NCAA Tournament: The 25 Most Clutch Performances in History

Ethan BackCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2011

NCAA Tournament: The 25 Most Clutch Performances in History

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    March Madness is quickly approaching, meaning that new heroes of the hardwood will be born. It was in the NCAA tournament that the likes of Michael Jordan, Tyus Edney, Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry made their names known nationwide.

    This year, too, there will be individual players who make clutch plays for their teams, and join the great players before them in March Madness history.

    Will Jared Sullinger be able to lead Ohio State to glory? Do Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler have the poise to win a second straight title? Time will tell, but as for now, these 25 players have firmly cemented their name in March Madness history.

    From Ali Farokhmanesh to U.S. Reed, all of the players on this exclusive list played clutch basketball for their teams in March, and will be remembered for generations to come.

25. Nick Collison

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    In a Sweet Sixteen matchup against Duke in 2003, the second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks were led by Nick Collison.

    Collison put up ridiculous numbers. He totaled 33 points, grabbed 19 boards, dished out four assists and blocked three shots in all 40 minutes of the contest. To say the Jayhawks wouldn't have advanced if it weren't for his play would be an understatement.

    Collison did more, however, than just rack up incredible numbers.

    Midway through the second half, with the Jayhawks trailing by a score of 57-56, Collison scored seven straight points to give Kansas the lead for good. He and his Jayhawks did not look back, winning by a final score of 69-65.

24. Andre Miller

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    Andre Miller, who has had a successful NBA career, led the Utah Utes to a stunning upset of top-seeded Arizona in the Elite Eight in 1998.

    Miller was not needed for a clutch basket at the end of the game; his triple-double of 18 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists all contributed to Utah's 76-51 thrashing of the Wildcats.

    While no clutch play was needed down the stretch, Miller was clutch all game, sending Utah to its first Final Four appearance in 32 years.

23. Dwyane Wade

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    In the 2003 NCAA tournament, Dwyane Wade flew the Marquette Golden Eagles to unprecedented heights. In the Elite Eight, the Golden Eagles played the heavily-favored, top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats.

    Wade cared very little about what Vegas had to say, and went off for 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. This was the fourth triple double in the history of March Madness.

    Wade was able to hold off any attempt at a comeback by scoring when his team needed him to, grabbing defensive boards and dishing the rock to lead to easy scores for teammates. Marquette ended up winning by a final score of 83-69.

    Perhaps even more impressive was Verne Lundquist's call of "send it in...medium-sized fella." 

22. Artis Gilmore

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    Who would you pick to win this matchup: the Jacksonville Dolphins or the Kentucky Wildcats? In 1970, if you had gone with the latter, you would've been wrong. Why? One simple reason: Artis Gilmore.

    The 7'2" force led the Dolphins to an improbable victory against the Wildcats, racking up 24 points and grabbing 20 boards in the 106-100 win. Gilmore outplayed future Hall of Famer Dan Issel, and eventually led Jacksonville to the NCAA championship game.

    It's pretty safe to say that they won't be back there any time soon.

21. Mike O'Koren

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    In the 1977 Final Four against UNLV, Mike O'Koren accomplished a historical feat for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

    O'Koren became the first freshman to score 30 points in a Final Four game (he finished with 31), and the Tar Heels were able to stave off the Runnin' Rebels, winning 84-83.

    The performance O'Koren turned in was unprecedented, and such a game will unlikely be duplicated again. In such an important game, the freshman turned in his best performance ever, and his clutch play was the reason why the Tar Heels advanced to the title game.

20. Morris Peterson

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    While Mateen Cleaves was awarded with the Most Outstanding Player honors in the 2000 Final Four, Morris Peterson just might've been the reason why the Michigan State Spartans were able to win.

    Cleaves injured his leg midway through the second half in the final matchup against Florida, and it was up to Peterson do lead Sparty to victory.

    With the Spartans holding on to a slim lead halfway through the second half, he nailed three three-pointers, and converted on a three-point play...all in a span of under two-and-a-half minutes.

