Issue 71: An Ode to Forgotten Buzzer Beaters

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Tonight, Gonzaga and Baylor will face off in the men’s NCAA basketball championship, a rare occasion of the two best teams actually meeting each other to win the title.

Last night, the Stanford Cardinal defeated the Arizona Wildcats in the women’s NCAA championship, narrowly escaping with a 54-53 win.

As of this writing, the last two NCAA basketball games played have featured two shots that were hoisted up at the buzzer. Arizona’s Aari McDonald valiantly took a fallback jumper over three defenders that clanged off the rim, while Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs told UCLA’s Johnny Juzang: “oh, you just tied up the game with 3.3 seconds left? No problem.” And then Suggs pulled up from 40 feet and knocked in the game-winner.

Buzzer beaters are the most magical part of March Madness. You get it all: a close, thrilling finish. An impressive shot (or two). A wild celebration. The heartache of the other team. Shocked fans in the stands on both sides. It’s the perfect encapsulation of what makes the NCAA Tournament so special.

We’ll remember a shot like the one Suggs hit for a long time. Gonzaga remained undefeated, and it happened in primetime during the Final Four.

But there have been plenty of fun buzzer beaters that people have largely forgotten. And that’s a shame, because they’re still fantastic.

Here’s an ode to those ones.

Danero Thomas Leads Murray State to a 13-4 Upset Over Vanderbilt

If you fill out a bracket, you know there’s a special feeling when you correctly pick an upset. This is one that I distinctly remember getting right while many of my friends criticized me, saying, “Murray State? Murray isn’t a state!” or something similarly dumb (the school is in Kentucky, if you’re playing at home).

Apologies for the shaky film here, but this is 2007, so top-notch phone quality wasn’t yet a thing. You still get plenty of goodness, though.

The shot itself is very impressive, with Murray State’s Danero Thomas catching a pass, pump faking, dribbling, pulling up and hitting the jumper all in one smooth motion. The Racers pile on top of each other in celebration. A Vanderbilt cheerleader stands in shock, mouth agape.

Our gracious cameraperson tries to pan around to show the crowd, but it’s just a sea of color, like how old video games would promote “a full-color crowd!” and it was squares that jumped up and down. Such impressive graphics!

14-Seed Northwestern State Upends Iowa

I have several friends who attended Iowa for college, and this game happened during my senior year of high school. So a lot of these kiddos were like, “oh, maybe I should get used to this kind of heartbreak.”

Iowa was a 3-seed during the 2006 NCAA Tournament and a dark horse pick to reach the Final Four. Instead, they didn’t even make it out of the first round due to the last-second heroics of Jermaine Wallace, a player on the Northwestern State Demons.

You don’t hear it on this video because it’s a radio call, but during the CBS broadcast, the announcers encourage Northwestern State to drive to the rim. After all, the score is 63-61 and they can tie the game and force overtime.

Or they can make a buzzer beater and have one of my favorite celebrations ever.

Wallace grabs a missed shot and dribbles into the corner, then takes an outrageous step-back three-pointer that finds the bottom of the net. Wallace was so off-balance, he fell into the baseline, which you may note is behind the backboard.

But he still got up and had enough time to go leap into the air and hug his teammate, which is just the most precious.

Meanwhile, there was still half a second left, and Iowa nearly made a three on the other end. So we could have seen TWO crazy shots in the final second.

Here’s one other fun fact: Northwestern State led at exactly one other point during this game, when it was 21-20 with 2:50 left in the first half. They got that lead after Wallace hit a three-pointer.

If that ain’t foreshadowing, I don’t know what is.

LSU Knocks Off NC State

Everyone remembers the “crying piccolo girl” meme. Roxanne Chalifoux was merely trying to play her piccolo for the Villanova band. The only problem: Villanova had just lost 71-68 to NC State, and Chalifoux realized her college band career was over.

This was a pretty monumental upset. Villanova was the number one overall seed and had title aspirations. So to lose in the second round was a bit “yikes!” And naturally, the emotions started flooding.

The story has a happy ending, though. Villanova won the championship the following year, and Chalifoux has a degree in biology so she’s making a very healthy living studying things that will make our lives better.

Though you likely stumbled across the piccolo girl back then, you may have forgotten that NC State probably shouldn’t have even been in that game in the first place. They made a torrid comeback against LSU in the 8/9 matchup during the 2015 tournament.

The Tigers blew a 16-point second-half lead and didn’t make a field goal for the final 10:25 of this game. You almost have to be trying not to score to have such futility.

In fact, there were only nine total points scored in the final five minutes of this game. But NC State’s BeeJay Anya had the two biggest, with this lil’ turnaround jumper hitting all parts of the rim and backboard before dropping in.

Oh, and for my dog lovers, NC State’s school nickname is the Wolf Pack (basically large dogs) — and they defeated the Tigers and Wildcats back to back. Bow-WOW!

Chris Chiozza Hits a 30-Foot Floater

I’m a big fan of the floater in the lane. You have a tall person lunging at you, and you flick the ball right over their outstretched fingers. It’s a fine work of art.

What’s less common is the floater three-pointer. Yet that’s exactly what Florida’s Chris Chiozza did to knock off Wisconsin in the 2017 Sweet Sixteen, sending Florida to the Elite Eight.

With four seconds left, Chiozza dribbles the length of the court, plants his feet with as much aggression as a dog that wants to be let outside, and then gently floats the ball into the basket from 30 feet away.

He then caps off the celebration by making the “ok” sign, which has become a universal symbol for a three-pointer (because your other three fingers are up in the air). And his teammates promptly mob him.

I will always remember this buzzer beater because I was at a friend’s house for a party she was having. Curiously, despite an apparently functioning TV being right there in the living room, there were no March Madness games being shown.

As my friend Sean and I decided to head home for the evening, I noticed the score of this game was close (thank you March Madness app). Before this play happened, we pulled into a parking lot to watch the end of it on my phone.

Neither one of us cared who won this game, but we both still went appropriately nuts when Chiozza hit the shot. As it should be.

The Greatest Non-NCAA Tournament Game Ending You’ll Ever See

If you only want to jump to the buzzer beater, you can skip ahead to 2:47 in the clip below. However, I would highly recommend watching this whole thing.

Barton College has an enrollment of about 1,200 students and plays in Division II. So their tournament isn’t the NCAA Tournament, but rather the Division II Basketball Championship.

That didn’t make this game any less thrilling, though.

Barton State defeated Winona State — a team that had won 57 games in a row coming into this championship — 77-75, capped off with a thrilling buzzer beater.

Barton State’s Anthony Atkinson scored the final 10 points in the last 39 seconds, and has since found success with the Harlem Globetrotters. But despite all the good basketball, there’s one part of this celebration that’s my favorite thing.

A player on Barton State celebrates the victory by ripping his jersey off and tossing it in the air. As far as I can tell, he’s VERY far away from Winona State, but the next scene we see is a Winona State player sadly peeling the jersey from his head and dropping it on the ground.

Yes, the jubilant jersey toss LANDED ON THE HEAD OF AN OPPONENT. You couldn’t make that happen again if you tried 100 times. And that truly is madness.

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That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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