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Nevada erases 22-point second-half deficit, stuns Cincinnati

Nevada's Josh Hall and Hallice Cooke, right, celebrate

Nevada's Josh Hall and Hallice Cooke, right, celebrate after overcoming a 22-point deficit to upset Cincinnati to reach the NCAA's Sweet 16. Credit: Getty Images / Andy Lyons

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nevada locker room was under water.

The boxed dinners laid out for the players were soaked through, and coach Eric Musselman had been forced to change his clothes, which were sacrificed during the celebratory Gatorade cooler dunk. The cheers reverberated through the nearby hallway at Bridgestone Arena, and there already was talk of Atlanta, of the next step, of the next chance to keep this dream going.

But there were quieter moments, too. Musselman’s wife, sports reporter Danyelle Sargent, her eyes rimmed red, hugging her daughter and then her husband. Hallice Cooke, dazed by his locker, trying to describe what this means. And the omnipresent, almost prayerful whispers of “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”

This is what jubilation looks like. This is what it looks like to come back from a 22-point second-half deficit to earn a spot in the Sweet 16. And this is what it’s like to be one of the chosen, one of the handful of underdogs who have pulled stunning upsets in what is turning out to be the most stunning NCAA Tournament to date. This time it was No. 2 Cincinnati (31-5) falling to No. 7 Nevada, 75-73.

Nevada will play another bracket-buster, No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, in a South Regional semifinal.

The Wolf Pack overcame a 14-point second-half deficit against Texas on Friday in the first round. On Sunday, Nevada trailed by 22 with 10:50 left. It was the second-largest comeback in the history of March Madness. “We’re just speechless right now,” Josh Hall said. “A lot of people had us losing the Texas game. For us to keep winning, fighting, battling, we’re trying to continue to prove people wrong every game.”

With the score tied at 73, Cody Martin’s jumper rimmed out, but Hall was there to clean it up — grabbing the rebound in the paint, turning to put his back to the basket and muscling in a layup with 9.1 seconds left to put Nevada ahead for the first time all game.

With a second left, Caleb Martin, Cody’s twin, deflected Cane Broome’s last-ditch jumper. That ended the game and produced pandemonium on the hardwood and stunned silence in the Cincinnati-heavy crowd.

“Look, we had a big lead,” coach Mick Cronin said. “They gambled and just started trapping at halfcourt, gave us a lot of wide-open shots that we didn’t make. And it got real, real physical around the rim, and I’ll let you take it from there on that. When we had chances around the rim, it was unbelievable what was happening.”

Early on, Nevada (29-7) struggled to find its rhythm. Cincinnati, which was led by Jacob Evans’ 19 points and seven rebounds, went ahead 10-0 and the Wolf Pack didn’t make a basket until 2:20 into the game. Nevada called its second timeout with 15:43 left in the half, and though it eventually got within seven, it couldn’t quite capitalize on Cincinnati’s cold spell.

Nevada, with one of the strongest offenses in the country, was 1-for-8 from three-point range in the first half and shot 5-for-10 from the free-throw line. The Bearcats led 44-32 at halftime.

But the Wolf Pack doesn’t seem to mind playing games on an expert difficulty level. After the Bearcats built on their lead in the second half, Nevada moved to a trapping defense, and Cincinnati struggled to adjust.

A 16-0 run led by Cody Martin, who had eight of his 25 in that span, got Nevada within 65-59. Cody Martin’s three-point play drew the Wolf Pack within three with 3:53 left. Three minutes later, Caleb Martin’s corner three-pointer with 53 seconds left tied it at 73.

“The locker room right now, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Musselman said. “It’s the happiest I’ve ever seen. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. This feeling is never going away the rest of any of our lives.”

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