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Bryce Drew's Buzzer-Beater Epitomized the Madness of March
In 18 seasons of coaching Scott Drew has always maintained his composure at the end of the game. He’s never — ever! — run onto the court to celebrate a last-second victory.
Well, okay, he confesses, there was that one time.
“Everybody on the bench lost it when it went in,” Drew says of Valparaiso’s buzzer-beating win over Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament. “It was a release of emotion. I ran out and jumped on the pile.”
Bryce Drew, Scott’s younger brother, was somewhere at the bottom of the pile.
“I didn’t even feel a thing,” says Bryce Drew, laughing.
Thirteen Marches have passed since Bryce Drew’s improbable, game-winning 3-point buzzer-beater against Ole Miss in the first round of the Midwest Regional in Oklahoma City. With one basket, one magic moment during March Madness, Drew became an instant folk hero.
“I love when (the replay) comes on,” Drew says. “I definitely still consider it a blessing. I don’t get tired of (talking about it). It was such a blessing, such a fun time.”
Featuring Drew and five other seniors, Valparaiso was making its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Crusaders were coached by Homer Drew, assisted by his son Scott and featured his other son Bryce. The previous two seasons had ended with first-round NCAA Tournament losses. However, the seniors vowed that their final year would be different. Valparaiso entered the NCAA Tournament on an 11-game winning streak, carrying a quiet confidence — almost a swagger — into the postseason.
Rob Evans had reason to be confident as well. His Ole Miss Rebels earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning 22 games and repeating as the champions of the SEC West. Evans, now in his fourth season as an assistant at Arkansas, remembers the game well, but “it’s not a good memory,” he says.
Evans has never watched a replay of the game in its entirety. But he’s seen the final seconds numerous times.
With seven seconds remaining and Ole Miss leading 69–67, Drew missed a 3-pointer. Ole Miss’ Ansu Sesay got the rebound and was fouled with 4.1 seconds remaining, giving the 74 percent free throw shooter two shots — and an opportunity to put the game away.
“Everything that could go wrong, then did go wrong,” Evans says. “We had one of our better free throw shooters, the SEC Player of the Year, at the line. If he just makes one, when they get to half court, I’m going to foul them.”
Sesay’s first attempt clanged off the rim and then off the backboard. Homer Drew called his final timeout. On the sideline, the elder Drew called two plays. If Sesay made the second free throw, they would run “Pacer,” a play they stole from the Indiana Pacers and that they had worked on all year. If Sesay missed, then they were to get the ball to Bryce Drew and let him create. “It was designed as a scramble (play), and who knows if we get a shot off,” the younger Drew says.
In the Ole Miss huddle, Evans went over the various scenarios. During the timeout, he looked deep in the eyes of freshman Jason Flanigan. “Do not leave Bryce Drew,” Evans said.
Sesay stepped to the free throw line for his second attempt, dribbled twice and tossed the ball skyward with his left hand. It banged hard off the back rim and was knocked out of bounds by Ole Miss’ Keith Carter. It was the best thing that could have happened for Valparaiso, which now had the ball out of bounds with 2.5 seconds remaining. The dead ball allowed them to run “Pacer.”
Valparaiso’s Jamie Sykes, a 5'11" guard, had to make the inbounds pass, 94 feet from the basket. Sykes also just happened to be a pretty good outfielder in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization who ended up spending five years bouncing around the minor leagues.
Sykes pump-faked to get the 6'4" Carter into the air and then flung the basketball about 55 feet to Bill Jenkins. Three Ole Miss defenders — including Flanigan — converged on Jenkins, who promptly passed to Drew running open in front of the Valpo bench about 23 feet from the basket.
Drew planted both feet and fired. He thought he was off target.
“When it left (my hands), it looked like it was short,” Drew said.
Ted Robinson, now the San Francisco 49ers radio play-by-play man, made the call for CBS television.
“The inbounds pass to be thrown by Jamie Sykes, Carter pressuring. It’s to Jenkins … to Drew for the win … GOOD! HE DID IT! BRYCE DREW DID IT! VALPO HAS WON THE GAME! A MIRACLE … An absolute miracle! Bryce Drew has done it for Valparaiso!”
Drew immediately dove to the floor, an impromptu swan dive near the top of the key. Seconds later, Scott Drew jumped on the mass of bodies on the court to celebrate one of the greatest shots in NCAA Tournament history. Valparaiso 70, Ole Miss 69.
Inside the Ole Miss locker room, Evans addressed his somber team. He told them what would happen when they stepped outside. “You’re going to see this,” Evans correctly predicted, “for the rest of your life.”
Bryce Drew has recreated “The Shot” exactly one time. It was in the summer of 1998 before the NBA Draft. Drew was working out for the Vancouver Grizzlies, and they wanted him to run “Pacer” again.
“It went in, thank goodness,” Drew says. “They would have given me a hard time if it didn’t.”
That year Drew was the 16th player selected in the NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets. His professional career didn’t live up to “The Shot.” But, really, how could it? He played six seasons in the NBA (starting 46 of 243 career games) and never averaged more than seven points per game in a season. He also played briefly overseas before returning in 2005 to Valparaiso as an assistant coach.
“I love being my dad’s assistant,” Drew says. “It makes it a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot.”
The 36-year-old Drew says he would “love” to be a head coach one day, but is content for now working alongside his father.
During his coaching career, Bryce says none of Valparaiso’s opponents have tried to run “Pacer” against the Crusaders. However, both Scott Drew and Evans say they’ve seen teams try it on multiple occasions against their respective teams. All were unsuccessful.
Like Bryce, Scott has fond memories of that day.
“When we got off the bus in Oklahoma City (before the game), I didn’t want this to be the last time to coach my brother,” Scott Drew says. “That was the goal and the dream. Then to be in a close game and at the end it looks like it slips away (after Bryce’s missed 3-pointer with seven seconds left).
“To make that final shot, it’s like the difference of magnitude of a game-winning field goal in the regular season or in the Super Bowl. There’s no comparison.”
For Ole Miss and Evans, the Rebels will never be fairly judged. They won 22 games and made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 1997 and 1998.
“If you believe in fate, everything had to go wrong for us and everything had to go right for them,” Evans says. “Our best free throw shooter misses twice. We almost get a finger on the rebound. But give Bryce Drew credit.”
Even though Ole Miss was favored in the game, maybe the Rebels never really had a chance. They were the No. 4 seed and Valparaiso was the No. 13 seed. Thirteen isn’t the luckiest number, except this game was played on a Friday — the 13th of March.
“We knew the play,” Evans says. “We had scouted them. I’ve probably had that play tried against me four or five times since that game and it never ever works.
“Because,” he adds, “not everyone has a Bryce Drew.”