Joe Pleasant took deep breaths as he tried to block everything out. It seemed like he was standing at the line forever, his eyes fixated on the rim. A 58.5% free-throw shooter, he had to do something outside of his repertoire to send his team into the history books.
“I was just trying to calm myself down, focus on my breathing,” Pleasant said. “Just not make the moment too big.”
But the moment was enormous. It had been defense, defense and more defense that had put Abilene Christian in this spot, with a chance to win the game. Now, it would require one free throw to tie, two to win. The first was a swish. The second rattled in.
FINAL: ACU has defeated Texas. 53-52. pic.twitter.com/LV1zY32DHS
— Sam Blum (@SamBlum3) March 21, 2021
Two seconds later, his teammates were streaming onto the court, behind the basket and in front of their fans. Head coach Joe Golding was pacing around behind the basket as the dust settled asking people “How about that?” His team had shocked Texas, 53-52, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“At that point he was done, I knew he was making them,” Golding said. “… We were the worst Division-I team in the country, and now we just beat the University of Texas.”
Abilene Christian shot onto the national scene with an intense and unrelenting defensive display, shocking the state powerhouse. The Big 12 champions are now the first Big 12 team out of the NCAA Tournament, and head coach Shaka Smart remains winless in tourney play with the Longhorns.
A decade ago, Abilene Christian was a legitimately bad Division-II program that lacked funding. It was well below .500 in the Lone Star Conference. As Saturday night turned into early Sunday morning, the small private university slayed the biggest state school with the biggest brand. It will have a chance against UCLA on Monday at 5:15 p.m. to be the third 14th seed to ever make a Sweet 16.
In this game, the swarming defense forced 23 turnovers. It took 27 more shots than the Longhorns whose offense was as bad as Abilene Christian’s defense was good. It took every one of those two gaudy numbers for the Wildcats to eke out the one-point win.
“Up until tonight we had a phenomenal season,” Smart said. “And this obviously isn’t the way that any of us envision it ending. But this is one of the facts of the NCAA Tournament. One team gets to stay and one team goes home.”
Texas got out to a 10-4 lead to start the game. Then it was up by nine in the early part of the second half. But there was opportunity to pull away. The first deficit was answered by an 11-1 Wildcats run, spurred by five straight points from forward Joe Pleasant.
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SOURCE: Dallas Morning News, Sam Blum