The 100 Greatest Plays in College Basketball History
Every college basketball season has its sensational plays, but some of those plays transcend their own time to become the defining moments of the sport. These are the kinds of plays that get rehearsed in highlight compilations every March, the pantheon of college hoops accomplishments.
Although a few of these plays earn their legendary status for sheer difficulty—say, a 6’3” guard dunking on a seven-foot center—most of them are all about context. A contested three-pointer from the right wing may not be an earth-shaking achievement, but when it ties the national championship game with 2.1 seconds remaining it can give Mario Chalmers a permanent place in college basketball lore.
Read on for a look at Chalmers’ buzzer-beater and the rest of the 100 most extraordinary plays ever seen on the college hardwood.
100. Rick Wanamaker Stands Up to Lew Alcindor
Facing invincible Lew Alcindor and UCLA in the 1969 Final Four, surprising Drake came within one point in the final minute before the Bruins secured an 85-82 win—the closest any team came to beating Alcindor’s Bruins in three NCAA tournaments.
The defining moment of the night was the 7’2” UCLA legend getting his shot blocked by Drake’s 6’8” Rick Wanamaker (second from left in photo).
99. Curtis Jerrells Steals a Win from Texas A&M
Baylor’s rise to national prominence owes a lot to the 2007-08 squad that started 16-2, including a jaw-dropping five-OT win over No. 16 Texas A&M.
The Bears’ Curtis Jerrells scored a career-high 36 in the longest Big 12 game ever, including the steal and layup that gave Baylor a three-point cushion with a minute to go in the final extra session.
98. Salim Stoudamire Crosses Up Gonzaga
Salim Stoudamire was one of college basketball’s greatest three-point shooters ever, but the biggest shot of his career was taken in the paint.
The runner he sank with 2:03 left in the second overtime finished off the perennial tournament darlings from Gonzaga and sent Stoudamire’s Arizona squad to the 2003 Sweet 16.
97. Mario Boggan Eclipses Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant was rarely upstaged in his lone season at Texas, but after his three-point play in the third overtime against Oklahoma State, the Cowboys still had 10.5 seconds to answer.
Mario Boggan finished off a career night (37 points, 20 rebounds) by nailing the game-winning three-pointer in a 105-103 victory.
96. Will Sheridan Sneaks Past Boston College
Although it was future pro Randy Foye who led Villanova to the 2006 Sweet 16, it took unheralded forward Will Sheridan to push them into the next round.
Sheridan’s finish on a pick-and-roll drew a Sean Williams goaltend with three seconds left in overtime, earning a 60-59 victory for the Wildcats.
95. Herman Harris Lights Up UNLV
Arizona earned its first-ever Elite Eight berth with an upset of 29-1 UNLV in 1976.
The Wildcats’ Herman Harris (far right in photo) hit the game-saving jumper—setting up an overtime win—to cap a run in which he’d scored 16 of Arizona’s final 27 points in regulation.
94. Melvin Levett Outshines Duke Stars
Duke’s 1998-99 team—boasting Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Corey Maggette—was one of college hoops’ most loaded lineups ever, and until the national title-game upset by UConn had lost just one game all season.
That defeat came courtesy of Cincinnati’s Melvin Levett, who converted an airborne touch pass from Kenyon Martin into a last-second dunk to win the Great Alaska Shootout.
93. Blake Hoffarber Does His Best Christian Laettner Impersonation
The stakes weren’t as high as those surrounding the similar-looking Christian Laettner shot, but Minnesota earned a trip to the semis of the 2008 Big Ten tournament on an improbable finish by Blake Hoffarber.
Trailing Indiana by a point with 1.5 seconds to go, Hoffarber fielded a three-quarter-court pass and nailed a turnaround jumper to win the game for the Gophers.
92. Ali Farokhmanesh Crushes Kansas' Comeback Hopes
After underdog Northern Iowa had controlled most of the game, top-seeded Kansas rallied to close to within a point by the final minute of their 2010 second-round matchup.
Despite having missed seven shots in a row after halftime, the Panthers’ Ali Farokhmanesh landed the coup de grace, draining a wide-open three-pointer on a fast break with 35 seconds to play.
91. Emeka Okafor Caps UConn's Final Four Surge
In a Final Four matchup packed with future pros—Luol Deng, J.J. Redick, Ben Gordon—Duke led UConn by eight points with under four minutes to play.
The Huskies rallied for a dozen consecutive points, taking the lead for good on a putback by Emeka Okafor, the star center who scored all 18 of his points in the second half.
90. John Lucas III One-Ups Jameer Nelson
After a 30-0 regular season in 2003-04, St. Joseph’s was on the verge of its first Final Four since 1961.
At the conclusion of an epic duel between Naismith and Wooden Award-winner Jameer Nelson of the Hawks and Oklahoma State’s John Lucas III, Lucas drained the game-winning three with seconds to play, then forced a Nelson miss to preserve the Cowboys' win.
89. Doctors of Dunk Send Kentucky Packing
Louisville’s “Doctors of Dunk” had talent to match either of the Cardinals’ NCAA champs, but nearly missed the 1983 Final Four thanks to archrival Kentucky.
