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Clutch Nixon, Aggies ready for the Sweet 16

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 24: Texas A&M University takes on Iowa State University during the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament held at Alamodome on March 24, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – MARCH 24: Texas A&M players celebrate with Jordan Nixon after she hit the game winner against Iowa State. Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos.

It started as Jordan Nixon grabbed a defensive rebound under the opposite basket with 7.2 seconds remaining in overtime.

She dribbled up the left side of the court, crossed at the midpoint past her defender and drove up the middle of the lane. Leaping into the air slightly, the Texas A&M point guard launched the ball toward the top of the backboard, and it fell through the net perfectly as the final buzzer sounded.

For the third time this season, the sophomore had delivered a game-winning shot at the last second for her team. But Wednesday the stakes were at their highest: the Aggies’ 84-82 win over Iowa State sent them to the Sweet 16.

Nixon said she had been prepared to pass after taking the ball coast to coast, but none of her teammates were open. So she went with the flow.

“As soon as I put the shot up, I knew it was going in, honestly,” she said.

Nixon stood in the spot where she had come to a stop after shooting and stood still for what seemed like an eternity. Then her teammates mobbed her – several of them collapsing to the floor with her and yelling joyously into her face.

The New York native said she paused after the basket dropped to let what had just happened fully sink in.

“I was savoring the moment,” Nixon said. “I think in this age, in this time, we’re always thinking about the next thing. That when I stopped, that was me taking it in: we’re going to the sweet 16. We just clawed back against a really good team.”

A&M trailed by as many as 12 points in regulation, and fought their way back late in the game. Nixon hit the shot to tie it and send it to an extra period, and then she scored seven of the team’s nine points in overtime. She tied it at 82 with 1:38 remaining, but the Aggies missed a shot. They made two defensive stops on the Cyclones, which set up the final scoring sequence.

Nixon shot 16-28 for a career-high 35 points, to go along with 7 assists. She was also clutch down the stretch of Monday’s first-round game against Troy, scoring nine points in the final five and a half minutes to help A&M rally from behind and avoid an upset. Earlier in the season she delivered the game-ending dagger twice against Arkansas.

Remaining calm in big moments is nothing new to Nixon. But having the complete confidence of her team and coaches in her first season taking the court for the Aggies humbled her to tears in the post-game interview last night.

SAN ANTONIO, TX – MARCH 24: Texas A&M players embrace Jordan Nixon after she hit the game-winning shot against the Cyclones to send the Aggies to the Sweet 16. Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos.

“They trust me,” she said on camera, her voice trembling. “They trust me to make plays, they trust me to lead this team. Win lose or draw, every single person on that bench is behind me. And it just makes these moments that much more special.”

Nixon later said she was playing for her former high school coach, who died a year ago that week from COVID-19.

The win was another step in a year that has been challenging for both players and staff. With almost a completely revamped roster, A&M saw games canceled when opponents had COVID issues. But instead of taking the time off, they scheduled another contest.

Players learned each other on the court, and they kept finding ways to win. They lost just once in SEC play, and saw their second loss in the conference tournament championship game. In a season where some teams saw COVID pauses and had trouble playing a dozen games, the Aggies never had to pause, and they finished 25-2.

Nixon said their success has been due to their versatility and depth, as all five starters average double figure scoring. But some have wondered how far the team can go considering their performances over the last few matchups.

Coach Gary Blair is not concerned.

“Is it because (opponents) have played so well, or that we’ve underplayed?” he said. “I think it’s just March.”

“We have played very well at times in both ball games. Yes, we’ve made some mistakes, but sometimes you have to win games like we have all year. We haven’t won a thing (yet). All we’ve done is hold serve just like the other No. 2 seeds that have advanced. Our best basketball is in front of us.”

After her heroics against Iowa State, Nixon received praise on social media from WNBA standouts Sue Bird and Swin Cash, as well as the NBA’s LeBron James and actor Gabrielle Union. Though she said she was “humbled and grateful” for the recognition, Nixon and her teammates will be in business mode after taking today off to rest.

“We’re going to watch film, take some notes, practice and do what we’ve been doing,” she said. “It’s not going to change me or this team. I’m still the point guard, I’m still Jordan, and I’m still going to lead this team.”

A&M faces No. 3 Arizona at 7 p.m. CT Saturday.

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