Texas A&M rallies from 21 down to stun Penn
LOS ANGELES (AP) — For 30 minutes, Texas A&M was completely outplayed by Penn.
Then, the Aggies staged the biggest comeback in NCA Tournament history, rallying from 21 points down in the fourth quarter to stun the Quakers.
Khaalia Hillsman scored 27 points and Texas A&M overcame the huge deficit to come away with a 63-61 victory Saturday night. She scored the go-ahead basket with 19.1 seconds left as the fifth-seeded Aggies finished the game on a 25-1 run to beat the 12th-seeded Quakers.
“That’s the biggest comeback I’ve ever been a part of,” said Aggies veteran coach Gary Blair. “The game is never over at A&M until we decide it’s over.”
The rally surpassed the previous record for largest comeback at 16 points that happened twice in the tournament according to the NCAA.
“In the fourth, quarter I was just trying to have some pride in what we do,” Hillsman said. “We weren’t representing our school very well for 30 minutes, and then in the last 10, we found something in us.”
When the Aggies went down by 21 they went to an effective full-court press that Penn never could master. The Quakers (22-8) turned the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, they did not connect on field goal during the game’s final 8:58 of the game. They missed their final 10 shots. Everything was suddenly going wrong.
“We needed one basket,” said Penn coach Mike McLaughlin. “They sped us up and we lost our organization. We didn’t handle it very well. It’s my responsibility to keep our kids composed and find a way to get one basket.”
The Aggies won despite shooting only 30 percent on the night. It helped in the fourth quarter that they outrebounded the Quakers 16-6.
Sydney Stipanovich led Penn with 20 points, while Michelle Nwokedi had 15 points and seven rebounds. They had Penn with a deceptive 58-37 lead.
“It’s just really, really difficult for me right now,” McLaughlin said.
Penn: The Quakers had won 13 of its last 14 games before Saturday.
Texas A&M: The Aggies scored 20 points from the free-throw line (20 of 26), including 13 points from the line in the fourth quarter.
Both Notre Dame and Michigan State rallied from 16 down in the Final Four to hold the previous tourney comeback mark. The Irish did it in 2001 against UConn and the Spartans rallied against Tennessee in 2005.
Penn was breezing early, shooting 50 percent from the field through three quarters. It made its first three in the fourth quarter and then never another (3 for 13).
The Quakers were understandably bewildered after surrendering a record 21-point lead, but they gave the Aggies their due. Said Nwokedi: “Their pressure was really getting to us. They sped us up. The press, we couldn’t break it. Give them credit.”
The Aggies will meet fourth-seeded UCLA Monday.