After Jim Master tied the game for the Wildcats in the final seconds of regulation, though, Louisville put it away in overtime with a 14-0 run highlighted by Lancaster Gordon’s alley-oop feed to Milt Wagner.
88. Matt Howard Bails out Shelvin Mack
Shelvin Mack’s idiotic foul on Pitt’s Gilbert Brown looked like it had doomed Butler in last spring's Elite Eight until Matt Howard rebounded a missed Brown free throw in a tie game.
The Butler center was fouled by Nasir Robinson with less than a second to play, and Howard’s clutch free throw sent the Bulldogs to the second of their improbable back-to-back Final Fours.
87. Cowboys Lose Shootout vs. Adam Morrison
An early building block of Adam Morrison’s legend at Gonzaga came in a 2005 regular-season meeting with Oklahoma State (a Final Four team the previous season).
The Cowboys led by a point with 12.4 seconds on the clock, but Morrison’s banked-in three-ball gave the Zags a win and helped his (successful) pursuit of the national scoring title as a junior.
86. James Salters Closes out North Carolina
Although star Tony Price (pictured) led the ninth-seeded Quakers with 25 points and nine boards, the crowning moment of their upset of top-seed UNC—in the Tar Heels’ first game of the NCAA tournament—came from James Salters.
His 15th and final point in a tie game came at the free-throw line, giving Penn a 72-71 victory and catapulting the team to the only Final Four run in school history.
85. Julius Page Rocks Ruben Boumtje Boumtje
Every shot-blocker is going to get dunked on occasionally, but few have been posterized quite so spectacularly as Georgetown seven-footer Ruben Boumtje Boumtje.
The Hoya stalwart tried to defend a two-on-one break but found himself on the receiving end of a phenomenal one-handed slam by 6’3” Pitt freshman Julius Page.
84. Cazzie Russell Outlasts Bill Bradley and Princeton
In a game that turned out to be a Final Four preview, Princeton (led by AP Player of the Year Bill Bradley) took on the top-ranked Michigan Wolverines in December of 1964.
With Princeton up by 12 with five minutes to play, Bradley fouled out, opening the door for Michigan legend Cazzie Russell to lead a comeback and bury the game-winner with under half a minute to go.
83. Doug Schloemer Completes Marathon Win over Bradley
The longest game in NCAA history would’ve been even longer if it hadn’t been for Cincinnati's Doug Schloemer.
The Bearcats guard found the energy to hit the tie-breaking jumper with three seconds left in the seventh overtime, beating Bradley by a 75-73 margin in 1981.
82. Adam Morrison Wins Free-Throw Contest vs. Michigan State
Early season tournaments are built to produce matchups like No. 9 Gonzaga against No. 12 Michigan State, but their 2005 Maui Invitational showdown was one of the best in recent memory.
The two teams shot a combined 53-for-57 from the free-throw line in the triple-OT classic, with Zags star Adam Morrison (who had his team’s only miss from the stripe) deciding the game with 19 seconds remaining by hitting—of course—a pair of clutch foul shots.
81. Sean Dockery's Prayer Is Answered Against Virginia Tech
Top-ranked Duke had no business struggling at home against Virginia Tech in 2005, but a Coleman Collins tip-in put the Hokies up a point with 1.6 seconds to play.
Sean Dockery saved the day for the home team, nailing an absurd 45-footer to beat the buzzer and stave off a massive upset.
80. Luke Witte Spoils Marquette's Perfect Run
After a 26-0 regular season, Dean Meminger and Marquette looked to be headed for a 1971 Final Four showdown with fellow unbeaten UCLA.
Instead, Ohio State tripped up Al McGuire’s club in the Sweet 16, erasing an early 13-point lead and going on top for good with 1:11 to play on a layup by center Luke Witte.
79. Scottie Reynolds Carves Up Pitt
Since 2002, Pitt has made the tournament every year and been seeded fourth or better eight times, but never have the Panthers come closer to the Final Four than in 2009.
Tied at 76 with time winding down, though, Pitt’s vaunted defense couldn’t stop Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds from slashing to the paint and floating home the game-winner with less than a second to play.
78. Pete Eisenrich Leads Santa Clara Past Arizona
Damon Stoudamire was the bigger-name PG at the time, but Steve Nash (pictured) was introduced to a national audience when his 15th-seeded Santa Clara squad stunned Stoudamire’s Arizona team in 1993.
Still, though Nash’s free throws helped hold off a Wildcat comeback, it was Pete Eisenrich who made the play of the day by draining a baseline jumper with 2:49 remaining that gave the Broncos the lead for good.
77. Miles Simon Scores from Opposing Three-Point Line
Although he won Final Four MOP honors for Arizona’s 1997 NCAA champs, nothing Miles Simon did in the tournament could live up to the standard he’d set the previous season against Cincinnati.
Already boasting a reputation as a long-range shooter, Simon took it to new heights with a 70-foot buzzer-beating bank shot to stun the fifth-ranked Bearcats and give Lute Olson the 500th win of his coaching career.
