Best Buzzer-Beaters, Finishes In College Basketball Title Game History

    A look at the best buzzer-beaters and finishes in college basketball title game history. Where does Villanova's win over UNC rank all-time?

    September 24, 2016


    Villanova’s buzzer-beater against UNC was one of the best ever in a championship game. Here are the greatest finishes in title game history.


    Let’s preface this piece with the fact that I’m an unabashed North Carolina fan. Dad went to school there. Sister did, too. Grew up watching Dean Smith, Pete Chilcutt, King Rice and Rick Fox, and hearing folk tales about Charlie Scott, Phil Ford, Billy Cunningham and Bob McAdoo.

    After Villanova’s incredible buzzer-beater, I’m a broken man. Woke up twice in the night rolling over that final play. Rehashing snippets of the game where Carolina could’ve pulled away. It’s sports PTSD, and a realization that I still care about outcomes. If I wasn’t numb before, I am now.

    Our editors had the demonic idea to create a list of the best finishes in college basketball title game history. The sadists then commissioned me to write it. Initiation for being the new guy at Campus Insiders, I suppose. So here we are, concoting a list of incredible feats, all while Kris Jenkins’ final shot and din of cheers and fireworks play on a loop in this godforsaken office.

    This group of best buzzer-beaters and finishes was a quick-fire conjuring. Since there are bound to be a billion of these things floating around the Internet in the next 48 hours, here’s the most important item to understand for this specific collection: it’s more about clutch plays than choke jobs.

    Chris Webber’s ill-fated timeout isn’t on here. Neither is Michael Jordan’s shot in 1982 – Fred Brown’s errant pass to James Worthy kept MJ’s jumper off the list. Only positive vibes here. Michigan in ’89 missed the cut, so did Duke in 2010. When propped up in front of a firing squad and forced to pick five games, somebody’s gonna miss the cut.

    Okay, let’s get to this.

    5) Kansas – 2008

    Derrick Rose missing the front-end of a pair of free throws that could’ve sealed the game doesn’t constitute choking. Memphis was bad from the line all season long. If anything, the missed shot’s significance was magnified by the cumudgeonly Billy Packer, who in his later announcing years would hone in on one facet of a game or player and bludgeon viewers to death with the specific observation.

    After Rose knocked down the second free throw to push the game to three, Kansas pushed the ball down the court with 10.8 seconds remaining. Sherron Collins pushed the ball down the court, nearly traveled while stumbling over his feed and handed off to Mario Chalmers, who would then bury a dagger three-pointer from a hair right of the top of the key. Even better, Chalmers’ foot was milimeters away from being on the three-point line.

    Mario’s Miracle pushed the game to overtime, where Kansas steadily pulled away from Memphis. Bill Self claimed his first title as a head coach, and the Jayhawks notched their first championship since Danny and the Miracles 20 years prior.

    4) North Carolina – 1957

    The 1957 championship game isn’t talked about nearly as much as it should be. Really, the entire 1957 Final Four is grossly under-remembered.

    Imagine today if we had a title game go to triple overtime. Or if the game’s most dominant player – a 7-foot-1 monster among boys – took the jumpball against a guard all because the opposing team knew it stood no chance at winning the tip.

    Twitter would fall in on itself. There would be memes galore. And the overnights would be through the roof.

    This game had Lennie Rosenbluth and Wilt Chamberlain. The prior was the national player of the year, the latter is arguably the most dominant player in the history of organized basketball.

    Toss in that Carolina has survived a triple-overtime game in the semifinals, and this is a contest that would have broken the Internet.

    3) Villanova – 2016

    The way sports media works these days, we’ll probably be injected with endless second-guessing of Carolina’s defense on the final play. Roy Williams opens himself up to critics, so when it’s time to clamp down there’s a feeding frenzy about not guarding the inbounds on that last play.

    Kris Jenkins’ shot was absolutely incredible. It’s the reason we watch sports. Consider everything that had transpired in the 90 seconds before that shot.

    Villanova, who had executed to near perfection in the second half, was rattled. Ryan Arcidiacono threw the ball away, Carolina was bailed out on some bad decisions, and Marcus Paige hit a game-tying three that would’ve broken the back of any other team in the country. That Villanova was able to respond to such a deflating play is a testament to Jay Wright and how well-coached the Wildcats were.

    The final play went exactly how Wright drew it up in the huddle, and Jenkins buried it. The only reason this isn’t higer on the list is because if Jenkins had missed the game would’ve still gone to overtime. Still, it takes ice water in the veins to drop a shot that significant. It’s only fitting that with Rollie Massamino watching in the crowd, Villanova won another title in thrilling fashion. Big money play, wild finish.

    2) Indiana – 1987

    The end sequence of the 1987 game was pretty fascinating. Up one, Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman hit the front of the iron with a free throw that would’ve given the Orange a two-point lead.

    As Indiana dribbled the ball up, Jim Boeheim elected to put Sherman Douglass on Steve Alford, a first team All-American who was 7-for-10 from long distance that game. Boeheim also elected to steer away from the 2-3 zone and play that final possession in straight man-to-man.

    Two well-coached teams jostled for an edge for the better part of 20 seconds, and with Alford bottled up it was up to Keith Smart to make a play. He curled around the left elbow and passed off to Daryl Thomas, who was immediately bottled up. With time dwindling down, Thomas gave the ball back to Smart who took a left-leaning jumper from the baseline that found nothing but the bottom of the bucket.

    In all the pandemonium, Syracuse wasted about 2.5 seconds before finally stopping the clock with one second to go. Indiana would intercept the inbounds pass and collect the title. Keith Smart would earn a place in One Shining Moment montages for eternity.

    1) NC State – 1983

    There was no other choice. Lorenzo Charles slamming home an airball (or pass depending on your purview) from Dereck Whittenburg is the indelible image of March Madness.

    Time is running down, player A heaves the ball toward the basket. All eyes look toward the shot except for Player B, who flushes while everyone else in the arena sits frozen in a stupor. The charismatic coach runs around looking for somebody to hug. It’s the scenario we all play out as children when practicing and pretending on backyard hoops.

    Add in that NC State was a No. 6 seed and took down a stacked Houston team that hadn’t lost since December, and this one had it all. The tragically premature deaths of Charles and Jim Valvano have only grown the legacy of this fantastic finish.


    WATCH: Historical Perspective Of Villanova’s Championship Run


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