12 Awesome NCAA Tournament Buzzer Beaters
The NCAA Tournament is upon us. It’s that time of year when phrases like “Cinderella,” “bust your bracket” and “big dance” re-enter our vocabulary.
Of course, one of the greatest – if not the greatest – part of March Madness is the buzzer beater. When it’s one game and done, these thrilling and sometimes improbable shots are even more compelling.
There’s no shortage of amazing buzzer beaters over the years in the big dance, but we’ve decided to try and narrow it down to a dozen of them. These dunks are true buzzer beaters – after the ball went in, there was no time on the clock whatsoever and the winners moved on to the next round.
CONNECTICUT OVER WASHINGTON – 1998
There’s a theory that says you need to win a really close game on the road to the national championship. In this 1998 Sweet 16 matchup, Richard Hamilton’s fadeaway jumper in the lane capped a flurry of activity in the closing seconds and ended the Cinderella run for Washington, a #11 seed. UConn, a #2 seed, would go on to win the national championship, the first of three in the Jim Calhoun era.
VALPARAISO OVER MISSISSIPPI – 1998
Valparaiso may have been a #13 seed, but they had a star player in Bryce Drew, who rose to the occasion on this perfect end-of-the-game play that sent fourth-seeded Ole Miss home after the first round. It’s still one of the most memorable shots in tournament history. Fun fact: Drew is now Valpo’s coach and he brought them back to the Big Dance in 2013.
GEORGIA TECH OVER USC – 1992
James Forrest redefined the phrase “catch and release” when he caught an inbounds pass with eight-tenths of a second to play, turned from deep on the left wing and let fly the game-winning basket, ending the second-seeded Trojans’ season, while the seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets marched to the Sweet 16 with a 79-78 win. Amazingly, this wouldn’t be the most memorable buzzer beater of this tournament. More on that in a bit.
MARYLAND OVER UNC-WILMINGTON – 2003
Maryland was a #6 seed, trying to fend off an upset at the hands of 11th-seeded UNC-Wilmington. A full court press and a tight defense couldn’t stop Drew Nicholas, who pushed the ball upcourt quickly and sank the game-winning running 3-pointer, putting a dagger in the hearts of UNC-Wilmington fans everywhere.
MURRAY STATE OVER VANDERBILT – 2010
Murray State was a #13 seed and needed every single second to upset fourth-seeded Vanderbilt. Senior Danero Thomas hit a clutch jumper from just inside the 3-point line to put the nail in the coffin of the Commodores season.
TEXAS OVER WEST VIRGINIA – 2006
Texas, a #2 seed, had just seen sixth-seeded West Virginia tie up the game on a huge 3-pointer by Kevin Pittsnoggle with five seconds to play, but the Longhorns never panicked. They calmly rushed the ball up the court and Kenton Paulino nailed a three-pointer to push the ‘Horns to the Sweet 16.
BUTLER OVER OLD DOMINION – 2011
Butler had already defied odds the year before with a magical run that ended with a close loss to Duke in the national championship. We quickly learned the eighth-seeded Bulldogs’ mojo would carry over into 2011 when Matt Howard came out of nowhere to tip in the deciding basket in this opening round matchup with #9 seed Old Dominion. Butler would indeed make another remarkable run to the national championship where it lost to UConn.
UCLA OVER MISSOURI – 1995
UCLA, a #1 seed, would win the national championship this year, thanks in large part to the heroic efforts of guard Tyus Edney. He raced the length of the court for the game-winning layup to knock out eighth-seeded Missouri and move on to the Sweet 16.
CONNECTICUT OVER CLEMSON – 1990
Some say UConn basketball truly arrived as a national power with this win. It took one second for the perfect length of the court pass from Scott Burrell and the perfect 15-foot turnaround jumper from Tate George to catapult the #1 seed Huskies over the fifth-seeded Tigers into the Elite 8.
FLORIDA OVER BUTLER – 2000
Long before Butler became the darling of college basketball and a few years before Florida won back-to-back titles, these schools met in a 2000 thriller that went to overtime. Mike Miller decided to take it upon himself to lift the fifth-seeded Gators over the upstart 12th-seeded Bulldogs in the opening round with a daring drive in the lane that put the finishing touches on a 69-68 win. Florida would go on to lose in the national championship.
DUKE OVER KENTUCKY – 1992
This is arguably the most famous shot in college basketball history in what is arguably the most famous game in college basketball history. Number one seed Duke squared off against #2 seed Kentucky in a game pitting two storied programs against each other with a berth in the Final Four on the line. With 2.1 seconds to play, Duke’s Grant Hill perfectly inbounded the ball nearly the entire length of the court to All-American Christian Laettner, who took one bounce at the foul line, turned and drained the basket. It’s still one of the iconic images of the tournament and was the defining moment as the Blue Devils would go on to claim its second straight national championship.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE OVER HOUSTON – 1983
If there’s one buzzer beater that can top Christian Laettner’s, it’s this most unlikely one. In the national championship game, the sixth-seeded Wolfpack of NC State were huge underdogs to #1 seed Houston. As the seconds wound down, Dereck Whittenburg threw up a 30-foot prayer that came up short, only to have teammate Lorenzo Charles grab it out of the air and dunk it home, infamously sending NC State head coach Jim Valvano running all over the court looking for someone to hug.