The 25 greatest shots in NCAA Tournament history


There are certain things college basketball fans come to expect from the NCAA Tournament: great individual performances, crying cheerleaders, and the media’s everlasting love for Duke basketball. We also know the Madness of March will bring us early upsets and Cinderella stories. 

With all that, we’re likely to see some great shots that will deliver lasting memories of victory for some and the disappointment of defeat for others. From deep threes to off-balance attempts to coast-to-coast drives, here’s a look at 25 of the most memorable shots in NCAA Tournament history.


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25. The Waters are fine for LSU (2019)

The Waters are fine for LSU (2019)

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Just get the ball in Tremont Waters’ hands and good things tend to happen — like breaking down a defense and dribbling around and in the lane to finish over 6-foot-10 Jalen Smith with kind of a side-shot, high-banking layup with 1.6 seconds left in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That’s what Waters did to get LSU by Maryland, 69-67, and into the Sweet 16.


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24. Rogers ends Drake’s dream season (2008)

Rogers ends Drake's dream season (2008)

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Drake, out of the Missouri Valley, was 28-4 and seeded fifth in 2008. The Bulldogs drew Western Kentucky in the first round, and many felt good about their chances of moving on. However, the Hilltoppers shot 54.4 percent and wouldn’t go away. They forced overtime and eventually pulled off the upset with Ty Rogers’ deep three-pointer as time expired to end Drake’s special season in crushing fashion.


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23. Hoyas’ Reid saves the day (1995)

Hoyas' Reid saves the day (1995)

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In 1995, 14th seed Weber State already upset Michigan State in the first round and had its eyes on another: Georgetown. However, the Hoyas managed to prevent that from happening thanks to some last-second heroics from everyman forward Don Reid. Allen Iverson’s hanging jumper fell well short of the rim, but Reid swooped in untouched to grab the ball and deliver a reverse layup, off the glass, for the victory. 


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22. Paulino’s three sweet for Longhorns (2006)

Paulino's three sweet for Longhorns (2006)

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There’s no statistical proof to back this up, but it just seems some of the tournament’s most exciting games come during the Sweet 16. That was the case in 2006 when Texas’ Kenton Paulino drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to stun Kevin Pittsnogle and West Virginia. Paulino had just five points at the time of his game-winner.


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21. Miller drives Gators past Butler (2000)

Miller drives Gators past Butler (2000)

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Deep threes at the buzzer to win games are exciting, but what about those gritty drives to the basket in traffic? It’s that “no fear” approach with the game on the line. That’s what Florida’s Mike Miller used to get the No. 5 Gators past upset-minded Butler in overtime during the first round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament. When the ball finally dropped in the hoop, Miller was on the ground and Florida was victorious. 


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20. Little-known Lucious saves Spartans (2010)

Little-known Lucious saves Spartans (2010)

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Korie Lucious finished his collegiate career at Iowa State, but he spent his first three seasons, mostly as a sub, at Michigan State. However, Spartans fans won’t forget Lucious’s game-winning three from the top of the arc — off a pass from Draymond Green that nearly hit teammate Delvon Roe in the head to take down Maryland in the second round of the 2010 tournament. 


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19. Crawford from way downtown (2010)

Crawford from way downtown (2010)

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Jordan Crawford finished with 32 points in the sixth-seeded Xavier’s wild 101-96 double-overtime loss to No. 2 Kansas State in the Sweet 16 of 2010. The Musketeers might have lost, but Crawford provided the most memorable moment of the game when he drilled a deep three-pointer with just over four seconds left to force the second overtime. Having Gus Johnson on the call made the moment even more exciting.


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18. Diakite keeps Cavs alive (2019)

Diakite keeps Cavs alive (2019)

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Virginia’s run to its first national championship was quite memorable. Who can forget the Cavaliers’ comeback win over Auburn in the Final Four or their overtime thriller against Texas Tech to claim the title? However, perhaps the best game of the tournament was Virginia’s 80-75 overtime victory against Purdue in the regional final. A title would not have been possible without Mamadi Diakite’s tying jumper at the end of regulation — one of the most clutch shots in tournament history.