    Peterson's career has not been as decorated in the NBA, but his clutch play for Michigan State on the biggest stage in college hoops cannot be ignored.

19. Scotty Thurman

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    In the 1994 NCAA championship game, Nolan Richardson and his "40 Minutes of Hell" Arkansas Razorbacks played the traditional-powerhouse Duke Blue Devils. The reason why Arkansas clinched the game can be boiled down to just a matter of seconds.

    With just one second remaining on the shot clock, and just over 50 seconds left on the game clock, Scotty Thurman hit a high-arching three-pointer to give Arkansas a 73-70 lead.

    The shot, which nearly went out of the view of the camera, lives on in Arkansas. Thurman, who finished with 15 points, is remembered as the player who brought the NCAA title to the football school from the south.

18. Fennis Dembo

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    Fennis Dembo is a perfect example of someone who would've lived in relative obscurity had it not been for a particular moment in March.

    In a second-round matchup in 1987 against perennial powerhouse UCLA, Dembo led his Wyoming Cowboys to 78-68 win. His stats of 41 points, nine rebounds and six assists were very impressive, but even more impressive was his leadership and clutch play.

    Dembo went into a stone-cold zone, knocking down 16 straight free throws and six straight three-pointers to assure that the Bruins would not be victorious.

    Not only did Dembo make his name remembered in both Wyoming and Los Angeles, but he also landed the cover of Sports Illustrated's college basketball preview issue the following year.

17. Dave Corzine

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    In a seemingly normal Sweet Sixteen game against the Louisville Cardinals in 1978, Dave Corzine led his DePaul Blue Demons to a 90-89 win in double overtime. Had he not played as well, and as clutch, as he did, DePaul very well would not have advanced to the Elite Eight.

    The 6'11" All-American scored 46 points, grabbed nine rebounds and swatted away three shots in all 50 minutes of action. With six seconds left on the clock, Corzine converted on a hook shot to seal the victory.

    DePaul has not had much success this season, and I'm sure head coach Oliver Purnell would love to have Dave Corzine on his current roster. I'm sure he wouldn't mind having that 'fro, either.

16. Mike Miller

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    Long before Gordon Hayward wore number 20 for the Butler Bulldogs, they were a solid basketball program. In 2000, the 12th-seeded Bulldogs were scheduled to play the Florida Gators in the first round. If it had not been for Mike Miller, perhaps Butler would've made a historic run earlier than 2010.

    Miller and the Gators found themselves in overtime against the pesky Bulldogs. After two missed free throws, Florida put the ball in Miller's hands.

    With just 8.1 seconds to go, Miller drove to the basket and hit a short fadeaway to give the Gators a 69-68 win. He also finished the game with 13 rebounds.

    Both Florida and Butler are more well known for their runs later in the 21st century, but they were both on the scene in 2000. Mike Miller's clutch play meant that Florida would be on the scene in March Madness at least one game longer than Butler.

15. Larry Bird

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    Although Larry Bird and the 1978-79 Indiana State Sycamores fell short of winning the title, he and his teammates never would've been there if not for his clutch play throughout the national semifinals.

    Against the DePaul Blue Demons, Bird racked up 35 points, corralled 16 boards and dished out nine assists in a nail-biting 76-74 win.

    Larry Bird went on to have a phenomenal NBA career, which was filled with clutch games. His clutch ways, however, can be traced back to his days wearing Indiana State blue.

14. Danny Ainge

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    Against Notre Dame in the 1981 Sweet Sixteen, Danny Ainge went coast-to-coast to give BYU the win in an otherwise boring 51-50 game.

    You wouldn't be able to guess the game's low-scoring nature solely based on Ainge's clutch hoop. With eight seconds remaining, he took the inbounds pass the length of the court, with crafty dribbling along the way, and converted on a nifty layup for the win.

    Ainge, who is now known as the GM of the Boston Celtics, once made a living playing basketball. His college days will undoubtedly be highlighted by this incredible shot that gave BYU a berth in the Elite Eight.

