The 15 Greatest Clutch Shots in NCAA Tournament History
Greatest Clutch Shots in March Madness History
The definition of “clutch” as an adjective, according to the Urban Dictionary, is this: “being able to perform under extreme pressure.” As a noun, the definition becomes: “the crucial moment that comes between winning and losing.” If that is true, the definition of a “clutch shot” has to be this: “to make a shot that comes at a crucial moment that decides winning and losing.”
Using the definitions above, I am going to try and name the top 15 clutch shots in NCAA tournament history. But first, let’s lay down some ground rules.
On this list, “clutch shots” have to be actual shots under pressure. So, you won't see Lorenzo Charles on this list. Charles’ dunk was a clutch play, but it wasn’t a “clutch shot”. Degree of difficulty has to count, right? So, sorry, no dunks. Danny Ainge won't be on this list. Again, great play, but the shot ended up being an uncontested, two-foot finger-roll over no one.
So, no lay-ups either, no tip-ins, follow-ups or free throws either. Also, I took out luck shots. You won't see U.S. Reed and his 50-foot shot against the Louisville Cardinals on this list. Can't count prayers and Hail Marys -- it's not clutch to throw up a shot and hope it goes in.
What I looked for was cold-blooded shots. Shots that scream, " I am going to take it on my own, and make it no matter how many people happen to be in my face" -- pure “clutch” shots that took nerves of steel to make. So, without further ado, here they are.
15. Thomas Woods, 1992 vs. Duke
We all remember the Christian Laettner shot in the “Greatest Game Ever Played”. But if Laettner misses his shot, that makes Sean Woods the hero of the “Greatest Game”. His drive and leaner had a high degree of difficulty, and a Final Four trip was riding on it. Woods will go down as hitting the most forgotten clutch shot in history, which is too bad, considering the whole world thought it was one of the greatest shots ever seen until a few seconds later.
14. Andre Turner, 1985 vs. Boston College
Who is Andre Turner, you ask? He was the point guard for the great Memphis State Tiger teams of the 1980s. Turner is here because he hit back-to-back last-second shots against the UAB Blazers and Boston College, leading the Tigers to a Final Four. The shot against the Blazers was an 11-footer with his Tigers down one and no time left. The second was from 14 with a hand in the face against Boston College. Miss one of those, and he wouldn't be on the list.
13. James Forrest, 1992 vs. USC
The play wasn't designed for James Forrest, but Georgia Tech's future NBA players John Barry and Travis Best couldn’t get open on the inbound pass. So, Forrest took the pass, turned and let it go right in front of Harold Miner (aka Baby Jordan) -- and the rest is NCAA history. The shot took the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets into the Sweet 16, and the degree of difficulty was unreal.
12. Richard Hamilton, 1998 vs. Washington
Rip Hamilton was born to be clutch. He made numerous big shots for the Detroit Pistons, especially during their NBA championship run. But, we got the first look at Hamilton’s “clutchness” when he caught a loose ball and hit the game-winning shot falling away, giving the Huskies a spot in the Elite Eight. The Washington vs. UConn game was a great one, and Hamilton’s shot was fantastic.
11. Drew Nicholas, 2003 vs. UNC Wilmington
When Drew Nicholas took the inbound pass underneath his own goal with five seconds left down and his Maryland Terrapins down one, he left no doubt as to who was taking the shot for the Terrapins. Nicholas streaked down the court to the right side and drained a fall-away three with a hand in his face. The degree of difficulty would have made Greg Louganis proud. Nicholas had the added pressure as Maryland was the defending national champion.
10. Jermaine Wallace, 2008 vs. Iowa
Northwestern State won one game in the 2006 NCAA tournament, but that game was an instant classic as a No. 14 seed beat a No. 3 seed in the first round. Jermaine Wallace’s step-back corner three with a hand in the face to win it was difficult, brave and cold-blooded. It's the only NCAA tournament win in Northwestern State's history, and Wallace made sure we all remember it.
