RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The NCAA Tournament is referred to as “March Madness” for a reason. Over the years there have been many wild endings and improbable last-second shots.
ACC schools have played a huge part in that legacy. Here is a list of 10 of the most amazing shots in NCAA Tournament history involving teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
- Georgia Tech vs. USC, March 21, 1992
George Raveling led his eighth-ranked USC team into Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for its second-round matchup against Georgia Tech feeling this could be the season the veteran head coach would reach the Final Four. The Trojans entered the game 24-5 overall and were led by future two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner Harold “Baby Jordan” Minor, who was named Sports Illustrated’s college basketball player of the year ahead of Christian Laettner and Shaquille O’Neal.
Georgia Tech had been to the Final Four two seasons earlier but entered the contest 22-11 overall. The Yellow Jackets reached the second round after prevailing by five points in a tough matchup against Houston in its NCAA Tournament opener.
The Bradley Center was abuzz throughout the contest as the Yellow Jackets and Trojans battled back and forth. USC had an 11-point advantage in the second half but Georgia Tech countered with a 23-7 run to lead by five with 3:01 left to play.
USC caught a huge break when officials at the scorer’s table turned off the 45-second shot clock with 53 seconds left in the game. The Trojans used the mistake to hit what seemed to be a game-winning basket when Rodney Chatman connected from the baseline with less than four seconds to play.
That set up James Forrest to be the hero.
Forrest had not hit a three-pointer all season but with eight-tenths of a second remaining he took an inbounds pass from Matt Geiger, turned and connected from the left side to send the Yellow Jackets to Kansas City to play in the Sweet Sixteen.
- North Carolina vs. Oklahoma, March 17, 1990
It was not a typical season for Dean Smith and North Carolina. In fact, it was wildly inconsistent.
UNC finished the regular season 19-11 and promptly lost its opener in the ACC Tournament to Virginia in overtime. The Tar Heels began the campaign 4-4 and suffered defeats in five of its first seven games in February despite winning three of four games vs. eventual Final Four participants Duke and Georgia Tech.
The Tar Heels also had a nine-year streak of consecutive appearances in the Sweet Sixteen that seemed certain to end. A No. 8 seed, North Carolina was looking at a matchup vs. top-ranked Oklahoma in Austin, Texas. The Sooners, despite struggling in their NCAA Tournament opener against Towson, were heavily favored and many pundits felt head coach Billy Tubbs would win his first national championship after losing the title game two season earlier.
The final seconds would be one of Smith’s finest moments in NCAA play. Trailing 77-76 with 10 seconds in regulation, and with both Scott Williams and George Lynch on the bench after fouling out, King Rice hit the front end of a one-and-one to tie the game but missed the second. The ball bounced around before going out of bounds off of an Oklahoma player.
Smith called a play for Rick Fox and current UNC assistant coach Hubert Davis found him after Rice set him free with a screen. Fox pump-faked, drove and banked home the game-winner and the streak of consecutive seasons reaching the Sweet Sixteen survived.
- Wake Forest vs. DePaul, March 23, 1984
Ray Meyer was DePaul basketball and remains so, but the coaching journey was nearing its end.
Meyer directed the Blue Demons for 42 seasons. His first team reached the Final Four in 1943 and two years later DePaul won the NIT. He returned to the Final Four in 1979, narrowly losing to Larry Bird-led Indiana State.
The season before, DePaul and Wake Forest both reached the NIT Final Four but avoided each other as the Blue Demons advanced to the final but the Demon Deacons lost in the semifinal to Fresno State.
Prior to the 1983-84 campaign, Meyer announced he would retire following the season. DePaul, which had several top teams suffer upset defeats early in the NCAA Tournament in Meyer’s tenure and had never won a national title, played as though they were on a mission. The Blue Demons, led by Tyrone Corbin, sported a 27-2 record prior to facing Wake Forest.
DePaul led virtually throughout the contest and held an 8-point advantage with slightly more than three minutes in regulation. The crowd in St. Louis eagerly looked forward to a potential regional final matchup between the fourth-ranked Blue Demons and fifth-ranked Houston.
Wake Forest never gave up. Delaney Rudd capped an unlikely rally with a shot at the buzzer to tie the game at 65 and send it into overtime. That was a prelude of crazier things to come.
