1982 National Championship
Long before his “Air” Jordan days as the face of Nike and the NBA, M.J. was a skinny freshman from Wilmington, N.C., who Dean Smith trusted enough to have on the floor at the end of the national championship matchup with Georgetown. When Jimmy Black skip-passed the ball over the top of the Hoyas’ 2-3 zone defense, Jordan was ready to catch-and-shoot from the wing — knocking down a 17-footer to give the Tar Heels a 63–62 lead with 16 seconds to play. Georgetown’s Fred Brown threw the ball away to UNC’s James Worthy on the ensuing possession, making Jordan’s basket “The Shot” and giving Coach Smith his first NCAA title.
9. Richard Hamilton, Connecticut
1998 East Regional Semifinal
“Rip” Hamilton did just that, stealing victory from the jaws of defeat in a panicked final possession by both sets of Huskies. With UConn trailing Washington, 74–73, Khalid El-Amin dribbled the clock down to 10 seconds before driving and dishing to Jake Voskuhl in the paint. The big fella’s shot danced around the rim before one shot — by Hamilton — and two tips ultimately landed in Hamilton’s hands (again) with less than two seconds to play. Falling to the ground, “Rip” put the ball in the air and ended the chaos with a game-winning shot as time expired. Jim Calhoun’s same core group took that never-say-die attitude to a national title the following season.
8. Keith Smart, Indiana
1987 National Championship
Following Derrick Coleman’s short-armed missed free throw with 28 seconds to play, Bob Knight’s Hoosiers dribbled out the clock until Keith Smart made a jump pass to senior co-captain Daryl Thomas with 10 seconds remaining. With a fundamental give-and-go for the ages, Thomas took one bounce facing the basket, turned back to Smart and pitched an underhanded assist for the win. Smart’s baseline pull-up with five ticks left gave IU a 74–73 lead. A stunned Syracuse club — coached by Jim Boeheim and including Coleman, Rony Seikley and Sherman Douglas — failed to call time out until one second left. By then, the dye was cast red, not orange.
7. U.S. Reed, Arkansas
1981 Second Round
The U of L’s Derek Smith corralled an errant Poncho Wright desperation heave — in a crowd of Hogs — to put back what in all likelihood should have been a game-winning fade-away in the lane with five seconds on the clock. But an Arkansas timeout later, U.S. Reed patiently dribbled up the court with no apparent concern for time or score, only to throw up a leaning floater from just beyond halfcourt as time expired — sinking the shot, ending the Cardinals’ premature celebration and giving the Razorbacks a seemingly impossible win.
6. Tate George, Connecticut
1990 East Regional Semifinal
Trailing Clemson 70–69 with one second to go at the Meadowlands, UConn’s Scott Burrell — a first-round pick of MLB’s Seattle Mariners in 1989 and, ultimately, a first-round pick of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets in 1993 — threw a full-court pass that even Grant Hill can’t relate to. The right-handed pitcher threw a strike over Tigers 7-footer Elden Campbell, hitting Tate George — who caught the ball in traffic with his back to the basket, turned — to the bench and then baseline — and let it fly for one of the greatest game-winning shots in NCAA Tournament history.
5. Tyus Edney, UCLA
1995 Second Round
With the No. 1 team in the country, UCLA, trailing 74–73 against No. 8 seed Missouri, diminutive 5'10" point guard Tyus Edney went coast-to-coast with 4.8 seconds to play for the game-winning layup — going off the glass and through the net as the buzzer sounded in Boise, Idaho. Following Edney’s do-or-die drive, the Bruins, led by M.O.P. Ed O’Bannon, went on to win UCLA’s 11th national championship — the first (and only) since John Wooden’s run of 10 national titles ended in 1975.
4. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso
1998 First Round
Coach Homer Drew’s No. 13 seed Valparaiso trailed 69–67 with 2.5 seconds remaining against No. 4 seed Ole Miss. Against all odds, Jamie Sykes threw an on-target three-quarter-court pass to Bill Jenkins, who jumped to catch the ball before turning in mid-air and dishing to Bryce Drew. The coach’s son and Crusaders’ superstar caught the pass with 1.9 seconds left, launched a leaning 3-pointer from three-and-a-half feet behind the arc and dove to the floor to celebrate a thrilling 70–69 upset win — and one of the greatest Cinderella shots in Big Dance history.
3. Mario Chalmers, Kansas
2008 National Championship
Twenty years after Danny Manning and the Miracles’ 1988 national championship, Kansas’ Mario Chalmers hit a miraculous 3-pointer to send the national title game against Memphis into overtime. Bill Self’s Jayhawks were given a sliver of daylight after the Tigers’ future No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Derrick Rose missed one of two free throws with 10.8 seconds to play. Needing a 3-pointer to tie, KU’s Sherron Collins pushed the ball up the floor and stumbled while passing to Chalmers — whose one-dribble, top-of-the-key three tied the game at 63–63 with 2.1 seconds left in regulation. Kansas outlasted Memphis in overtime, winning 75–68 to cut down the nets on a championship comeback for the ages.
2. Lorenzo Charles, NC State
1983 National Championship
Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had no answer for coach Jim Valvano’s NC State underdogs, who hung around and hung around until it was all over for the Cougars and their two future Hall of Fame stars. With the game knotted at 52–52, the Wolfpack’s Dereck Whittenburg launched a desperation heave from between half court and the top of the key with four seconds to play. An airball has never looked so good, as Lorenzo Charles turned the miss into an alley-oop dunk and gave the “Cardiac Pack” a 54–52 national title win — handing NC State its sixth consecutive come-from-behind victory and causing Jimmy V to run wild at the Pit in Albuquerque.
1. Christian Laettner, Duke
1992 East Regional Finals
With 2.1 seconds on the clock, the son of a former Dallas Cowboy — sophomore Grant Hill (Calvin’s kid) — threw a touchdown pass roughly 80 feet to Christian Laettner. Kentucky coach Rick Pitino’s “Unforgettables,” along with Jamal Mashburn, went 5-on-4 rather than guarding Hill’s full court inbounds pass from the far baseline. The strategic move was a poor one, as Hill tossed a perfect pass to Laettner, who caught the ball cleanly, faked right, turned left and released a fade-away game-winner from the free-throw line with 0.3 left on the clock. The ball swished as time expired, stunning UK fans (and Duke’s Thomas Hill, whose memorable postgame expression summed up what we all felt). Thanks to Laettner’s late-game heroics, Coach K’s club advanced to the Final Four and went on to win its second straight national title.
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