9. Tyus Edney, 1995 vs. Maryland
I stated at the start of this countdown that layups didn't belong on this list, and some will say Tyus Edney’s shot was a layup. I challenge anyone with that belief to go back and rewatch the tape. Edney had two people, including a center, in his face, and hit a one-handed shot falling away to the right. If Edney missed, UCLA would have been bounced from the tournament in round two, and we would have a new national champion in 1995.
8. Demonte Harper, 2011 vs. Louisville
No one beats Rick Pitino in the first round of the NCAA tournament, well, until Demonte Harper and Morehead State did it in 2011. With time running out and his team down one, Harper let the time wind down and dribbled to the top of the key, stepped right and hit a three right in eye of a Louisville guard -- and right in front of a legend.
7. Tate George, 1990 vs. Clemson
With one second left, the Connecticut Huskies' season hung in the balance and all hope was lost. The Huskies couldn't go the length of the floor in one second, could they? A perfect full-court pass to the baseline and a Tate George shot later, we have a lasting image of the 1990 NCAA tournament. George’s shot is also significant in that it was the watershed moment of the Jim Calhoun’s UConn program. UConn would go on to be a dominant program for the next 20 years.
6. Bryce Drew, 1998 vs. Ole Miss
Bryce Drew’s shot is really a team clutch moment ending with a great clutch shot from Drew. The play has all the marking of one of the greatest plays in NCAA history. You have the underdog in Valparaiso taking on the SEC’s Ole Miss Rebels. It’s an obvious buzzer-beater. You also had a coach in Homer Drew, who was genius enough to come up with the play in practice. The play involved a clutch three-quarter court pass to one player, who made a clutch catch and make what amounted to a “hook and ladder” pitch to Drew. Drew hit a leaning 25-footer to send the Rebels home. Incredible.
5. Keith Smart, 1987 vs. Syracuse
Steve Alford was everyone’s All-American in 1987 for Indiana, but Alford had struggled in the national title game vs. Syracuse. So with the game on the line, Bobby Knight turned to junior college transfer Keith Smart. Smart took the ball on the left and hit a floating 15-footer to win the national championship. That shot propelled Smart to an NBA career that continues as an NBA coach to this day. When one shot changes your whole life, you’d have to say it was clutch.
4. Mario Chalmers, 2008 vs. Memphis
The Kansas Jayhawks were down nine with two minutes left to play in the 2008 national championship. What happened in the final 10 seconds was epic and changed the course of NCAA history. Mario Chalmers took a pass to the right and hit a 3-point dagger over an outstretched Derrick Rose, sending the game to overtime where the Tigers' collapse continued, giving Bill Self his first national championship. A year later, Memphis coach John Calipari took off for Kentucky, and Memphis had to forfeit the entire 2008 season due to a fraudulent ACT test taken by Derrick Rose. Chalmers’ shot won a title, and in effect eventually won Kentucky a title four years later.
3. Michael Jordan, 1982 vs. Georgetown
Very few, if any of the greatest plays in sports change the world. This one did. Back in 1982, very little was known about North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan. He wasn't the best player on his own team, much less the world. But with 16 seconds left and the Tar Heels down one, the greatest clutch player in basketball history hit his first-ever clutch shot, and the world as we knew was soon about to change.
2. Christian Laettner, 1992 vs. Kentucky
Christian Laettner was not a very good NBA player. But he established himself as one of the greatest college basketball players to ever play during his four years at Duke. So, it is fitting that Laettner was the biggest part of the greatest college basketball game ever played. Grant Hill's full-court pass to Laettner was perfect, and his 15-foot fadeaway shot as time expired to beat Kentucky will live forever.
1. Trey Burke, 2013 vs. Kansas
With his Michigan Wolverines down by three with time running out, Burke dribbled out of a double-team and pulled up just outside the hash mark, inches away from his head coach John Beilein, and launched a 30-footer with a hand in his face. The ball seemed to die just as it went in, sending the game into overtime. No one else was going to take a shot once the ball got in Burke’s hand. The shot oozes with confidence and will, and the degree of difficulty is off the charts.