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10 Greatest NCAA Tournament Buzzer-Beaters

NCAA Tournament

10 Greatest NCAA Tournament Buzzer-Beaters

10. Will Bynum, Georgia Tech, 2004

2004 Final Four
The Yellow Jackets had put together an improbable NCAA Tournament run in 2004 thanks in large part to the play of Will Bynum, the son of the former NBA great by the same name. Facing his former high school teammates Tony Allen and John Lucas in the Final Four, Georgia Tech leaned on Bynum as it looked to defeat second-seeded Oklahoma State for a spot in the title game. With the game tied at 65 and 26.3 seconds remaining, Bynum gets the ball with about 10 ticks to go, drives to the basket and converts on a lay up. The Cowboys' desperation heave comes well short, as Bynum's last-second bucket sends the Jackets to the National Championship Game against Connecticut.

9. U.S. Reed, Arkansas, 1981

1981 Second Round
Louisville'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 half court as time expired — sinking the shot, ending the defending national champion Cardinals’ premature celebration and giving the Razorbacks an improbable win.

8. Tate George, UConn, 1990

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. George then turned, first to the bench and then to towards the baseline, and let it fly for one of the greatest game-winning shots in NCAA Tournament history.

7. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso, 1998

1998 First Round
Coach Homer Drew’s No. 13 seed Valparaiso trailed No. 4 Ole Miss 69–67 with just 2.5 seconds remaining. 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 well 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.

6. Keith Smart, Indiana, 1987

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, it was too little, too late.

5. Tyus Edney, UCLA, 1995

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 remaining 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) title since John Wooden’s run of 10 national titles ended in 1975.

4. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga, 2021

2021 Final Four

Undefeated and top overall seed Gonzaga was expected to put an end to 11-seed UCLA's Cinderella NCAA Tournament run in their Final Four matchup, and do so in convincing fashion. But the Bruins didn't give an inch to the heavily favored Bulldogs, keeping pace with the team that had won 27 straight games by double digits. It was only fitting that a game that featured 15 ties and 19 lead changes went into overtime. There, an instant classic became a game for the ages, as UCLA fought back from a five-point deficit with 1:17 remaining to tie it once again on an offensive rebound and put-back layup with just 3.3 seconds on the clock. That was plenty of time for Gonzaga freshman guard Jalen Suggs to etch his name into NCAA Tournament lore, and more importantly, preserve the Bulldogs' chances of an undefeated season.

3. Christian Laettner, Duke, 1992

1992 East Regional Finals
With 2.1 seconds on the clock, sophomore Grant Hill — the son of a former Dallas Cowboy (WR Calvin) — 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 from the free-throw line with 0.3 left on the clock. The ball swished through the net 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.

2. Kris Jenkins, Villanova, 2016

2016 National Championship
Villanova got to the title game after dispatching of No. 1 overall seed in the Elite Eight and destroying No. 2 Oklahoma by a record 44 points in the Final Four. Matched up with No. 1 North Carolina for the national title, the Wildcats turned a five-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead with 5:29 left before the Tar Heels fought back. Up three with less than 14 seconds to go, Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an improbable, double-clutch 3-pointer to tie the game at 74. With less than five seconds on the clock, Villanova came out of a time out and Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled the ball up the court and handed the ball off perfectly for Kris Jenkins, who delivered the Wildcats’ first national title since their historic upset of Georgetown in 1985. 

1. Lorenzo Charles, NC State, 1983

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.

Note: Kansas' Mario Chalmers' game-tying three-point basket at the end of the 2008 National Championship Game against Memphis might have been the most important shot in NCAA Tournament history. However, it is not eligible as it did not technically win the game for the Jayhawks. It sent the game into overtime.