The 25 Most Clutch Performances in NCAA Tournament History
They are the "One Shining Moments" that helped turn the third month of the year into March Madness.
Be it a display of long-range marksmanship, the defensive prowess of a dominating big man, or a great player getting the most out of an average squad, the following 25 players have left a lasting impression that turned them into immortals of the collegiate hardwood.
The ball is tipped, and here we are. Come with us down college basketball's Memory Lane and relive moments that are etched in time.
No. 1: Lorenzo Charles, N.C. State (1983)
You can't get more clutch than what Lorenzo Charles did in the closing seconds of the 1983 NCAA title game.
Tied 52-all against a seemingly unstoppable Houston juggernaut, North Carolina State methodically worked the clock down for one final shot. After Houston guard Alvin Franklin came close to stripping the ball, Wolfpack guard Derreck Whittenberg threw up a 30-foot prayer that fell short...
...before Charles answered it, stuffing the wandering ball into the net as time expired to give North Carolina State one of the tourney's biggest upsets.
If the 1979 Indiana State-Michigan State game brought us to the edge of March Madness, then Charles and the Wolfpack pushed us over it.
No. 2: Christian Laettner, Duke (1992)
Any longtime college basketball fan can tell you where they were when Christian Laettner ended the greatest game in NCAA tournament history with a turnaround jumper as time expired to defeat Kentucky in overtime, 104-103.
The Shot capped off a perfect day for the Duke legend, who hit all 10 of his field goal attempts while also going 10-for-10 from the free throw line. The Shot propelled the Blue Devils to the Final Four, where they wrapped up a second straight championship with a victory over Michigan's Fab Five.
No. 3: Keith Smart, Indiana (1987)
Syracuse's defense couldn't "Get Smart," as the Hoosiers guard drilled a three-pointer in the closing seconds to give coach Bob Knight his third—and final—NCAA championship with Indiana.
Keith Smart's cool-handed touch of March Madness would not have been possible had the NCAA not installed the three-point shot before the 1986-87 season began; the rule change opened the door for Smart—a native of Baton Rouge, La.—to sink an Orange squad that featured three future NBA starters (Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, and Rony Seikaly) in front of a sold-out crowd at New Orleans' Superdome.
The game was also historic for two other reasons.
One, it forced ABC—which aired the Oscars at the same time—to no longer compete with the title game.
Second, it marked the debut of what is now a tournament staple with the "One Shining Moment" video tribute at the end of the title game.
No. 4: Bill Walton, UCLA (1973)
Big Bill Walton was never as large as he was during the title game against Memphis State, scoring 44 points as the Bruins claimed an 87-66 victory.
What made Walton's performance clutch was that the Tigers—and everyone else in St. Louis Arena—knew UCLA would get the ball into the hands of the Naismith Player of the Year. On that March night, it didn't matter.
Walton made a staggering 21 of 22 field goal attempts, completing a performance many consider the greatest individual effort in college basketball history. The victory would complete a 30-0 season for UCLA, which was in the midst of a record 88-game win streak.
No. 5: Mario Chalmers, Kansas (2008)
Memphis held a nine-point lead over the Jayhawks with over two minutes remaining, but a furious Kansas rally—along with shoddy free throw shooting from Memphis—left KU down just 63-60 in the closing seconds.
Enter Chalmers, as the junior guard delivered one of the most clutch jumpers in Finals history, drilling the tying trey with 2.1 seconds left to push the game into overtime.
Buoyed by Chalmers' 11th-hour heroics, Kansas pulled away from the Tigers in the extra session to win the championship by a 75-68 margin. For his efforts, it was a shock to few that Chalmers was selected as the most outstanding player of the tournament.
No. 6: Ed Pinckney, Villanova (1985)
Defending national champion Georgetown went into the 1985 title game a mere 40 minutes away from staking its claim as one of the greatest teams in college history.
Someone forgot to tell Villanova, especially Ed Pinckney.
Assigned to defend All-America center Patrick Ewing, Pinckney rose to the challenge and battled the future Hall of Famer to a defensive standstill.
It was his offense, however, that helped the Wildcats pull off one of the tourney's biggest upsets, as he delivered 16 points and seven rebounds to help Villanova topple the Hoyas, 66-64.
