Abilene Christian, a tiny Texas school that has been in Division I for only the past eight years and had never won an NCAA Tournament game, stunned Texas 53-52 in Saturday’s first round of the NCAA East Region in Indianapolis.
It was the third upset in this NCAA Tournament by a No. 13 seed over a No. 4.
“Little old Abilene Christian out of West Texas went toe-to-toe with Texas,’’ Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding said. “We were the worst Division I team in the country and now we just beat the University of Texas. It’s an incredible story. It’s what March is about, man. It’s magical.’’
Golding’s team now plays No. 11 seed UCLA, which upset BYU on Saturday.
The final seconds were scintillating, climaxed by the two free throws Abilene Christian’s Joe Pleasant sank with 1.2 seconds remaining in the game to secure the victory.
Pleasant is the son of former NFL defensive lineman Anthony Pleasant, who played for 14 seasons, including time with the Jets and winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots.
Abilene Christian watched a four-point lead with 70 seconds remaining evaporate when Texas’ Andrew Jones made two free throws with 56.1 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 51-49 and then, after an Abilene Christian turnover, Jones buried a 3-pointer to give the Longhorns a 52-51 lead with 14.6 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, on the final possession, Pleasant rebounded a blocked shot and was fouled on the put-back with 1.2 seconds remaining.
In an odd twist, Pleasant is Abilene Christian’s best 3-point shooter, but worst free throw shooter, carrying a shaky 59-percent average.
After a timeout, he stood at the line, stared at the rim for what seemed like an eternity and calmly made both free throws to give his school its biggest victory in program history.
“I was trying to key in on the rim, block out the noise and trust in my work that I put in,’’ Pleasant said. “I was trying to calm myself, focus on my breathing, not make the moment too big and visualize the free throws going in.
“You work on free throws all the time,’’ Pleasant added. “It’s no different from being in the gym by myself. You just visualize them going in and that was the result.’’
It was the greatest result in school history.
“I knew he was making them,’’ Golding said. “Joe Pleasant works harder than anyone we have. He lives in the gym.’’
Asked what Golding told him during the timeout, Pleasant said, “He said I was going to make the two free throws and we were going to get back and get a stop, and that’s what happened.’’