76. Rolando Blackman Upends Oregon State
When Kansas State needed a last-second shot to beat second-ranked Oregon State in the second round of the 1981 NCAA tournament, there was only one choice for a player to take it.
Star guard Rolando Blackman beat a Beaver double-team to hit a 17-foot turnaround and send the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.
75. John Kuester Edges out UNLV
Reggie Theus and high-scoring UNLV made the first Final Four appearance in program history in 1977, but ran into Dean Smith’s Tar Heels and their pre-shot-clock version of the "four corners" offense.
UNC’s slowdown ground the Runnin’ Rebels into submission in the second half, turning a 10-point deficit into a one-point win saved by John Kuester—yes, the ousted Detroit Pistons head coach—draining a string of clutch free throws down the stretch.
74. Germain Mopa-Njila Does It All to Beat Syracuse
Germain Mopa-Njila would have earned enough credit in No. 13 seed Vermont’s 2005 upset of fourth-seeded Syracuse if he had “only” hit the clutch three-pointer that gave the Catamounts the lead in overtime.
To add insult to injury, Mopa-Njila then stole an errant Hakim Warrick pass on the ensuing possession, setting up T.J. Sorrentine for another three-ball that iced the game for Vermont.
73. Reece Gaines Torches Tennessee
With 35 seconds remaining in their 2001 regular-season showdown, Tennessee led Louisville by six points.
Even after the Cardinals nailed a pair of threes to tie, the Vols retook the lead at 72-70 before Reece Gaines hit his second trey of the final half-minute and handed Louisville the victory.
72. Cedric Jackson Dials Long Distance Against Syracuse
Cleveland State wasn’t even expected to put up a fight on the road at No. 11 Syracuse in early 2008, but the game was tied with 2.2 seconds to play.
The Vikings’ Cedric Jackson didn’t even have time to reach half court off the inbounds pass…but he didn’t need to, banking home a 60-footer to stun the Orange.
71. Chris McNaughton Shocks Kansas
Although Bucknell is tied with Yale and Minnesota for the title of the oldest program in Division I hoops, the Bison had played just two NCAA tournament games (both 20-point losses) before their 2005 meeting with third-seeded Kansas.
Jayhawk center Wayne Simien was expected to be the headliner, but he was upstaged by counterpart Chris McNaughton, a German import whose hook shot with 10 seconds on the clock gave 14th-seeded Bucknell the upset victory.
70. Marc Brown Carries Siena to Pinnacle of Roller-Coaster Season
Siena’s 1988-89 squad was one of the strangest stories in NCAA tournament history, having arrived as a 14th seed after spending more than a month playing in front of empty seats thanks to a measles epidemic on their campus.
Despite their bizarre road to March Madness, the newly christened Saints—the school had ditched "Indians" in the offseason—hung right with third-seeded Stanford, and when star point guard Marc Brown drained a pair of free throws to cap a 32-point, six-assist performance, the favored Cardinal were sent home by an 80-78 margin.
69. Darvin Ham Shatters North Carolina
Texas Tech’s Darvin Ham won the NCAA slam dunk contest as a senior, but it was his in-game finishing prowess that earned him national recognition.
Ham brought down the backboard in an NCAA tournament game against Antawn Jamison and North Carolina, helping to spark a Red Raider rout (92-73) and a rare trip to the Sweet 16.
68. Chris Webber Finishes off Kentucky
Even after Jamal Mashburn and his 26 points fouled out in overtime in the 1993 Final Four, Kentucky clung to a three-point lead when Ray Jackson drove the lane in the final minute.
Jackson’s runner cut the lead to one, and when he missed the ensuing free throw, Chris Webber (soon to be the goat of a title-game loss) scored the tip-in that would send the Fab Five to its second straight national final.
67. West Virginia Gets Pittsnogled by Kenton Paulino
West Virginia’s Kevin Pittsnogle made his name with backbreaking three-point shots, but he got a taste of his own medicine in the 2006 Sweet 16.
Pittsnogle’s trey with five seconds remaining tied the game, but he left just enough time for Texas guard Kenton Paulino to launch an even longer three-ball to give the second-seeded Longhorns a thrilling win.
66. Jordan Farmar Leaves Adam Morrison in Tears
The enduring image of UCLA’s 2006 win over Gonzaga is Bulldog star Adam Morrison sobbing, but it took a sensational effort by the Bruins to end Morrison’s career in that fashion.
After trailing by as many as 17 in the Sweet 16 matchup, the Bruins took their first lead with 10 seconds to play when a desperation steal let Jordan Farmar set up Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for the game-winning layup.
65. Walter McCarty Wraps Up Historic Kentucky Rally
Although it would be two years before Rick Pitino brought the national championship back to Lexington, his 1993-94 Wildcats staged the greatest comeback in NCAA history.
Down 31 before halftime, Kentucky clawed its way back to within two, then saw Walter McCarty drain a three-pointer from the corner to put them on top for good with all of 19 seconds remaining in the game.
64. Eric Maynor Hands Duke a Quick Exit
Before last spring’s Final Four run, the biggest NCAA tournament win in VCU history was their 2007 upset of Josh McRoberts and sixth-seeded Duke.