No. 7: Michael Jordan, North Carolina (1982)
Air Jordan took his first flight upon the national stage in the closing seconds of an epic championship game in which the wiry freshman calmly drilled a jumper from the left wing with 17 seconds remaining, providing the winning margin in North Carolina's 63-62 win over Georgetown.
James Worthy received the Most Outstanding Player award, but it was Jordan's 16 points that also helped Dean Smith win his first NCAA title.
Jordan managed a "modest" career in the NBA, but it was that Monday night in New Orleans where the legend was born.
No. 8: Danny Manning, Kansas (1988)
The 1988 NCAA tournament was headlined by a smash hit that few paid attention to when the 50th annual title chase began.
No one gave 15-11 Kansas much of a chance, but "Danny and the Miracles" pulled out an inspired five-game stretch of basketball that led them to a showdown against powerhouse Oklahoma in the championship game.
Danny Manning saved the very best for his last collegiate game, scoring 31 points to go along with 18 rebounds, five steals, and two blocked shots, leading the Jayhawks to a stunning 83-79 win over a Sooners team that featured future NBAers Mookie Blaylock and Stacey King.
Manning was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, but life eventually balanced out after his over-the-top performance: That summer, he was the first overall pick of the Los Angeles Clippers.
No. 9: Jerry West, West Virginia (1959)
Before he became "The Logo," Jerry West was "The Man" out in Mountaineer country.
West was a stone-cold assassin during West Virginia's run to the NCAA championship game, averaging 33 points in the first four games. While California was able to escape with a 71-70 win in the title game, the Bears had no solution for West, who scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Despite the loss, West was an easy choice for Most Outstanding Player honors, giving basketball fans an early peek into his ability to deliver in the clutch.
No. 10: Miles Simon, Arizona (1998)
Miles Simon's season began on a low note: He was academically ineligible, forcing him to miss the first 11 games. Simon also endured an illness and an auto accident, but he overcame the barriers and teamed with freshman Mike Bibby to give Wildcats a lethal backcourt.
Simon took his game to the next level in the tournament, scoring 30 points against Providence in the regional finals and dropping 24 on North Carolina in the semifinals, but he saved his best for last against defending national champion Kentucky.
Scoring 30 points, Simon led Arizona to an 83-79 upset to give coach Lute Olsen his first national title. He was deadly from the charity stripe, hitting 14-of-17 free throw attempts, including a pair in the final 13 seconds that secured the win for Arizona, and a Most Outstanding Player honor for him.
No. 11: Bryce Drew, Valparaiso (1998)
Down 69-67 in the final seconds of an opening round tilt against Mississippi State, the Crusaders' fate laid in the hands of Ansu Seasay, who was at the line with a chance to lock up the win for the Bulldogs.
After Sesay missed both free throws, Valparaiso called a timeout to set up "The Pacer" with a last-gasp play. Bill Jenkins took the inbounds pass and fired the ball to Bryce Drew, who fired up a three-pointer that found the mark as time expired, giving the Crusaders an improbable 70-69 win over the fourth-seeded Bulldogs.
Valparaiso followed the upset of Mississippi State with a win over Florida State, giving them a trip to the Sweet 16. While the Crusaders were eliminated by Rhode Island, Drew's shot has been replayed over and over again and still stands as a glimmer of hope for lower seeds seeking to pull off similar miracles.
No. 12: Danny Ainge, Brigham Young (1981)
With Notre Dame holding a 50-49 lead in the closing moments of the East Regional semifinal, Irish fans had every reason to believe they were on their way to a date against Ralph Sampson and No. 1 seed Virginia.
The message didn't get to Ainge, as the Cougars guard made a dramatic sprint through the Notre Dame defense, finishing his drive with a layup that broke the backs—and title aspirations—of the Fighting Irish in a 51-50 victory that sent sixth-seeded BYU to the Elite Eight.
Virginia defeated the Cougars, 74-50, in the East final, but Ainge's reputation as a money player had been established, a mantra that followed him through a successful NBA career.