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17. Ainge goes coast to coast (1981)

Ainge goes coast to coast (1981)

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The play started with eight seconds remaining in regulation and BYU down by one to Notre Dame in the 1981 regional semifinal. When it ended, Cougars multisport star Danny Ainge had gone the length of the court, weaving his way through the Irish defense and in for a floating layup that fell with two seconds left. Notre Dame’s desperation chance was short and six-seed BYU prevailed. 


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16. Washington ripped by Hamilton (1998)

Washington ripped by Hamilton (1998)

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Richard Hamilton and Connecticut would win a national title in 1999, but one year earlier he was the hero of one of the wildest finishing sequences in the history of the NCAA Tournament. With UConn trailing Washington by one in the Sweet 16, it got three shots in the final seven seconds, and Hamilton’s second fall-away jumper at the buzzer was the difference in the one-point win.


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15. Georgia Tech finds the Forrest through the three (1992)

Georgia Tech finds the Forrest through the three (1992)

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USC had one of its best teams in years, was a No. 2 seed, and had perhaps the nation’s most exciting player in Harold “Baby Jordan” Miner. However, in the second round of the ’92 tournament, seventh seed Georgia Tech was not fazed by any of that. As time ran out, James Forrest nailed a turnaround three-pointer — almost two-handed — to shock the Trojans and end their dream season. 


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14. Tate is great vs. Clemson (1990)

Tate is great vs. Clemson (1990)

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No offense to UConn’s Tate George. His impressive full-court catch, and his even more miraculous turnaround buzzer-beating jumper to shock Clemson in the 1990 Sweet 16, is legendary in Storrs. However, it’s still puzzling that the Tigers were unable to properly defend an inbound heave and the ensuing shot when they seemed to have plenty of players in position to do both.


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13. UNI’s half-court miracle (2016)

UNI's half-court miracle (2016)

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Paul Jesperson was not known by many college basketball fans before No. 11 seed Northern Iowa stunned Texas in the first round of the 2016 tournament. He still might not be today, but should. The Panthers guard, a career 41.3 percent shooter, drained a half-court shot just before the buzzer for a wild upset. Another reason to love the Madness of March.


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12. UConn stunned by a Devil, aka Christian Laettner (1990)

UConn stunned by a Devil, aka Christian Laettner (1990)

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Obviously, Christian Laettner had a knack for hitting game-winning shots in the NCAA Tournament. His first came in the regional final in overtime against UConn. After delivering a short inbound pass, Laettner got the ball back, dribbled just inside the three-point line and, after a mid-air hesitation, drained the bucket and the Final Four hopes of the Huskies.


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11. Arkansas’ half-court hero (1981)

Arkansas' half-court hero (1981)

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Before Paul Jesperson sank his desperation, half-court winner for Northern Iowa, there was “U.S.” Reed in the second round of the 1981 edition. The Arkansas star delivered a last-second heave from just to the right of the mid-court circle that found nothing but net and eliminated defending champion Louisville with a 74-73 victory. The call from Marv Albert adds to the fun.


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10. MJ secures Tar Heels title (1982)

MJ secures Tar Heels title (1982)

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Michael Jordan was destined to be a star; that was evident during his stellar freshman season at North Carolina. His greatest moment from his rookie year came with 15 seconds left in the national championship game against Georgetown, when his jumper put the Tar Heels in position for the victory, thus setting in motion his legacy as the greatest of all time.


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9. Drew downs Ole Miss (1998)

Drew downs Ole Miss (1998)

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There may not be a more well-executed buzzer-beater than the one Valparaiso displayed in stunning No. 4 seed Mississippi in the first round of the 1998 tournament: a perfectly thrown inbound, baseball pass. That was followed by a quick catch and pass and finished with a leaning three-pointer by Bryce Drew, one of the game’s more underrated players at the time and former head coach at Vanderbilt.