Star guard Eric Maynor—who had carried the Rams to a CAA championship over defending Final Four team George Mason—nailed the last-second jumper to sink Duke and end the Blue Devils’ run of nine consecutive Sweet 16s.
63. Andy Rautins Helps Syracuse Survive Sextuple-OT
One of the greatest games ever played outside of March Madness was Syracuse’s showdown with UConn in the 2009 Big East tournament.
The Orange and Huskies battled back and forth for a mind-boggling six overtimes, with Andy Rautins’ three-pointer early in the sixth extra session finally giving the Orange a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
62. Melvin Levett Defies Gravity
In a 1997 game against Alcorn State, high-flying Melvin Levett pulled off one of the most eye-popping dunks in college hoops history.
Following up a missed three-pointer by D’Juan Baker, Levett soared over 6’7” teammate Bobby Brannen for a one-handed putback slam.
61. Pearl Washington Announces His Arrival at Syracuse
One of many New York City playground icons to shine in Big East play, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington made his biggest mark in his first season at Syracuse, in a tight game with No. 16 Boston College at the Carrier Dome.
The Eagles had a chance to take a last-second lead in a tie game, but Martin Clark’s missed free throw gave Washington just enough time to fling up a half-court buzzer-beater that launched Syracuse into the Top 25 for the first time in the 1983-84 season.
60. Maryland Gets Jason Williams Deja Vu
After pulling off an implausible comeback to beat Maryland in the regular season, Duke found itself trailing the same Terrapin team by 22 in the Final Four.
Once again, the Blue Devils battled back behind star guard Jason (aka Jay) Williams, whose three-pointer put victorious Duke on top for the first time with just under seven minutes left to play.
59. Sidney Wicks Dodges Upset Against Long Beach State
UCLA’s famed 88-game winning streak almost ended a couple of months after it started.
Trailing Jerry Tarkanian’s Long Beach State squad by 11 in the Elite Eight, the Bruins scrambled all the way back to tie it, with PF Sidney Wicks converting both ends of a one-and-one in the final seconds to escape with a 57-55 win.
58. Oregon Blinks, Loses to Adam Spanich
A five-point lead really ought to be safe for 2.8 seconds.
Oregon found out otherwise when USC’s Adam Spanich—whose other famous buzzer beater stunned No. 1 Arizona the previous season—nailed a three, stole the inbounds pass at midcourt and heaved up a prayer that turned into an impossible win for the 1998-99 Trojans.
57. Harold Arceneaux Steals Show Against North Carolina
Harold “The Show” Arceneaux turned in one of the great individual games in the history of March Madness.
Arceneaux lit up third-seeded North Carolina (which hadn’t lost a first-round game in 19 years) for 36 points, capping his performance by hitting the free throws that sealed the deal for underdog Weber State.
56. Spencer Haywood's College Debut Goes Down in History
Spencer Haywood’s first game as a Detroit Titan was impressive enough in the box score—36 points and 32 boards in a 105-40 win—but the returning 1968 Olympic star’s impact can’t be told by numbers alone.
With six minutes remaining, Haywood soared over an Aquinas defender set for a charge and brought down the backboard with a slam that would have earned him a technical foul (dunking had just been outlawed at the time) had it not ended the game due to lack of a replacement hoop.
55. Drew Nicholas Saves Defending Champs from First-Round Exit
A year after pulling a first-round upset over USC behind sharpshooter Brett Blizzard, the Seahawks of UNC-Wilmington appeared poised for a repeat performance against the defending national champs from Maryland.
Instead, Drew Nicholas saved the day for the Terrapins, turning a one-point deficit with five seconds to go into a victory by way of an off-balance, buzzer-beating three-point swish.
54. Maurice Newby Introduces Country to Northern Iowa
Anthony Peeler knew a thing or two about three-point shooting, but after leading Missouri to a No. 3 seed in the 1990 tournament, Peeler found himself on the wrong end of a clutch trey.
As Peeler stepped out to guard him, Maurice Newby knocked down a 25-footer to give 14th-seeded Northern Iowa the victory in the first NCAA tournament game in school history.
53. Tony Raye Beats Odds from Charity Stripe
Facing heavily favored Ken Norman (pictured) and Illinois, 14th-seeded Austin Peay was expected to bow out quietly in the first round of the 1987 NCAA tournament.
Even after trailing most of the way, the Illini had grabbed a lead on Tony Wysinger’s jumper with 13 seconds to play, but the Governors’ Tony Raye drew a foul under the basket on the ensuing possession, converting both free throws (in spite of his 56 percent shooting from the stripe that year) and stunning the nation’s 12th-ranked team.
52. Richard Washington Breaks Louisville's Hearts
Although Louisville’s Terry Howard became the goat of the 1975 NCAA semifinals for his missed free throw in the final seconds of overtime, the Cardinals were still ahead by a point when that shot came up empty.
UCLA—en route to John Wooden's final championship—still had to capitalize on their last chance, and Richard Washington did just that by nailing a turnaround jumper with two seconds left on the clock.
51. Don Reid Reverses Georgetown's Fortunes
Allen Iverson needed some help from an unlikely source to dodge a second-round NCAA upset at the hands of massive underdog Weber State in 1995.
In the final seconds of a tie game, AI’s bid for a game-winning winning three turned into an air ball, only to have the Hoyas’ Don Reid grab it and flip in an improbable reverse that just beat the buzzer.
50. Jerome Lane Smashes Providence
Bill Raftery’s endlessly rehashed cry of “Send it in, Jerome!” punctuated one of the most explosive dunks in college basketball history.
Pitt’s 6’6” Jerome Lane didn’t even have enough runway to take a dribble before skying over a helpless Providence defender and shattering the backboard in a 1988 home game.
49. Mike Miller Dodges Butler Upset Bid
They may be darlings of March Madness these days, but in 2000 Butler had gone almost 40 years without winning a tournament game.
That looked poised to change with the Bulldogs leading Florida 68-67 in the final seconds, but the Gators’ Mike Miller sliced through Butler’s D for a desperation leaner that kept Florida on track for the second Final Four appearance in school history.
48. Demonte Harper Sinks Louisville
Rick Pitino’s teams have pulled off their share of unlikely victories, but the three-point-loving coach got a taste of his own medicine in last year’s tournament.
With 4.2 seconds to play, Demonte Harper drained a step-back three-ball to send Pitino’s fourth-seeded Cardinals home and his own No. 13 seeds from Morehead State to the Round of 32.
47. Christian Laettner's Dress Rehearsal Beats UConn
Two years before his iconic NCAA tournament game-winner, sophomore Christian Laettner began his legacy of postseason heroics in the Elite Eight against UConn.
Having lived by the sword (Tate George’s miracle shot against Clemson two days earlier), the Huskies died by the sword when Laettner nailed a double-clutch 18-footer in overtime for a 79-78 win.
46. Gonzaga Calls in the Calvary
The 1999 Gonzaga Bulldogs had already earned the first two NCAA tournament wins in school history by the time they faced Florida in the Sweet 16.
Casey Calvary’s putback in the final seconds sent the then-Cinderella Zags to the Elite Eight, prompting Gus Johnson’s much-replayed call, “The slipper still fits!”
45. Jermaine Wallace Bombs Hawkeyes
Fourteenth-seeded Northwestern State had already overcome two different 14-point deficits by the time Iowa’s Greg Brunner stepped to the foul line to try to put the game away with 14.6 seconds left.
When Brunner hit just one of two, though, it opened the door for Jermaine Wallace, who grabbed a teammate’s miss and fired up a fadeaway three-pointer from the corner that hit nothing but net and gave the Demons a stunning 64-63 victory.
44. Barry Goheen Doubles Up on Pitt
With 12 seconds remaining in their NCAA tournament matchup, Pitt appeared to have put Vanderbilt away until late-game specialist Barry Goheen hit a three-pointer to cut the margin to one.
A pair of Panther free throws later, Goheen got open again to drain a game-saving buzzer-beater and set up an overtime win that sent the Commodores to the 1988 Sweet 16.
43. Fran Corcoran Invents Cinderella Upset
Decades before at-large bids and 15th seeds came into existence, the Golden Griffins of Canisius scored the grandfather of NCAA tournament upsets.
Facing second-ranked NC State in the opener of the 1956 tourney, unranked Canisius outlasted the Wolfpack in a quadruple-OT epic, with reserve Fran Corcoran (No. 13 in photo) scoring the game-winner—his only points—with five seconds remaining.
42. Jason Williams Leads Miracle Comeback for Duke
In a 2001 conference game against Maryland, Duke managed to erase a 10-point deficit…in 54 seconds.
Duke guard Jason/Jay Williams sparked the so-called "Miracle Minute" with a layup-steal-three-pointer combo that propelled the second-ranked Blue Devils to a tie at the end of regulation and ultimately an overtime win.
41. John Smith Sends Mark Aguirre out on a Sour Note
The 1980-81 DePaul Blue Demons boasted a pair of future top-two draft picks in Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings, but all their talent couldn’t keep them from falling apart in the clutch against ninth-seeded St. Joseph’s.
The deathblow came from the appropriately anonymous John Smith, whose uncontested layup in the final seconds (off Lonnie McFarlan's pass, pictured) gave the Hawks a stunning 49-48 win.
40. Bob Heaton Grabs Spotlight for Indiana State
Larry Bird was a one-man show for Indiana State in 1978-79, but when the Sycamores needed a last-second shot in the Elite Eight, it didn’t come from Larry Legend.
After a disputed traveling call gave ISU possession with a minute to play against Arkansas, the Sycamores held the ball to set up a last-second attempt…from the now-forgotten Bob Heaton (center in photo), whose jumper trickled in to send Indiana State to its first and only Final Four.
39. Larry O'Bannon Catches Up with West Virginia
Down 20 points to Kevin Pittsnogle and West Virginia in the 2005 Elite Eight, Louisville somehow battled back.
