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Keeping good company: Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs joins iconic list of NCAA Tournament greats who’ve beat the buzzer

UPDATED: Sun., April 4, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS – Christian Laettner vs. Kentucky, Kris Jenkins vs. North Carolina and now Jalen Suggs vs. UCLA.

The pantheon of NCAA Tournament heroes who’ve hit game-winners on the sport’s biggest stage opened its doors to a new member on Saturday night when Gonzaga’s freshman sensation, Jalen Suggs, collected an inbound pass from Corey Kispert with 3.3 seconds left in overtime, took three dribbles to get past midcourt and leaned forward as he launched a 40-footer that smacked off the backboard and fell into the net, preserving a perfect season and sending the Bulldogs through to the national championship game.

Gonzaga 93, UCLA 90.

A game that featured 15 lead changes, both teams shooting better than 50% from the field and no shortage of late-game theatrics was instantly considered an all-timer. The shot? A classic in its own right.

Suggs and his heroic 3-point fling got their due Saturday night, eliciting social media reactions from sporting luminaries such as LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes and Dwyane Wade.

If top-ranked Gonzaga can beat Baylor to secure the program’s first national championship and clinch an unbeaten record, Suggs’ game-winner catapults into the all-time top-10, though depending on who you ask, it could be there already.

We’ll save those debates for another time, but here’s a chronological look at 10 shots – Suggs’ buzzer miracle included – that will live in March Madness lore.

2021 – Jalen Suggs vs. UCLA

The distance from which Suggs released the ball, coupled with what the shot meant for Gonzaga’s chance at college basketball history, immediately cemented its status as one of the best the game’s ever seen. And don’t forget this: Had GU’s freshman not come up with an emphatic block on UCLA’s Cody Riley near the end of regulation, the buzzer-beater that came 20 minutes later wouldn’t have been possible.

March Madness / YouTube

2016 – Kris Jenkins vs. North Carolina

With the Tar Heels trailing 74-71, guard Marcus Paige caught the ball on the right elbow and double-clutched before throwing up an off-balance prayer. The best shot of the 2016 NCAA Tournament was outdone just a few moments later. Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono wove up the court then fed an under-handed pass to Jenkins, who caught from almost 5 feet beyond the arc and released a shot that stuck the last dagger into UNC’s national championship hopes.

March Madness / YouTube

2016 – Paul Jesperson vs. Texas

Jesperson’s bomb in the 2016 tournament may not have carried the same ramifications as Suggs’ last-effort heave, but it came from farther out and helped a lower-seeded Northern Iowa team upset sixth-seeded Texas in the first round. The Longhorns tied the game at 72-72 on a short floater, but Jesperson collected the long inbound pass, took one long stride into the “March Madness” logo at midcourt and launched a 50-foot shot to clinch the biggest win in UNI hoops history.

March Madness / YouTube

1998 – Bryce Drew vs. Ole Miss

Bryce’s older brother, Scott, will be the coach on the opposite sideline when Baylor faces Suggs and Gonzaga in the national championship. Twenty-three years before Suggs’ shot beat UCLA, Bryce Drew drained the 3-pointer that helped Valparaiso edge Ole Miss in the first round. Facing a two-point deficit, Jamie Sykes threw a three-quarters court inbound pass to Bill Jenkins, who caught it high in traffic and shoveled to Drew, who took his shot with 1.5 seconds left to secure a 70-69 victory.

March Madness / YouTube

1995 – Tyus Edney vs. Missouri

UCLA was on the wrong end of a historic buzzer-beater Saturday, but the Bruins had one of their own in 1995. In a round-of-32 game played at Boise State Pavilion, the Tigers took a 74-73 lead with 4.8 seconds left. Out of the timeout, the 5-foot-10 Edney took an inbound pass coast to coast, dribbling behind his back at midcourt to shake off a defender before slashing into the paint and converting the game-winning layup. The Bruins proceeded to win the program’s 11th national championship and first since John Wooden was the coach at UCLA.

March Madness / YouTube

1992 – Christian Laettner vs. Kentucky

Many of the lists that put these types of things in order consider Laettner’s 1990 the undisputed No. 1 – “one of the most iconic plays in the history of sports,” according to USA Today – and it’s hard to make an argument otherwise. With Duke trailing 103-102, Calvin Hill bombed an 80-foot Hail Mary pass off the inbound. Laettner received the ball about a foot behind the free throw line, faked, took a dribble and hit “The Shot” that would seal a second straight national championship for the Blue Devils – the first time any team went back-to-back since UCLA in the 1960s and 70s.

March Madness / YouTube

1987 – Keith Smart vs. Syracuse

More than a decade after Indiana won a national championship with a perfect record – the same feat Gonzaga’s aiming for on Monday – Bob Knight and the Hoosiers qualified for the Final Four thanks to a clutch baseline jumper from Smart. The Indiana guard became a hero in New Orleans when he took one dribble away from his defender and released a shot while fading away from the basket, watching it fall through the net with just one second on the clock.

armonsol / YouTube

1983 – Lorenzo Charles vs. Houston

Before the shot-clock era, North Carolina State played keepaway for the better part of 45 seconds before the Wolfpack’s Dereck Whittenburg tried a long 3-pointer and missed … badly. The ball didn’t graze the rim, or the backboard for that matter, and instead fell to Charles, who grabbed it out of the air and dunked as time expired. The play allowed the underdog Wolfpack and coach Jim Valvano to win the national championship and birthed the term “March Madness.”

March Madness / YouTube

1981 – U.S. Reed vs. Louisville

Before college basketball introduced the 3-point shot, one of the longest and most consequential shots in the NCAA Tournament only counted for two points, but it was enough to lift Arkansas over Louisville in the round of 32. Hounded by defenders, Reed zigzagged up the floor looking for a teammate, but with nobody available the senior guard launched a shot from halfcourt and watched it slice through the net as the buzzer sounded, giving the Razorbacks an improbable 74-73 win.

ARHE / YouTube

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