Tied at 71 with 19 seconds left in overtime, DePaul’s Kenny Patterson missed the front end of a one-and-one. Wake Forest rebounded and brought the ball back into the frontcourt. Danny Young then drove to the hoop and scored with two seconds left to give the Deacs the lead.
A stunned Blue Demon team simply stood and did not react fast enough to inbound the ball as the final seconds ticked away, ending both the team’s season and Meyer’s terrific coaching career.
- Georgia Tech vs. Michigan State, March 23, 1990
North Carolina was the first ACC team to use a buzzer-beater to knock off a top-seed in the 1990 NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels would not be the last.
Georgia Tech trailed Michigan State by 4 points with 13 seconds remaining in regulation. Then Kenny Anderson, with a little help, took over.
Anderson took an inbounds pass and dribbled the length of the court, using a delightful behind-the-back dribble in the process, to cut the Spartans’ lead to two points with six seconds left. Michigan State’s Steve Smith was then fouled on the ensuing possession.
Smith missed the front end of the one-and-one. Anderson then weaved his way through the Michigan State defense and hit a hotly-disputed shot at the buzzer.
After much discussion, both to whether the shot was a two-pointer or three and whether it should have counted, the referees finally decided to count the shot as a two-pointer seemingly just to wash their hands of a controversial decision and appease both teams as best as they could.
The Yellow Jackets would go on to win in overtime by one. Smith, given a reprieve, hit two free throws with 23 seconds remaining in the extra period. Dennis Scott answered with an awkward looking shot with only eight ticks left on the clock to hand Georgia Tech a berth into the Elite Eight as Anderson finished with 31 points.
”I think we won the game in regulation but lost it in overtime,” Michigan State head coach Jud Heathcote said afterwards.
Remarkably, there was still one more top-seed in the 1990 NCAA Tournament that would suffer a cruel last-second loss to an ACC School.
- North Carolina vs. Michigan State, March 22, 1957
The Tar Heels entered the Final Four with a perfect 30-0 record. It took a massive effort, several overtimes and a lot of luck to reach 32-0 and win the national championship.
UNC faced Michigan State in the national semifinal. The game went into overtime tied at 58 and the Spartans were poised to seal the win. John Green was at the line with 11 seconds to go in the extra period and Michigan State held a two-point advantage. In the days before three-pointers and shot clocks one made free throw would send the Spartans through to the final.
Green missed. UNC’s Pete Brennan corralled the ball and, to the surprise of Michigan State, elected to take the ball the distance instead of finding a point guard. Brennan scored at the buzzer and the game went to double overtime.
The Tar Heels eventually prevailed in the third overtime by a, 74-70, score. North Carolina then defeated Kansas in another three overtime thriller two days later to complete the perfect season and win the first national championship for an ACC school.
- Duke vs. Connecticut, March 24, 1990
Phil Henderson and Alaa Abdelnaby were close to being goats in what would be their final college game. Christian Laettner came to the rescue for the first time but it would not be the last.
Nadav Henefeld went to the line with UConn trailing Duke, 77-76, after Henderson was called for an offensive foul. He missed the front end of the one-and-one only for Abdelnaby to be called for defensive goaltending. Henefeld was credited with a made free throw and he then converted the second to hand the top-seeded Huskies a one-point lead.
UConn clung to the one-point advantage but missed a shot with less than ten seconds in overtime. Freshman Bobby Hurley dribbled into the frontcourt but his pass to Henderson was knocked out of bounds with 2.6 seconds left by Tate George, who had helped the Huskies advance to the Elite Eight two days earlier with a remarkable buzzer-beater against Clemson.
That set up Laettner’s maiden voyage into March heroics.
The sophomore was inbounding the ball when, upon noticing that the Huskies were not guarding the pass in, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called for the Blue Devils to run a play called “special” which meant the ball would immediately be passed back to Laettner after he threw it in.
Brian Davis received the inbound pass and returned it to Laettner, who then dribbled forward and shot a leaner while contorting his body slightly to the right. The ball went through the net and Duke reached the Final Four for the third straight season and fourth time in five years.
Laettner was just getting starting when it came to clutch shots in the NCAA Tournament.
- Duke vs. UNLV, March 30, 1991
After Laettner hit the shot to send Duke into the 1990 Final Four the Blue Devils would go on to be throttled by 30 points in the national championship game against UNLV.