13. Harold Arceneaux

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    In a first-round mismatch, Harold Arceneaux led the Weber State Wildcats against the North Carolina Tar Heels in 1999. Nobody told him that the game was a mismatch, and he performed incredibly.

    Arceneaux finished the game with 36 points, including 20 in the second half, but his clutch play was needed even more than the sheer points.

    "The Show," as Arceneaux was affectionately called by Weber State fans, drilled two free throws with 13.3 seconds left, and intercepted a pass in the final seconds to prevent North Carolina from getting a shot.

    Since his outstanding performance, both Arceneaux and Weber State have fell into relative obscurity. If they ever play the Tar Heels again, however, this game will certainly be brought up.

     

    Fast forward to 2:55 in the video.

12. Ali Farokhmanesh

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    Even if you disregard his awesome name, you cannot deny that Ali Farokhmanesh was a fun player. The normally-heady point guard for the Northern Iowa Panthers drilled one of the most clutch shots in recent NCAA tournament history.

    In the second round against top-seeded Kansas, Farokhmanesh and his teammates had built a 63-62 lead with under a minute to go.

    With under 40 seconds to play, Farokhmanesh received a pass at the three-point line. Common sense would say to dribble the ball around and get fouled, but he had a different mindset.

    Farokhmanesh pulled the trigger and connected on one of the gutsiest shots ever attempted in NCAA history, perhaps even in basketball history.

11. U.S. Reed

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    Everything about the accompanying video seems archaic. Whether it be U.S. Reed's dribbling style, the commentators or the cheerleaders, there is no denying that the video seems pretty ancient. There is also no denying that the shot was, and still is, incredible.

    In the second-round against Louisville, Arkansas found itself trailing 73-72 with very little time remaining. Reed took an inbounds pass from under his own basket, weaved through the defense and knocked down an incredible half court shot.

    Basketball coaches and preachers of fundamentals might be disgusted at this video, considering that Reed dribbled with his head down. Maybe, just maybe, he had no intentions of passing because he knew he was destined to hit one of the most clutch shots in March Madness history.

    Just maybe.

10. Rip Hamilton

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    The second-seeded Connecticut Huskies found themselves in a hole against the Huskies from Washington in 1998. Rip Hamilton hit a classic shot to give the East Coast Huskies the win.

    Trailing 74-73 in the closing moments, Connecticut found themselves able to get off a multitude of good looks at the basket. They missed on the first three attempts, including one by Hamilton himself, but he made a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to give UConn a 75-74 victory.

    This game was a heartbreaker for Washington, but only one Huskies squad could go on. Rip Hamilton made sure that it was Connecticut, and he ultimately led them to an Elite Eight appearance.

    The following year, he was able to land Connecticut its first National Championship.

9. Rumeal Robinson

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    In the 1989 NCAA title game, the Michigan Wolverines and the Seton Hall Pirates had played into overtime.

    Trailing 79-78 with the clock winding down, Rumeal Robinson drew a foul with just three seconds remaining. Despite the controversy of the call, Robinson, who finished the game with 21 points and 11 assists, knocked down both free throws.

    It's pretty easy to say that Robinson was a little bit more clutch than another Michigan Wolverine a few years later.

     

    Fast forward to 3:55.

8. Stephen Curry

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    Second-seeded Georgetown stormed out to a 38-27 halftime lead against the 10th-seeded Davidson Wildcats in the second round in 2008. The second 20-minute session, however, was all about Stephen Curry.

    After being held to just five points on 2-of-12 shooting in the first half, Curry lit up Georgetown for 25 points in the second period, and Davidson stormed back from a 17-point deficit to eventually win 74-70.

    Curry countered Georgetown's 63 percent shooting with a barrage of three-pointers, including a four-point play. Down the stretch, he converted on 5-of-6 free throws, and Davidson was able to continue its magical run.

    Oddly enough, Curry didn't get the last shot in a 59-57 loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight.

