What Are the Largest Comebacks in March Madness History?
There’s just something about March Madness what with the major upsets, Cinderella stories, buzzer-beaters, and blowouts.
The spread of talent in the NCAA Tournament is ridiculously large, and top-seeded teams often blow out the bottom-seeded teams by 30 or more points, especially in the early rounds. But sometimes, things don’t go as planned.
Even when a team takes a huge lead, whether they’re the favorite or the underdog, it’s just not safe in the tournament. Throughout history, we’ve seen many teams storm back against all odds and take a game that appeared to be nearly impossible to win.
So without further ado, let’s get to the largest comebacks in March Madness history.
T5. Ole Miss 94, BYU 90
Deficit overcome: 17 points
NCAA Tournament: 2015
Playing for the right to get into the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament were Brigham Young and Ole Miss in a 2015 First Four matchup.
BYU took charge early, holding a 17-point lead at halftime over Ole Miss. But M.J. Rhett brought his school all the way back, shooting 9-for-11 from the field and making some clutch baskets in the second half to give Ole Miss the lead with 7:41 remaining in the game.
Considering that they ended up winning the game by four points, it was a 21-point turnaround in this game. As Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy would say after the victory, “Welcome to March Madness!”
T5. UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71
Deficit overcome: 17 points
NCAA Tournament: 2006
Not only did UCLA complete a major comeback against Gonzaga in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, but they also gave fans a fantastic finish. Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo led a massive comeback that got the Bruins to within three points of the Zags at around 20 seconds remaining in the game. Adam Morrison missed a jumper for Gonzaga, and they made a big mistake in fouling on the rebound.
That sent forward Ryan Hollins to the line for UCLA, and he promptly made both free throws to pull within one point, 71-70. After the ball was in-bounded to Morrison, Gonzaga lost control and turned it over to the Bruins–who scored with under 10 seconds remaining to take a 72-71 lead. This one was an absolute stunner, as UCLA won the game 73-71.
4. Louisville 93, West Virginia 85
Deficit overcome: 20 points
NCAA Tournament: 2005
Louisville was a heavy favorite against West Virginia University in their Elite 8 matchup in 2005, which made it all the more shocking that WVU would build a 38-18 lead with just a couple of minutes remaining in the first half.
Things were not going well for the Cardinals, who were looking like their season would come to an end. Larry O’Bannon and Taquan Dean led Louisville on a furious comeback, narrowing the game early in the second half. Dean, specifically, was huge in going 7-for-17 from three-point range during the game.
But even through the major comeback, they still found themselves trailing, 77-75, with just under a minute remaining. A driving basket by O’Bannon tied the game up at 77, sending it to overtime. He scored four points in the extra period, scoring 23 points in the second half and overtime after being held scoreless in the first half. Louisville pulled off the surprise comeback, winning 93-85.
T2. Nevada 75, Cincinnati 73
Deficit overcome: 22 points
NCAA Tournament: 2018
In the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, second-seeded Cincinnati took on seventh-seeded Nevada for the right to go to the Sweet 16. And for quite a while, it seemed as if the Bearcats would cruise as they held a 22-point lead with approximately 11 minutes remaining in the game.
But the Wolfpack refused to quit and clawed their way back into it, tying the game at 73 with just under a minute to go. That tie was broken with about 10 seconds to go as Nevada guard Josh Hall followed up an offensive rebound with a short jumper to give his team the lead, 75-73, which turned out to be the final score in a March Madness comeback for the ages.
T2. Duke 95, Maryland 84
Deficit overcome: 22 points
NCAA Tournament: 2001
The Duke Blue Devils were dead in the water during the 2001 national semifinal against ACC rival Maryland. The Terrapins had completely outplayed the No. 1 seed and built a lead as big 22 points in the first half. When the teams broke for intermission, Duke found themselves in a 49-38 hole. But the second half was when the Blue Devils would rally.
Led by Shane Battier’s game-high 25 points and Jay Williams’s 22, the Blue Devils would flip the script on the Terrapins and outscore them 57-35 over the final 20 minutes. Despite a solid performance from Maryland star Juan Dixon, the Dukies proved to be too difficult to put down. This victory was Duke’s third win in their last four meetings with Maryland.
The most memorable of the bunch came earlier in the year when the Blue Devils would overcome a 12-point deficit in the final minute of the game. This would come to be known as the “Miracle Minute.”
This contest probably hurt the Terrapins more because it was for a berth in the 2001 national championship game. The 95-84 victory in the Final Four set the stage for Duke to face off against an extremely formidable Arizona team. In the end, it was all Duke, who cut down the nets after defeating the Wildcats 82-72.
1. BYU 78, Iona 72
Deficit overcome: 25 points
NCAA Tournament: 2012
In a weird twist of fate, it was actually the BYU Cougars who recorded the largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history. The epic rally came during their First Four contest in the 2012 NCAA Tournament against the high-scoring Iona Gaels.
Despite getting significantly dominated, including giving up 55 points in the first half, the Cougars overcame a 25-point deficit on their way to a 78-72 victory. In a battle between two 14 seeds, it was BYU who exuded a remarkable amount of tenacity and grit.
Behind Noah Hartsock’s 23 points (16 of them coming after halftime), the Cougars outscored Iona 38-17 in the second half, on their way to the greatest comeback in NCAA tournament history.