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8. Whitehead sends Marquette to national final (1977)

Whitehead sends Marquette to national final (1977)

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It wasn’t the prettiest game-winning shot ever in the NCAA Tournament, but it was certainly effective in helping Marquette beat UNC Charlotte in the 1977 national semifinal. The late Jerome Whitehead first had to catch a three-quarter-court inbound pass, which wasn’t easy, since it was tipped. Then, off the dribble, the Marquette star made his move to the goal and tried to dunk, but it turned into more of a layup that bounced off the backboard and back iron before falling in for the win.


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7. Bo goes left to honor a friend (1990)

Bo goes left to honor a friend (1990)

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It wasn’t a buzzer-beater and didn’t force overtime. In fact, one of the most memorable shots in NCAA Tournament history came with 14:46 left in the second half of an eventual first-round blowout. But Bo Kimble’s successful left-handed, free-throw attempt against New Mexico State in honor of his Loyola Marymount teammate and best friend Hank Gathers, who tragically died from a heart issue days earlier, resonated throughout the college basketball world. Kimble did it twice more during the Lions’ improbable run to the regional final. He made them both. 


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6. Chalmers keeps Kansas on title path (2008)

Chalmers keeps Kansas on title path (2008)

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Mario Chalmers’ three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in regulation didn’t win the 2008 national championship game for Kansas, but it did force overtime. The Jayhawks ran away from Memphis in the extra session to give Bill Self his first title. Prior to Chalmers’ bucket, Kansas made just two shots from the beyond the arc. Sometimes stats don’t tell the proper story.


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5. Hoosiers make the Smart move (1987)

Hoosiers make the Smart move (1987)

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Keith Smart was a 51.8-percent shooter in his two seasons at Indiana, so the ball was in the right hands for perhaps the biggest shot in the history of one of the most storied programs in college basketball. While Smart’s winner with one second left in the 1987 NCAA Tournament title game was a thing of beauty, Syracuse’s relatively soft perimeter defense gave him the chance to be a hero.


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4. Edney goes the distance (1995)

Edney goes the distance (1995)

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Perhaps the most impressive part of Tyus Edney’s coast-to-coast burst to sink Missouri in the second round and keep No. 1 seeded-UCLA’s title hoops alive in 1995 was the poise he showed — especially that behind-the-back move he displayed just after crossing half-court. As many as three Mizzou players were near Edney when he heaved his runner off one foot. It banked in, just before the buzzer, perfectly off the glass and helped the Bruins avoid an early upset.


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3. Wolfpack’s Charles turns air ball into title (1983)

Wolfpack's Charles turns air ball into title (1983)

Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

North Carolina State’s Dereck Whittenburg likes to joke that his desperation long-distance attempt in the waning seconds against Houston in the ’83 national final was actually a pass. Hoops fans know better. But thankfully for Whittenburg and the Wolfpack, Lorenzo Charles was there to make the catch and slam home an improbable upset and title for Jim Valvano’s underdog squad. 


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2. Jenkins’ three stuns Tar Heels (2016)

Jenkins' three stuns Tar Heels (2016)

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From Feb. 20 of the 2016 season on, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins went 48-of-100 from three-point range. Of course, the last one he took that season produced one of the most memorable moments in NCAA Tournament history. His three as time expired to sink North Carolina in the 2016 national final was the perfect example of stop and pop — and the culmination of one of the greatest final minutes of a title game.


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1. Laettner takes “The Shot” (1992)

Laettner takes "The Shot" (1992)

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For as much praise as Christian Laettner gets for his turnaround game-winner to stun Kentucky in double overtime of the 1992 regional final, Grant Hill deserves maybe as much love for making that perfect, three-quarter-court baseball. The execution of the entire play is what makes this a truly special March Madness memory and remains Laettner’s “One Shining Moment.”

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.


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