No. 13: Glen Rice, Michigan (1989)
"The Silencer" was at his most deadly during Michigan's sprint to the NCAA title, refusing to let the Wolverines crumble after coach Bill Frieder's surprising decision to leave the program to coach Arizona State.
In the national title game against Seton Hall, the 6'7" junior scored 31 points and added 11 rebounds, as the Wolverines needed every ounce of Glen Rice's effort to set the stage for Rumeal Robinson's two free throws that clinched the 80-79 overtime victory.
Rice scored 184 points (30.6 ppg) during the tournament, a record that still stands.
No. 14: Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse (2003)
He stayed in college for just one season, but oh, how 'Melo made it count.
Carmelo Anthony scored 33 points (NCAA tourney record for points by a freshman) in a wild 91-84 win over Texas in the national semifinal before showing a glimpse of his future as an NBA All-Star by scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds as the Orange captured coach Jim Boeheim's first national championship with an 81-78 win over Kansas.
Anthony earned the tourney's Most Outstanding Player award to go along with a slew of honors he received en route to making the most of his "One Shining Moment."
No. 15: Bo Kimble, Loyola Marymont (1990)
Bo Kimble and teammate Hank Gathers were the front men of Loyola Marymount's explosive fast-break offense, which averaged an NCAA-record 122 points per game during the 1989-90 regular season.
The unspeakable happened on March 4, when Gathers collapsed on the court during the WCC semifinals and died shortly thereafter. The 11th-seeded Lions took a heavy heart into their first-round matchup against New Mexico State, where, in honor of his fallen best friend, Kimble successfully shot his first free throw left-handed.
Kimble's touching moment fueled the Lions to an Elite Eight run, which included a 149-115 rout of defending national champion Michigan. Kimble averaged 38.2 points in the four-game run that ended with a 131-101 loss to eventual champion UNLV.
No. 16: Bill Russell, San Francisco (1954-55)
The most prolific winner in basketball history, Bill Russell got his start collecting championships as the Dons' anchor of consecutive title winners.
Literally a man among boys, the 6'10" Russell was at his best during the 1955 championship run, averaging 23 points per game as USF rolled to an eventual 77-63 win over LaSalle in the title game.
Russell's defensive prowess was the deciding factor in USF's 57-56 win in the West regional semifinal, as he made several key plays down the stretch to help the Dons avoid what would have been a monumental upset.
No. 17: Stephen Curry, Davidson (2008)
Prior to his freshman season, Davidson coach Bob McKillup declared that Stephen Curry—the son of former NBA sniper Del Curry—"would be something special," a promise that came to fruition during the younger Curry's sophomore year.
In a span of nine days, Curry secured his place as one of March's greatest clutch performers, beginning with a 30-point second half that lifted the Wildcats to a comeback win over seventh-seeded Gonzaga. Two days later, he lit up Georgetown with 25 second-half points to eliminate the second-seeded Hoyas.
Still not finished, Curry dropped 33 points as Davidson ambushed heavily favored Wisconsin, and while the Wildcats fell to eventual national champion Kansas in the Midwest Regional final, Curry scored 25 points and barely missed a last-second attempt in a 59-57 defeat.
No. 18: Darrell Griffith, Louisville (1980)
The lead physician for Denny Crum's "Doctors of Dunk," Darrell Griffith completed his stellar collegiate career with a 23-point performance in the Cardinals' 59-54 win over UCLA in the championship game.
Griffith scored 12 second-half points, including a jumper with 2:17 left that gave Louisville the lead for good at 56-54. His teammates carried him off the court as the game ended in Indianapolis, capping off an effort that he dedicated to a friend stricken with cancer.
What made Griffith's effort more clutch was the fact that none of his points were the result of what made him famous—the slam dunk.
No. 19: Pervis Ellison, Louisville (1986)
Louisville coach Denny Crum had no qualms in relying on Pervis Ellison, a 6'9" freshman from Savannah, Ga., as the 1985-86 campaign pushed into the postseason.
Crum's faith in Ellison would eventually be tested in the national title game, as the youngster would have to deal with Duke's combination of Mark Alarie and Jay Bilas.
