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Top 10 NCAA Tournament Buzzer-Beaters of All Time

The Madness is officially underway. The first round–or “First Four”–is done and over with and we now have a set field of 64 teams who one way or another have proven they are worthy to be part of the NCAA tournament.

It’s every basketball fan’s dream to hit a shot as the clock ticks down to zero. Just look at any kid playing in their driveway or a park and you’ll hear a kid counting down as they dribble “three…two…one” and then launch a shot and once it’s through the net, the mock celebration begins.

One of the great things about the Big Dance is that we are almost guaranteed to see multiple buzzer-beaters occur within the tournament’s first 32 games. Game after game will go down to the wire and it will fall on the shoulders of one player, no matter if they are the biggest name or a player you never heard of before. When it goes in, it’s complete euphoria (unless you are either on the losing team or a fan of that school).

Let’s take a look at the ten best and most memorable buzzer-beaters in NCAA tournament history.

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10. Tate George, UConn
1990 NCAA tournament, Sweet 16
We start this list off with a shot that might not have actually counted. The Huskies were down one with only a second remaining and had to go the full length of the court. Easy to say, about 99 percent of the Meadowlands crowd thought Elden Campbell and Clemson were going to move on. However, the ball was launched all the way to George in the short corner, who jumped to catch the pass, spun, and launched a jumper (I know what you’re thinking, there’s no way that all happened in one second) that found it’s way into the hoop and was ruled good.

9. Drew Nicholas, Maryland
2003 NCAA Tournament, Round of 64

UMD, a six seed, trailed UNC-Wilmington, an 11 seed, by one with five seconds left. Nicholas caught the inbound pass, took a few dribbles to the wing and tossed up a fadeaway three as his body carried itself towards the sidelines and the next thing we knew that ball had gone through the net. SWISH.

8. Kenton Paulino, Texas
2006 NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16

After West Virginia legend Kevin Pittsnogle hit a three to tie the game with five seconds left, Texas guard A.J. Abrams quickly drove the ball right back down the Mountaineers throats. He dished the ball to sharpshooter Kenton Paulino, who was locked and loaded and let the ball go as the clock ticked down to one, and the ball went in right as the buzzer sounded off.

7. James Forrest, Georgia Tech
1992 NCAA Tournament, Round of 32

Trailing by two points with 0.8 seconds left in the game, Yellow Jackets center Matt Geiger was having trouble finding one of the team’s stars–Jon Barry and Travis Best–and Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Cremins thought it was over and began to walk to congratulate the USC Trojans. Yet Geiger found freshman James Forrest, who, mid-turn, hoisted up a three from the left wing. The shot left Forrest’s fingers and next connected with the bottom of the net, giving Tech a 79-78 victory.

6. Tyus Edney, UCLA
1995 NCAA Tournament, Round of 32

UCLA’s quest for its 11th NCAA title was almost over before the end of the first weekend. Down 74-73 to Missouri with just 4.8 seconds left in the game, things looked bleak for the Bruins, but then Tyus Edney got the ball. Edney sped his way down the floor and through the Tigers defense. He was at the rim quicker than you could say “Pyramid of Success” and with under a second to go, his right-handed layup kissed the back of the glass and went through the hole, allowing UCLA to keep it’s run for 11 going.

5. U.S. Reed, Arkansas
1981 NCAA Tournament, Round of 32

This half-court shot is amazing in itself, but even better is the story of what happened during warmups. Reed started to back up towards midcourt as Arkansas shot around. Teammates and head coach Eddie Sutton were trying to figure out what Reed was doing, as Reed had never done it before, heaving up shots from further and further away. Talk about premonition.

4. Richard Hamilton, UConn
1998 NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16

The Connecticut Huskies were able to get three different attempts at winning the game, one from Jake Voskuhl and the other two from Hamilton. While one offensive rebound would’ve sealed the deal for UW, it wasn’t meant to be. Hamilton recollected himself following his first miss and tossed up a one-legged fadeaway jump shot that fell in the net as time expired.

3. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso
1998 NCAA Tournament, Round of 64

This play is the ultimate example of the phrase “teamwork makes the dream work.” Down two with 2.5 seconds left, Valpo had to go the length of the floor and somehow get the ball to the player everyone knew was going to take the shot, Bryce Drew. The inbounds pass was heaved to midcourt and two Ole Miss players charged forward to tip it away, and were fingertips away from ending the game. Bill Jenkins was just tall enough to grab the ball away and when he turned, he saw none other than Drew speeding down the sideline wide open. A touch pass from Jenkins to Drew resulted in a beautiful stroke that will forever live on in Madness lure.

2. Lorenzo Charles, N.C. State
1983 NCAA Tournament, Championship Game

By now you know all about Jimmy V and the Cardiac Kids. N.C. State was the team that had no business being there. Houston had Phi Slamma Jamma. They had two of the best players in all of the nation–Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon. But the Wolfpack were the team that never quit. Prior to the championship game, they had won their last five games because of comebacks. Watching the late Jim Valvano run around aimlessly looking for somebody to hug is one of the all-time greatest moments in basketball history.

1. Christian Laettner, Duke
1992 NCAA Tournament, Elite 8

Perfect pass. Perfect move. Perfect shot. Perfect result. If you need any more of an argument for why this ranks as the greatest buzzer-beater in NCAA history, look no further than this. I’d be willing to bet money that if Duke and Kentucky were to meet in the regional finals again this year that John Calipari would have his team jot onto the court wearing these shirts as their warmups.

What are your most memorable NCAA tournament buzzer-beaters?

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