They were in the Sweet 16, and then all of the sudden . . . . they weren’t.
Depending on which win probability calculator you ask, Northern Iowa had a 99.99 percent chance of winning with 44 seconds to go. (see graph below)
Obviously, the near 100% calculation was incorrect, as UNI would go on to allow the biggest last-minute comeback in college basketball history, ultimately losing in double OT to Texas A & M.
Twelve hours later, the shrapnel has been what you would expect, with discussions swirling around Ben Jacobson (UNI Head Coach) and the incredible collapse of a team who went from “greatest victory is school history” to “greatest defeat in school history” in a mere 44 seconds. It was the kind of loss that left you sitting in your seat as a spectator with a bag of mixed emotions. Fortunate to have witnessed the history. Shocked at the epic collapse. Confused how UNI couldn’t inbound the ball. Ultimately, sick to your stomach while watching a team exit the court baffled and horrified at what had just taken place.
As I’ve read the articles and listened to the pundits talk this morning, I find myself wondering if we are missing a greater story. A question that warrants discussion.
Would you give up with 44 seconds left?
Let me be a little more clear. Would you admit defeat when your team was down 12 points with 44 seconds left in the game? Not two possessions in 44 seconds, not three possessions in 44 seconds, but FOUR possessions in 44 seconds.
Would you give up?
The easy point of discussion this morning is Northern Iowa’s epic collapse. But in order for this collapse to even take place, another ingredient had to also be in play. With defeat dragging them to the lockerroom, Texas A&M had to make a decision that would be completely counterintuitive to the situation. They had to decide as a team not to quit.
Now, don’t miss what I just wrote. I didn’t say “they didn’t quit.” I said “they decided not to quit.” Big difference.
When faced with insurmountable odds, not quitting requires an intentional choice. A choice that almost always flies in the face of practicality. A choice on-lookers will openly mock, yet rarely understand.
The decision to keep going when you can’t see the path to victory goes far beyond the virtue of perseverance. It’s tenacity, determination and staying power. It’s endurance and steadfastness. Persistence and stick-to-it-ivenness. But most of all, it’s these traits clothed in perhaps the most mysterious virtue of all; faith.
The Bible says that faith is being sure in what we hope for and confident about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) It’s commonly debated whether this verse is a definition of what faith is, or a description of what faith does. The context refers to trusting the truths the word of God promises to all those who believe in Jesus Christ.
In the sports world, a broader context of faith commonly presents itself in moments like last night. It’s trusting the impossible is still possible, even if you can’t see it. It’s believing the win probability calculator is wrong when everyone in the arena would bet the mortgage it’s right. It’s looking at the scoreboard and seeing you are down 12 with 44 seconds and still believing your team can walk on water and not sink.
After the final buzzer had sounded, Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy was asked to comment on the game. His answer had little to do with basketball, but was clearly clothed in the mysterious virtue of faith.
“Still don’t really know what happened. … I mean, come on. I don’t know what Vegas’ odds are on a situation like that. People know about my faith. All I can say is to God be the glory. I’m just thankful for that moment.”
So are we Billy Kennedy. So are we. It’s never gets old listening to a man of faith thank the God he serves for showing us all a broader picture of what faith is and what faith does.