Ellison responded in a big way, scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds as the Cards outlasted the Blue Devils, 72-69. Overlooked was his defensive effort against Duke's big men, as he held Alarie and Bilas to just 16 total points.
Ellison would be forever tagged with the nickname "Never Nervous," as he became only the second freshman to be named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament.
No. 20: Bobby Hurley, Duke (1989-92)
When it comes to the subject of questioning the clutch skills of Bobby Hurley, one can't focus on just one game or one tournament.
Instead, look at his four-year tournament record as the Blue Devils' quarterback: 18-2. While his NBA career was a failure, few guards in college basketball history were as masterful as Hurley when the pressure was most intense.
The results are unquestioned: Duke reached the Final Four in each of Hurley's four years, reached the championship game three times, and won the 1991 and 1992 titles.
If there is one moment that best defined Hurley, it was his effort in locking down UNLV's Greg Anthony in the 1991 semifinals when Duke squashed the perfect season of the Runnin' Rebels, opening the door for the team's first national title.
No. 21: Akeem Olajuwon, Houston (1983)
Having played just two years of basketball, Akeem (the 'H' came eight years later) Olajuwon began tapping into the immense toolbox of skills that eventually led him to become one of the greatest centers of all time.
Louisville felt the wrath of the native of Nigeria as he recorded 21 points, 22 rebounds, and eight blocked shots as the top-seeded Cougars toppled the Cardinals, 94-81, in one of the most thrilling national semifinal games in tourney annuals.
The win moved Houston to the edge of an elusive championship for coach Guy Lewis, but North Carolina State denied them in a 54-52 upset.
Olajuwon was the only Cougar who brought his "A" game, scoring 20 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, marking the last time the award went to a member of the losing team.
No. 22: Jai Lewis, George Mason (2006)
Top-seeded Connecticut was loaded with a host of future NBA players, which made a trip to the Final Four a mere formality, especially if it came at the expense of the 11th-seeded Patriots, who were grossly undersized.
None of it mattered to George Mason, particularly Jai Lewis, their 6'7" post player who helped will the Patriots to a stunning 86-84 win in the East Regional finals. The win was a watershed moment for the Pats, who carried the flag of the Colonial Athletic Association into the Final Four.
Lewis scored a team-high 20 points, adding seven rebounds and two assists, as the undermanned Patriots outrebounded UConn by a 37-34 margin. It was the play of Lewis that was an emotional spark that helped George Mason maintain its cool after the Huskies forced an extra session.
No. 23: Terry Connally, Richmond (1991)
Led by Billy Owens, Syracuse earned the second seed in the East Region and looked like a threat to compete for the national title. The first step would come at the expense of 15-seed Richmond, a team the vaunted Orange could beat nine out of 10 times.
Unfortunately for Syracuse, they caught the Spiders in the 10th game.
Richmond shocked the Orange, 73-69, tearing up tournament brackets across the nation. Much of the damage came from the play of Terry Connally, a reserve who had the best game of his career on the big stage. Connally had 14 points, seven rebounds, and five assists as the Spiders rattled Syracuse into submission.
No. 24: David Robinson, Navy (1986)
"The Admiral" made his first impact on the basketball world as he carried the Midshipmen to the East Region finals.
Seeded seventh, Navy began its run with a 87-68 rout of Tulsa before ending the Cinderella dreams of 15-seed Cleveland State, which had shocked second-seed Indiana. Robinson made fans pay attention when he paved the way in a 97-85 shocker over a loaded Syracuse team.
Navy's run came to an end courtesy of Duke in a 71-50 defeat. While the Midshipmen's run closed, Robinson's was only beginning, as the junior took his first significant step toward his Hall of Fame career.
No. 25: Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati (1960)
Robertson finished 73-9 in his college career and missed a national title in his two Final Four appearances, but it is what Robertson endured that earns him a place on the list.
Racism followed Robertson almost everywhere he went, as his legendary efforts were overshadowed by the blatant evils that helped define the era.
Robertson, who won the first two USBWA College Player of the Year awards (1959-60), scored 122 points to lead the Bearcats to the 1960 Final Four, but he was unable to lead Cincinnati past defending national champion California (77-69) in the national semifinal game.