7. Bryce Drew

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    Often times, sons are indebted to their fathers. Homer Drew, however, owes a lot of thanks to his son, Bryce Drew.

    The younger Drew was the leader on the court for the Valparaiso Crusaders in the 1998 NCAA tournament. The elder Drew, who was coaching the team, found himself in a difficult situation.

    Trailing by a score of 69-67 against fourth-seeded Ole Miss in the first round, Coach Drew called a play named "Pacer." The ball, naturally, was to be in his son's hands.

    Bryce did not disappoint his father, and he converted on a fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer to propel Valpo into the second round. The last three points of his 22-point performance earned him a place in college basketball history.

6. Lorenzo Charles

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    The 1983 NCAA championship game put the sixth-seeded North Carolina State Wolfpack against the top-seeded Houston Cougars, better known as Phi Slama Jama.

    The "Cardiac Pack," led by head coach Jim Valvano, seemed destined for overtime when Dereck Whittenburg threw up an air ball from three-point land.

    Then, out of nowhere, Lorenzo Charles caught the air ball, and put it back with a dunk with no time remaining. Charles doubled his scoring total with this basket, but his awareness made those two points incredibly clutch.

    Even more memorable than the actual basket was Coach Valvano's now-famous reaction, in which he ran on the court in disbelief. Thanks to the clutch play of Lorenzo Charles, we have a classic memory of a first-class individual in Jimmy V.

5. Mario Chalmers

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    In the 2008 NCAA championship game, the Kansas Jayhawks found themselves trailing by nine points with just 2:12 to play. Mario Chalmers didn't care.

    With the help of some poor, or shall I say horrendous, free throw shooting by Memphis, Chalmers was able to help the Jayhawks pull out a miraculous win.

    After three key misses from the charity stripe by Memphis, Chalmers connected on a deep three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left to force overtime.

    Chalmers finished the game with 18 points, but more importantly, Kansas finished with the 75-68 win in overtime. They never would never have been able to play in that overtime had it not been for his incredibly clutch shot.

4. Tyus Edney

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    Tyus Edney's game-winning shot against Missouri is still one of the icons of the NCAA tournament.

    Edney, a 5'10" point guard on top-seeded UCLA, took the game into his own hands with 4.8 seconds. Trailing eighth-seeded Missouri 74-73, he dribbled coast-to-coast, knocking down a highly-contested layup.

    Edney, a senior at the time, did not want to have his college career end in the second round, and he put his team on his back. The clutch-factor of his shot increased with time, because UCLA went on to win the entire Big Dance just days later.

    Without Edney, the Bruins would've been back in Los Angeles, and a key piece of NCAA highlight reels would be missing today.

3. Scottie Reynolds

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    In a 2009 Elite Eight game that featured two Big East teams, Scottie Reynolds made sure that Villanova came out on top. The top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers stood in his way, but he diced through them to clinch a 78-76 victory.

    In this classic affair, Reynolds struggled throughout the game. Heading into the final seconds with just 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting, he hit a challenged layup in traffic to give his Wildcats the win and advance to the Final Four.

    Reynolds led Villanova to a win on a national stage against an in-state rival, and both teams will remember his clutch play for years to come.

2. Keith Smart

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    Bobby Knight was a crazy coach. It is difficult to imagine how he would've reacted had Keith Smart not played the way he did in the 1987 NCAA championship game.

    Smart scored an incredible 12 of the Hoosiers' last 15 points, including a game-winner to propel Indiana to a 74-73 victory over Syracuse.

1. Christian Laettner

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    Duke fans remember Christian Laettner's clutch play by a simple two words: "The Shot."

    Laettner propelled Duke into the 1992 Final Four with a buzzer-beater that sent Kentucky to a 104-103 defeat. This one shot epitomized his night, which was perfect. No, really. It was perfect.

    Laettner shot 10-of-10 from the field, and 10-of-10 from the free throw line. It turned out that every one of his points were necessary to secure the victory, and Duke fans to this day rejoice to the image of his turnaround jumper.