The two teams would face each other the next season in the national semifinals and another whipping was widely predicted. The Runnin’ Rebels entered the contest undefeated on the season and riding a 45-game winning streak.
However, UNLV had yet to be tested during the 1990-91 season and when Hurley drilled a three-pointer with 2:16 remaining to cut Duke’s deficit to two points it the Rebels began to feel the late-game pressure.
The score was tied at 77 with 12.7 seconds left when Laettner was fouled. He then added to his impressive resume of clutch performances by calmly connecting on both free throw attempts to give Duke a two-point lead. Anderson Hunt, the MVP of the previous season’s Final Four, missed a three that would have given UNLV the win.
Duke’s victory denied the Rebels a chance to become the first team since UCLA in 1973 to repeat as national champions. The Blue Devils won their first title two days later against Kansas and were then in a position to repeat themselves, but would need more magic from Laettner.
- North Carolina vs. Georgetown, March 29, 1982
Michael Jordan’s name is synonymous with success and a willingness to take the last-second shot. However in 1982, he was just a freshman playing on a great team.
That changed in New Orleans.
The freshman would finish with 16 points and nine rebounds in the contest while James Worthy tallied 28 points en route to MVP honors.
Trailing by one with possession of the ball and less than 20 seconds in regulation, the ball swung to the left side where Jordan—after being told by Dean Smith to knock it down if he got the ball—took Jimmy Black’s pass and coolly sank what would be the game-winning jumper with 15 seconds to go.
Georgetown had a chance to win but Fred Brown famously threw the ball directly to Worthy in the dying seconds to help the Tar Heels hand Smith his first national title.
- Duke vs. Kentucky, March 28, 1992
With several critical shots over his career, it would take something amazing for Christian Laettner to top himself. Then came the final piece of perfection.
Sean Woods handed Kentucky a 103-102 lead in overtime with a near-miraculous shot over Laettner that banked in. Duke called timeout with 2.1 seconds to go and a shot to repeat as national champions looking dim.
Laettner was 9-for-9 from the floor and 10-for-10 from the free throw line at that point. Grant Hill was given the task to throw the ball the length of the court and Kentucky, like Connecticut two seasons earlier, elected not to guard the inbound pass.
Hill, whose father played in the NFL, connected on a pass that would make John Elway proud. Laettner then dribbled and made a spin move to connect for the tenth time from the field and culminate what many consider the greatest NCAA Tournament game ever.
There are many enduring images from Duke’s win over the Wildcats, including Laettner cheering wildly across the floor at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and Thomas Hill seeming to cry at the improbable shot that extended the Blue Devils’ season.
Duke would go on to win its second straight national champion with a win over Michigan in Minneapolis and Laettner would seal his legacy as the greatest player in NCAA Tournament history.
- N.C. State vs. Houston, April 4, 1983
One of the greatest shots in NCAA Tournament history is a dunk off of an offensive rebound, regardless of what Dereck Whittenburg says.
N.C. State was a riding a magical wave heading into the national championship game but no one seriously considered the Wolfpack could emerge victorious against the Houston Cougars.
After losing two straight games in December, Phi Slama Jama won its next 27 contests to enter the title game 31-2 and top-ranked. N.C. State lost five of six games in January and stood at 9-7 overall entering February as the Pack battled without Whittenburg, who had broken his foot earlier in the season against Virginia.
The senior sharpshooter returned and N.C. State began to pick up steam. The Wolfpack earned an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament with an unlikely ACC Tournament Final victory over the Cavaliers and then two weeks later squeaked out another win over UVA to advance to the Final Four for the first time under head coach Jim Valvano.
The Wolfpack had an eight-point lead at halftime but Houston used a 17-2 run to hold a seven-point advantage in the second half. State then rallied to tie the game at 52 and after several missed free throws from the Cougars looked to take the final shot.
Whittenburg retrieved an errant pass from Thurl Bailey, who wanted no part of the final shot. With the time on the clock winding down, Whittenburg’s 30-foot heave came up a couple feet short.
Charles was there to finish the play. His rebound and dunk is considered one of the great moments in sports history and it sent Valvano scurrying across the court in Albuquerque desperately looking for someone to hug.