With 38 seconds to play, Larry O’Bannon’s driving layup tied the game and set up an overtime win (and a Final Four trip) for Rick Pitino’s Cardinals.
38. Ricky Blanton Makes Fourth Time the Charm for LSU vs. Kentucky
When LSU became the first No. 11 seed to reach a Final Four in 1986, the biggest obstacle they had to overcome was conference rival (and top seed) Kentucky.
After three straight losses to the Wildcats, the Tigers finally prevailed thanks to 6’6” Ricky Blanton, a guard dragooned into playing center who laid in a last-second Don Redden feed to steal a 59-57 win.
37. Bobby Joe Hill Triggers Title-Game Romp for Texas Western
For all that all-black Texas Western (now UTEP) was supposed to be the underdog against Adolph Rupp’s all-white Kentucky squad in the 1966 title game, it didn’t take the Miners long to put the game away.
Guard Bobby Joe Hill converted back-to-back steals into fast-break layups to put the Miners up 16-11, and they never trailed for the rest of the night on their way to a historic national championship.
36. Christian Laettner Avenges UNLV Blowout
A year after losing in the national final by a record 30 points, Duke got some payback against a UNLV team that was already being counted among history’s greatest.
The previously undefeated Rebels fell in the national semis on a pair of last-minute free throws converted by (who else?) Christian Laettner.
35. Walter Davis Completes Tar Heel Rally vs. Duke
In the 1974 regular-season finale—a decade before the introduction of the three-point shot—UNC trailed Duke by eight points with just 17 seconds left to play.
Future NBA star Walter Davis capped an astonishing flurry of scoring by banking in a 30-footer at the buzzer to send the game to OT, where the homestanding Tar Heels emerged victorious.
34. Cozell McQueen Saves NC State's Cinderella Run
In their tourney opener against Pepperdine, eventual 1983 champion NC State trailed by six with 24 seconds remaining.
The Wolfpack scored four quick points, and when Dereck Whittenburg missed a free throw with eight seconds on the clock, Cozell McQueen (holding up Sidney Lowe in photo) tipped in the game-tying basket to set up an overtime victory.
33. Rip Hamilton's Perseverance Edges Washington
Few teams have ever gotten quite as many last chances as the 1998 UConn Huskies.
In the final 10 seconds of their Sweet 16 showdown with Washington, UConn (trailing for the first time in the game) whiffed on its first three tries at a game-winner before Rip Hamilton’s fallaway floated over Todd MacCulloch and into the net for a 75-74 win.
32. Tarvis Williams Powers Hampton Past Iowa State
As a No. 15 seed making its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, Hampton wasn’t exactly facing high expectations in the 2001 tourney.
Nevertheless, Iowa State’s 11-point second-half lead evaporated, and when Marseilles Brown found Tarvis Williams in the paint in the final seconds, Jamaal Tinsley and the Cyclones were the team going home after Round 1.
31. Bo Kimble Pays Tribute to a Fallen Friend
Loyola Marymount's Bo Kimble used all manner of shots to score 143 points in four games in the 1990 NCAA tournament, but the ones that made the biggest mark came from the free-throw line.
To honor the memory of teammate and childhood friend Hank Gathers—who collapsed and died of a heart condition during that year’s West Coast Conference tournament—the right-handed Kimble took the first free throw of each March Madness game with his left hand, doing southpaw Gathers proud by hitting all four shots.
30. Deron Williams Puts Exclamation Point on Illinois Comeback
No game heralded Deron Williams’ arrival as one of basketball’s best point guards like the Elite Eight win he led for Illinois in 2005.
The winningest Illini team in history was on the ropes, down 15 with under four minutes to play, but battled back to cut the deficit to three before Williams nailed a game-tying trey (setting up an overtime win) with half a minute remaining.
29. Willie Cager Finishes Kansas in Double-Overtime
Few would remember the 1966 Texas Western team if it hadn’t won the national title, but the Miners wouldn’t even have gotten to the championship game without winning one of that tournament’s most thrilling contests.
Jo Jo White and Kansas took Texas Western (now UTEP) to double-OT in the Elite Eight before a tip-in by Willie Cager (No. 10 in photo) finally gave the Miners a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
28. James Forrest Cuts Down USC
James Forrest picked the best possible time to hit his first career three-pointer.
With perimeter stars Travis Best and Jon Barry covered, the Georgia Tech freshman took an inbounds pass from Matt Geiger with less than a second to play and fired up the game-winning three-pointer to stun USC and send the Yellow Jackets to the 1992 Sweet 16.
27. Alonzo Mourning Averts Upset of the Century
No 16th seed has ever won a game in the men’s NCAA tournament, but none came any closer than Princeton in 1989.
Pete Carril’s famous ball-control offense dragged the Hoyas into a slugfest, but Princeton’s bid for a game-winner came up short when Alonzo Mourning stuffed Kit Mueller’s last-second try and sent a relieved Georgetown squad to the second round.
26. Scotty Thurman Buries Duke
Corliss Williamson was the undisputed star of Arkansas’ only NCAA champs in 1994, but Big Nasty didn’t take home Final Four MOP honors.
