven turnovers while Canisius committed 11 after giving it away only eight times in 55 minutes Thursday.

Looking at the final stats, maybe the best indicator was fast-break points: Iona 17, Canisius 0. Rebounds were 39-31 Iona.

Better late than never:

In the house: Attendance at the Times Union Center was not strong, which is typical for the early rounds. The Buffalo News last week called for a move to campus sites, which I tend to agree with, at least for the opening round. Here’s what the crowd looked like at Canisius’ games:

Baron’s numbers: Coach Jim Baron signed a three-year extension this week. Through his first four years at Canisius, he has made one MAAC semifinal and owns a 73-61 record (54.5%), better than his career winning percentage of 51.8 percent. In the two years since Billy Baron graduated, Canisius is 32-34.

Baron can hit some notable milestones next year. With four wins, he’ll pass Niagara coaching legend Taps Gallagher for 78th on the NCAA’s all-time wins list (465). He also needs eight games to reach 900 for his career, which only 39 coaches have done. Becoming the NCAA’s all-time leader in losses is probably two years away; Friday’s loss moved him into a tie for fourth on the list with 430.

Vegas line: Iona -12.5, over/under 158.5. Iona covered, total was 128.

Next: That’s all, folks. See you for exhibitions in November. Enjoy the NCAA Tournament.

Immediate reactions: Canisius 102, Niagara 97 (3OT) – MAAC Tournament

Niagara 36 35 15 7 9 – 102
Canisius 40 31 15 7 4 – 97

By Nick Veronica

ALBANY – If you can have an instant classic from the play-in round of a conference tournament, Thursday’s Canisius-Niagara game would be it. The seventh-seeded Griffs outlasted their rivals in triple overtime, 102-97, to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals.

What it means: Canisius lives another day and will face No. 2 Iona at 9:30 p.m. Friday. This will be the third time they’ve met in the MAAC Tournament in the last four years. Iona swept the season series from Canisius this year.

Niagara finishes the year at 7-25 but could bring back its entire roster since it has no seniors. Canisius is now 14-18. It was the first time Canisius and Niagara had gone to overtime in the MAAC Tournament in seven meetings.


How it happened: I gave up trying to make this nice prose. Here’s a period-by-period rundown:

End of regulation: Tied 71-71, Canisius has the ball with a chance to win, 18 seconds left … Kevin Bleeker’s potential game-winning three-pointer won’t fall. Headed for overtime.

OT: Canisius up four with 22 seconds left. Blackman gets a tip-in, McMillan hits one of two free throws when he could’ve made it a two-possession game. … Blackman is fouled on a desperation three-point attempt with 1.1 seconds left and calmly makes all three free throws to force a second overtime. Wow. Cool as can be.

Double OT: Malcolm McMillan hits long two-pointer with 1:28 left to make it Canisius 93, Niagara 91. Karonn Davis ties it with 45 seconds left. Phil Valenti misses two big free throws with 24 seconds left, giving Niagara a chance to win … Emile Blackman’s potential game-winner wouldn’t fall. Triple OT.

Triple OT: Emile Blackman steps in to take a charge with four fouls and gets the call in his favor. Gutty. Malcolm McMillan ties it at 97 from the line with 1:47 left. Phil Valenti puts Canisius up with 1:04 to go, 99-97. Blackman misses on Niagara’s possession. Big offensive rebound by Kassius Robertson after McMillian’s miss; McMillan hits both free throws to make it a four-point game with 20.5 left, 101-97. Niagara can’t get a bucket … Phil Valenti hits one of two free throws to seal the deal. What a game.

Stats & leaders: Valenti led all players with 33 points while Blackman led NU with 26. McMillan and Davis both scored 20. No player recorded double-digit rebounds because both teams shot so well/struggled on defense: Niagara hit 51 percent of field goals while Canisius made 43 percent. The Griffs were 34-44 from the line, while Niagara was only 10-17.

Records & notes: The 199 total points scored is the most ever for any MAAC Tournament game.

— Phil Valenti’s 33 points are the most for a Canisius player in a tournament game.

— 102 points is a tournament record for Canisius.

— It was the 19th time Canisius and Niagara have gone to OT; Canisius is now 10-9 in those games.

NU’s Matt Scott misses game: Niagara sophomore Matt Scott did not play Thursday due to a lingering foot injury. Scott (15.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game) was the only member of either team to be named to a MAAC all-star team earlier this week. He was the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer behind Emile Blackman (15.5 pgg).

Unsung hero: Niagara guard Chris Barton stepped up in Scott’s place. Barton, a freshman from Pontiac, Mich. making his fifth career start, entered the game shooting just 18.8% on 3-pointers but made 4 of 5 in the first half to spark Niagara. He easily surpassed his career high of 13 points before finishing with 17.

Three-point watch: An interesting matchup coming into the game was Niagara’s three-point shooting. The Purple Eagles rank 343rd out of 346 D-I teams in three-point percentage (27.6%) while Canisius ranks 315th in three-point defense (37.6%). … Niagara ended up shooting 9 for 21 (43%) in the game.

Canisius press conference:

Niagara press conference: 

Baron’s contract extended: Canisius coach Jim Baron received a three-year contract extension this week, announced Thursday afternoon, which locks him up through the 2019-20 season. Next year would’ve been the final year of his original contract.

Interestingly, there’s a strong possibility Baron becomes the NCAA’s career leader in losses over the life of his new extension. That speaks more to his longevity and the type of teams he’s taken over than being a bad coach, but it’s still an incredible factoid.

Baron ranks 79th on the all-time wins list. The next coach he will pass is legendary Niagara coach Taps Gallagher, whom NU’s basketball arena is named after.

Vegas line: Canisius -6.5, over/under 138.5. Niagara covered, total was well over.

Starters: Canisius Malcolm McMillan, Kassius Robertson, Jamal Reynolds, Phil Valenti, Kevin Bleeker. Niagara: Cameron Fowler, Chris Barton, Emile Blackman, Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb.