Putting the madness in March Madness
With March Madness winding down, we decided to count down the 20 greatest buzzer beaters in NCAA Tournament history. First of all, let’s define buzzer beater: it’s a shot that beats the buzzer (WHAT???). That means that it’s the last shot of the game with no time left on the clock. So don’t be chirping at us, “What about Luke Maye vs Kentucky, you idiots?” or “How could you losers not include Danny Ainge’s winner vs Notre Dame???” First of all, that’s not very nice. Secondly, they were not buzzer beaters. The other team still had a shot at winning because there was time left on the clock (no matter how little).
The other criteria that went into the rankings are: how historically significant the shot was, i.e., how far did the team go after winning the game, were they tied or losing at the time of the shot (losing has more weight because the consequences are higher), the difficulty level of the shot, and how memorable it was. So without further ado, here are the Top 20 greatest buzzer beaters in NCAA Tournament history and the some of the stories behind them.
20. #12 Western Kentucky upsets #5 Drake (2008)
Wait, what? Who besides Drake players and alum (and even then we wouldn’t bet a lot of money on them remembering) remembers that Drake was ever a #5 seed? Yet, here they are showing up on our buzzer beater list. Albeit, it was a shortlived life as a #5 seed, as the Hilltoppers knocked them out in an OT game in the 1st round, when Ty Rogers went for the killshot.
19. #13 Murray St scores one for the little guys (2010)
When the brackets came out in 2010, #4 seed Vanderbilt had to feel pretty good about their chances in their 1st round match up when they drew the #13 seed Murray St Racers. After all, what the heck even is a Racer? They had to feel less good about it when Murray State’s Danero Thomas was driving a stake through their heart with a 15-footer at the buzzer.
PS – How cool is this camera angle shot from the crowd? The Madness at its finest.
18. #2 Texas pulls the rug out from under #6 West Virginia (2006)
In 2006, the only thing that stood between the #2 seed Longhorns and a trip to the Elite Eight was #6 seed West Virginia. After AJ Abrams hit 2 FTs with just :26 left, Texas was up by 5, 70-65. A quick 3 by West Virginia’s Mike Gansey cut the lead to 2. Longhorns F LaMarcus Aldridge made 1 of 2 from the line, bumping the lead back to 3. The Mountaineers’ Kevin Pittsnogle (Hey! A Kevin Pittsnogle sighting!) drained the tying 3 with just :07 left to seemingly send the game to OT. That was until Texas’ Kenton Paulino played Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better with Pittsnogle (Hey! Another Pittsnogle sighting! Wow, two in one day!) and drained the game-winner.
17. #8 North Carolina (David???) knocks out #1 Oklahoma (Goliath???) (1990)
In 1990, the Tar Heels heels squeaked into the tournament as a #8 seed. Many thought they didn’t belong and got in based on their name/history. In the second round, they went up against one of the best teams in the country in #1 Oklahoma. Forward Rick Fox made sure to keep the Tar Heels and head coach Dean Smith’s streak of making the Sweet 16 alive with the smooth, sliding bank shot on the baseline.
16. #7 Wisconsin sends #2 Xavier packing (2016)
The Badgers came in as (+5) point underdogs to the second seeded Musketeers with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. Xavier had a 9-point lead late in the second half. However, they only scored 2 points over the final 4:22. No matter, they were poised to go to OT, if they could just stop Wisconsin from scoring with :02 left. But the Badgers’ Bronson Koenig was like, “Nah, brah. I got this.”
15. Drew Nicholas save the defending champion Terrapins (2003)
The defending champion #6 seed Maryland Terrapins were on the brink of disaster vs the #11 seed UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks were up 1 with only 5.0 seconds to play. Now, 94-feet stood in the Terrapins’ way of getting embarrassed with a 1st round exit. Enter Maryland leading scorer Drew Nicholas. He streaked down the court, nailing a game-winning 3, never stopping and just continuing to the locker room. The Terrapins escaped with a W, but not before they and head coach Gary Williams had to sweat it out… Get it? Because Gray Williams would always sweat on the sideline?…. Nevermind. You kids today with your Blackberry cellular phones, Lance Armstrong bracelets, and your lack of knowledge of Gary Williams sweating profusely. You have no idea how good you have it. Unbelievable. Just forget it.
14. #2 Connecticut’s Richard Hamilton rips (Hi-yo!) #11 Washington’s heart out (1998)
The Huskies (Washington) were merely seconds away from beating the Huskies (UConn) and for an Elite Eight appearance vs UNC. However, UConn had not one, not two, but three chances against Washington to end the game. It actually would’ve been better had the Connecticut hit either of the first shots because at least then Washington would’ve had a chance to counter. But fate is a fickle female dog.
PS – LOVE Sean McDonough’s call.
13. #11 Northern Iowa sinks #6 Texas from DEEP
The Panthers inability to salt the game away at the FT line looked like it was going to come back and haunt them against Texas, as Wes Washpun missed his 2nd foul shot with just :11 left. Texas’ Isaiah Taylor hit a runner in the lane that was seemingly going to send the game into OT. Paul Jesperson then did his best US Reed impersonation (more on that later), without the cool name, killing the Longhorns’ season with the halfcourt heave.
12. #4 Florida’s Chris Chiozza ends #8 Wisconsin’s tourney with the OT 3-point runner (2017)
The Gators’ Chris Chiozza only scored 8 points against Wisconsin. But the Gators needed every single one of them. Down 2 in OT with just 4 seconds left, the man they call “Cheese” took the ball the length of the floor and dropped a heartbreaker right in the Badgers’ grill. It almost looked like his legs gave out on the shot, but he had enough forward momentum to drain it from three. The Badgers were praying for a foot on the line, but the prayer went unanswered.
11. Bryce Drew lifts #13 Valpo over #4 Ole Miss (1998)
Most fans remember Drew’s buzzer beater. However, most forget that Valpo actually had the lead 65-60 late in the game before giving it up. Then, down 2, Drew actually missed a go-ahead 3 with 8 seconds left. As a result, Valpo had to foul. They fouled the Rebels’ All-American, Ansu Sesay. Sesay, a 73% FT shooter, missed them both, setting the stage for Drew to become immortal.
10. #3 Duke gut punches #1 UConn in OT (1990)
There’s an old saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” There’s a lesser known iteration of that adage that goes, “Hell hath no fury like the men’s college basketball Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) scorned.” It’s not quite as popular as its predecessor, but it’s no less true. In the previous round, UConn survived on a miracle shot against Clemson (more on that later). However, Duke avenged their fallen ACC brethren, when no one guarded Christian Laettner on the inbounds (nice defense, Huskies!) and he made a double clutch jumper for the W, sending Duke to its 3rd straight Final Four and 7th overall.
9. #3 Michigan’s freshman Jordan Poole ends #6 Houston’s dreams (2018)
If you’re only going to play 11 minutes in a game & only going to score 3 points in the entire 2nd half in the form a single 3-pointer, you might as well make it a 30-foot, buzzer-beating, game-winning shot that saves your team’s season. That’s exactly what the Wolverines’ freshman Jordan Poole did against the Cougars. It was a game in which the Wolverines were out shot from the field, out shot from 3-point land, out shot from the FT line, and outrebounded. Throw in when they missed the game-tying layup with 3.9 seconds left and had to foul Houston, and it would take a miracle to pull off the victory. After the Cougars’ Devin Davis missed both FTs, that’s exactly what Poole gave them.
PS – How much fun would it have been to be in the Michigan locker room after the game?
8. #5 Michigan State’s Korie Lucioius comes to the rescue against #4 Maryland (2010)
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well, sometimes in sports, injuries can be the mother of unlikely game-winners. In the 2nd round game between Maryland between and Michigan State, the Spartans had a 16-pt 2nd half lead when their star G Kalin Lucas went down. That lead evaporated and the Terrapins climbed back into the game. The back and forth affair culminated as the game had 4(!!) lead changes in the final :39. Enter Korie Lucioius, Lucas’ replacement that was averaging 5.6 pts/gm, with a chance to send Sparty to the Sweet 16 in a year that they’d ultimately make the Final Four.
PS – On the game-winner, check out how Delvon Roe ducks Draymond Green’s pass that was heading right for his earhole. That duck was the MVP of the game.
7. #7 Georgia Tech’s James Forrest daggers #2 USC (1992)
You can’t do a lot in 0.8 seconds. But apparently you can murder an entire team, as Georgia Tech’s James Forrest demonstrated vs USC. The Trojans were up 2 after Rodney Chatman hit a basket with just two seconds left. The inbounds pass was deflected out at halfcourt with less than a second left. But it was just enough time to send James Forrest, who had only attempted 3(!!!) 3-pointers all year, and the Yellow Jackets into history.
PS – GREAT call by Al McGuire.
6. #5 Florida pulls one out of the fire against upstart #12 Butler (2000)
You never know what one game can do to your season. In 2000, the Florida Gators were the #5 seed going up against the dreaded #12 seed Butler Bulldogs. The #12 over #5 is one of the more common upsets in NCAA Tournament history. And this year was no different, as Florida found themselves in a rock fight. It was a game that, despite OT, neither team cracked the 70-point barrier. Just a muddy, gritty defensive affair. And sophomore Mike Miller was feeling the effects of the Bulldogs defense, as the Gators’ leading scorer only shot 6-17 from the field for the game. However, that one last FG, the sliding, twisting, double clutch shot in the lane was exactly what the Gators needed. They escaped the 1st round upset and rode that momentum all the way to the Championship Game.
5. Tate George with the answered prayer for #1 Connecticut against #5 Clemson (1990)
The sheer difficulty of this one alone is off the charts. The Huskies were on the brink of elimination, as they choked away a 19-pt 2nd half lead. They were even still up 14 with 6 minutes to play. After totally giving up the lead and falling behind by one, they missed the go-ahead shot with only 1.6 seconds left, and the ball was rebounded by Clemson. The Tigers’ Sean Tyson was fouled immediately. However, he missed the front end of a 1-and-1. UConn corralled the rebound and called timeout. Now, the Tigers are up 1 with only a single second left to play. The Huskies have to go the length of the floor and get the shot off before the clock expires. However, Scott Burrell throws an absolute seed to Tate George, who takes it from there.
4. US Reed’s (great name) miracle lifts #5 Arkansas over #4 Louisville (1981)
Arkansas was down to their final gasp of air, as Louisville had just hit a shot to put the Cardinals, led by head coach Denny Crum, up by a single point with only :05 to play. Everything was over but the crying for the Razorbacks. But Ulysseys (US) Reed had other ideas. After he took the inbounds, he got to halfcourt, before launching a 49-ft 2-pointer (there was no 3-pointer at the time) to kill every single Louisville fan in the country and even a few that were overseas.
PS – Shoutout to Marv Albert with the call, and shoutout to US Reed with the hilariously outdated dribbling ability.
PPS – This game actually revolutionized how March Madness was televised, as networks had never cut to live buzzer beater action in games before.
3. Tyus Edney changes history, lifting #1 UCLA over #8 Missouri (1995)
Things looked bleak for the Bruins in their 2nd round game versus the Tigers. They were down 1 with only 4.8 seconds to play, and they had to go the length of the court. Enter Tyus Edney, one of the smallest and fastest guys on the court. Many remember Edney sprinting the court with a behind the back dribble for the off balance layup and the win. However, some people forget that without that win, the Bruins would have one less championship under their belt because they would later go on to cut down the nets in that tournament, and Tyus Edney would become a Pauley Pavilion legend.
2a. & 2b. Lorenzo Charles and Kris Jenkins call
game Championship (1983 & 2016)
(These two were so similar that it was impossible to separate them. So you’re actually getting 21 buzzer beaters in the Top 20. Take that, government censorship!)
It’s something that every kid that’s ever played basketball dreams about growing up. A last second shot to win the championship. 3, 2, 1…*buzzer* You’ve won it all. NC State’s Lorenzo Charles and Villanova’s Kris Jenkins got to live out that childhood dream. Both were last second shots in title games that were tied. And both delivered Championships.
PS – Hardly anyone remembers it because of Jenkins shot, but the shot that UNC’s Marcus Paige hit to tie the game that set up Jenkins’ game-winner, was one of the best shots in NCAA history. The level of difficulty, the adjustment in the air, with your entire team’s fate in your hands, in a championship game…just incredible.
1. Christian Laettner hits the most famous shot in NCAA history for #1 Duke against #2 Kentucky (1992)
It’s a play that needs no introduction, as even casual basketball fans have inevitably seen a clip of it at sometime during March Madness highlights throughout the years. Duke was down 103-102 in OT to Kentucky after Sean Woods had put the Wildcats ahead on a play that was destined to be forgotten by history. Unless they could pull out a miracle, the Blue Devils were down to their final 2.1 seconds of their season. They ran a play they had run earlier in the year vs Wake Forest that didn’t work out. However, the Demon Deacons guarded the inbounds. The Wildcats decided not to guard the inbounds, giving Grant Hill an open lane to Laettner. As the ball swished through the net, Laettner had completed his perfect day, 10-10 FG, 10-10 FT, 31 points and into the annals of basketball history.