That distinction went to Scotty Thurman, the junior guard whose three-pointer with less than a minute to play sealed the Razorbacks’ title-game win over Duke.
25. Elvin Hayes Secures Victory in Game of the Century
No. 1 UCLA’s 1968 Astrodome showdown with fellow unbeaten Houston (ranked No. 2) was billed as the Game of the Century, and it lived up to the hype.
Elvin Hayes (on his way to AP Player of the Year honors) outplayed Bruin legend Lew Alcindor with 39 points and 15 rebounds, capping his performance by nailing the two free throws that put Houston up 71-69 and ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak.
24. Danny Ainge Dashes Past Notre Dame
He didn’t capture the nation’s hearts like Jimmer Fredette, but Danny Ainge made the greatest play in the history of BYU basketball.
Trailing Notre Dame by a point in the waning seconds of the 1981 Sweet 16, Ainge ducked and weaved through the entire Irish defense for the coast-to-coast layup and a spectacular Cougar victory.
23. Phil Spence Steps Up in Legendary ACC Final
The last straw in the creation of the at-large bid, the 1974 ACC championship between No. 1 NC State and No. 4 Maryland was both a historic moment and a fantastically played game that kept perhaps the best Terrapin team ever out of the NCAA tournament.
Though stars like David Thompson and Tom McMillen abounded on both sides, it was left to the Wolfpack’s low-scoring Phil Spence (far right in photo) to lay in the decisive basket over Terps shot-blocker Len Elmore with two minutes left in overtime.
22. Will Bynum Drives Yellow Jackets to Championship Game
Will Bynum may not be the grandest name in Georgia Tech’s impressive pantheon of guards, but he made the most important single play in school history.
With 15 seconds left in the 2004 national semifinal against Oklahoma State, Bynum took a Jarrett Jack feed and drove through the Cowboy defense to power home the game-winning layup and send the Yellow Jackets to the national title game.
21. U.S. Reed Breaks Press the Hard Way
Even without Darrell Griffith, defending national champion Louisville earned a No. 4 seed in the 1981 tournament and had every reason to expect another strong postseason run.
Instead, the Cardinals’ hopes came to an abrupt end in the second round when Arkansas’ U.S. Reed launched a half-court shot that turned a certain defeat into a 74-73 Razorback victory.
Remarkably, Reed's miracle shot is the third play to make this list that happened over a single weekend in 1981, along with the game-winners by Rolando Blackman and John Smith.
20. Herb Wilkinson Makes Title-Game History
Utah was a substantial underdog in the 1944 national title game, not least because the Redskins (as they were then called) were only in the tournament as a replacement for an Arkansas team that withdrew after two starters were injured in a car accident.
Nevertheless, Utah stayed right with favored Dartmouth, taking the game to overtime (a national championship first) before Herb Wilkinson’s long one-handed set shot broke a 40-40 tie in the final seconds.
19. Mario Chalmers Keeps Jayhawks Alive
Memphis had the 2008 national title sewn up, but then the Tigers’ spotty free-throw shooting finally came back to bite them.
Foul-line misses by Memphis kept the game just close enough for Kansas’ Mario Chalmers to knock down the game-saving, buzzer-beating three-pointer that sparked an overtime win for the Jayhawks.
18. Tate George Beats Clock, Clemson
Last-second shots have rarely been more literal than the one that saved UConn in the 1990 Sweet 16.
With exactly one second showing on the clock and Clemson leading by a point, the Huskies’ Scott Burrell found Tate George for a spinning, fading jumper that somehow fell to send UConn to its first Elite Eight in a quarter-century.
17. Irwin Dambrot Completes Championship Sweep
City College of New York doesn’t even play in Division I anymore, but in 1950 the Beavers became the only team ever to win the NCAA tournament and NIT in the same postseason, beating Bradley both times.
With half a minute to play in the NCAA final, it looked like the Braves (up by a point) would get revenge for their NIT defeat, but CCNY’s 6’4” Irwin Dambrot blocked a shot from Bradley star Gene Melchiorre, then fired the ball down the floor to Norm Mager for the game-winning basket.
16. Gabe Lewullis Closes (Back) Door on UCLA
Pete Carril’s now-ubiquitous Princeton offense never got a better advertisement than the Tigers’ first-round meeting with defending champion UCLA in the 1996 tournament.
After controlling the ball and the clock for 40 minutes, the Tigers went once more to their endless well of backdoor passes, with Steve Goodrich finding freshman Gabe Lewullis for the tie-breaking layup and a staggering 43-41 win.
15. Pete Brennan Rescues Undefeated North Carolina
If it hadn’t been upstaged by the epic title game days later, the 1957 national semifinal between North Carolina and Michigan State might be remembered as one of the greatest tournament games in history.
The unbeaten Tar Heels trailed by a pair late in the second overtime when forward Pete Brennan took a missed free throw coast to coast and tied the game, forcing a third overtime that gave UNC the hard-earned win.
14. Bryce Drew Slides into Second Round
Bryce Drew went from complete unknown to (ill-advised) first-round draft pick on the strength of one miraculous play in the 1998 NCAA tournament.
