ANAHEIM, Calif.--Anxious reporters flooded into the jubilant Texas A&M locker room in the moments following the Aggies' miracle comeback against Northern Iowa on Sunday night. A&M had just become the story of the NCAA Tournament after it scored 14 points in the final 33 seconds of regulation to eventually claim the most improbable win in college basketball history.
Television crews and reporters formed a sea of bright lights, microphones and audio recorders around players like Danuel House, Alex Caruso, Jalen Jones and Tyler Davis.
One key player stood to the side, however, barely drawing a second glance from many media members. In reality, he was the one they should have been clamoring to interview.
At 6-foot-3 and 186 pounds, Admon Gilder can easily blend into a crowd. But the truth is that the freshman from Dallas is a significant reason why the Aggies are still part of the postseason. He played a supreme role in the unlikely victory that pushed A&M into its third Sweet 16 in school history.
Of the six field goals A&M scored in the final 33 seconds against Northern Iowa, Gilder was directly involved in four of them.
First, he gathered a rebound on a missed three-pointer by Alex Caruso and quickly scored a layup to start the rally. Five seconds later, he swiped a loose ball near midcourt and fired a heads-up pass to Danuel House, who deftly laid it in. After a steal and dunk by Jones made it a six-point game, Gilder denied the inbounds pass to UNI's Jeremy Morgan, forcing Wyatt Lohaus to throw the ball out of bounds without it being touched. That led directly to a huge three-pointer by House off of a Caruso inbounds pass to cut the lead to three and cap a still-unbelievable-to-type burst of nine points in only 12 seconds.
And finally, with A&M trailing by two, Gilder supplied a highlight that will be forever played by Aggie fans. After he and Tonny Trocha-Morelos trapped point guard Wes Washpun in the corner with 11 seconds remaining, Washpun tried to leap out of bounds and throw the ball off of Gilder so UNI could retain possession.
In a move that required athleticism, anticipation, quick hands and a high basketball IQ, Gilder deftly stepped out of the way, snagged the ball on the bounce, knifed his way around a defender and laid it in with just 1.9 on the clock to tie the game.
Photos by Thomas Campbell, courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics.
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"That was a player's move," said A&M coach Billy Kennedy. "He is a gym rat, and that's where that play came from."
It wasn't a flash in the pan, either. Gilder has become one of A&M's most dependable end-of-game performers. He has scored 11 points per game and is shooting a healthy 60 percent thus far in NCAA play. Gilder is also 9-of-10 from the free throw line in March Madness.
In A&M's quarterfinal game of the SEC Tournament against Florida, he was similarly clutch. With the Aggies up by two points and with 22 seconds remaining, Gilder calmly sank two free throws to put A&M up by four and help quell a late Gator rally.
Moments like that are just one of the reasons Kennedy has made Gilder a mainstay on the court in crunch time. The sensational first-year player hails from a highly successful high school program at Dallas' James Madison High School where he was part of state championship teams as a sophomore and junior and a state semifinal appearance as a senior.
"He's definitely a winner," Kennedy said. "I've said all year that I like having him on the court at the end, and obviously it's worked recently."
Gilder was sensational in high school, averaging 30.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.4 steals as a senior. He also had a similar penchant for making key plays at important times.
Damon Burnett, Gilder's high school coach when he was a senior, saw it often. In a March 2015 story in The Dallas Morning News, Burnett had a largely recognizable description of his prized pupil's play.
"He'll survey the scene, and if it's not going the way it needs to go, he'll pretty much turn into Superman," Burnett told the paper. "And he'll do the little things, too. It's not all scoring."
That quote was given one year ago, but it is quite familiar to A&M fans who have seen Gilder average 20 minutes per game this year and make significant contributions on both sides of the ball.
"He always seems to find the ball, and the ball always seems to find him," said House. "I wasn't surprised (by his play), but I was impressed with having a freshman who is so poised and able to make the right plays at the right time."
While Gilder's influence hasn't been overlooked in College Station, those around the league may not be fully appreciating it just yet. The Southeastern Conference released its All-SEC teams on March 8, and while teammates D.J. Hogg and Tyler Davis were listed on the All-Freshman team, Gilder's name was conspicuously absent.
Not surprisingly, the soft-spoken Gilder said his non-inclusion on the list isn't a source of angst.
"There's nothing really for me to prove (to the coaches who didn't vote me on the team)," Gilder said. "I just want to go out there and give it my all. That's one thing I do every time coach puts me on the court. I go out there and do what the team needs."
When it comes down to it, education is the most important thing someone can have, and student-athletes give so much of their time and talents to our school. If we can help support them to earn that diploma and Aggie ring, then that is what we want to do."