With fourth-seeded Ole Miss leading Drew’s No. 13 seeds from Valparaiso by a deuce with 2.5 seconds to go, Drew fielded a touch pass from Bill Jenkins and buried a buzzer-beater for the history books before getting buried himself by a pile of jubilant teammates.
13. Hakim Warrick Smothers Kansas
Carmelo Anthony gets all the credit for Syracuse’s 2003 national championship, but Hakim Warrick gave him plenty of help.
The lanky forward saved the championship-game win over Kansas with a picture-perfect rejection on Michael Lee’s attempt at a game-tying three-pointer.
12. Harold Jensen Shoots Down Favored Hoyas
Becoming the lowest-seeded champion in NCAA history takes more than a few extraordinary performances, as the 1985 Villanova Wildcats proved.
Of all the heroes in the title game against heavily favored Georgetown, Harold Jensen made the biggest play, draining the 18-footer with 2:37 remaining that gave the Wildcats a lead they would never surrender.
11. David Thompson Snaps UCLA's Championship Streak
UCLA’s unimaginable string of seven straight national titles came to an end in 1974, but the Bruins didn’t go down easy.
They took eventual champion NC State to two overtimes before Dave Meyers’ missed one-and-one front end gave superstar David Thompson a chance to bank home a jumper over Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes and put the Wolfpack ahead to stay.
10. Rumeal Robinson Stands Tall for Wolverines
From a historic perspective, there’s clutch free-throw shooting, and then there’s what Rumeal Robinson did in the 1989 NCAA final.
With the championship on the line, trailing Seton Hall by one with three seconds remaining in overtime, the 66 percent foul-shooter sank both of his shots to give the Michigan Wolverines their only national title.
9. Dwight Clay Topples UCLA Goliath
Notre Dame had been the last team to beat UCLA prior to the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak, and it took another meeting with the Fighting Irish to end the streak in 1974.
Dwight Clay capped a 12-0 run to close the game by burying a jumper from the corner in the final minute and giving Notre Dame a shocking 71-70 victory.
8. Michael Jordan Steps onto National Stage
Even for an all-time legend, Michael Jordan picked an impressive way to announce his arrival as a force in the basketball world.
With 17 seconds left in the 1982 national title game and his Tar Heels trailing Georgetown by one, freshman Jordan coolly drained a jumper from the wing to win the first championship of Dean Smith’s coaching career.
7. Tyus Edney Sprints into History
Ninety-four feet have never looked as short, nor 4.8 seconds as long, as Tyus Edney made them look in the second round of the 1995 tournament.
Trailing by a point, the UCLA guard dashed the length of the court and soared through the heart of the Missouri defense to knock down the game-winner that defined the Bruins’ championship run.
6. Tim Dunham Puts Chaminade on the Map
When tiny Chaminade of the NAIA pulled off the greatest upset in college hoops history, the signature play of the night came from Tim Dunham (No. 20 in photo).
The Silverswords’ 6’2” guard fielded an alley-oop pass from Mark Rodrigues and slammed the ball down over No. 1 Virginia’s two-time defending Naismith Award winner, 7’4” center Ralph Sampson.
5. Vic Rouse Delivers National Title to Loyola
Loyola (Chicago) is one of the least-remembered champions in NCAA history, but the Ramblers earned their title by beating a Cincinnati team that had won back-to-back championships and made five consecutive Final Fours.
With the title game tied and four seconds left in OT, Loyola’s Les Hunter missed a shot from just beyond the free-throw line only to see teammate Vic Rouse sky for the championship-winning putback at the buzzer.
4. Joe Quigg Seals First Championship for North Carolina
Having already taken three overtimes to knock off Michigan State in the 1957 national semis, unbeaten North Carolina played another three extra periods in the longest national title game in history.
In the final OT, Tar Heel center Joe Quigg—who had already given his team the lead on a pair of free throws with six seconds to play—batted down a last-second pass intended for Kansas star Wilt Chamberlain, saving the game and the perfect season for North Carolina.
3. Keith Smart Leaves Orangemen Seeing Red
Trailing by one in the final seconds of the 1987 national championship game, Indiana turned, not to All-America guard Steve Alford, but to comparatively anonymous backcourt mate Keith Smart.
The junior didn't disappoint, nailing a 17-footer over the Syracuse zone and giving Bobby Knight his third and final national title.
2. Christian Laettner Floors Kentucky
It can be easy to forget that the most-replayed shot in all of college hoops didn’t come in a Final Four game.
Instead, eventual champion Duke earned a trip to the 1992 Final Four when Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beating turnaround in overtime stunned Kentucky and concluded one of the most exciting, tightly contested games in collegiate history.
1. Lorenzo Charles Slams Phi Slama Jama
Houston’s Phi Slama Jama squad, featuring Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, may have been the best team never to win an NCAA championship, but they certainly picked a memorable way to lose one.
With the Cougars and NC State tied at 52 in the final seconds, Wolfpack guard Dereck Whittenburg’s long-range air ball was salvaged by Lorenzo Charles under the rim, where Charles dunked home the championship-winning basket as time expired.