The words “The Shot” have a special meaning for college basketball fans around the country (save for those in Lexington, Kentucky, and Chapel Hill). “The Shot,” of course, refers to the play made by Duke’s Christian Laettner to snatch victory from the Kentucky Wildcats and send the Blue Devils to the 1992 Final Four.
While Laettner made the shot, it wouldn’t have happened without “The Pass”—a full-court heave from teammate Grant Hill with 2.1 seconds left on the clock. The rest is history: Laettner skied to catch the pass, faked once, dribbled, spun, and nailed a jumper at the buzzer to win the game. Duke would go on to win its second straight national championship (more on the first a little later), and The Shot would go down as one of the most memorable plays in NCAA tournament history.
But Laettner’s heroics aren’t the only March Madness moments to wow fans rooting for teams from the state of North Carolina. Here’s a quick recap (ordered by year not allegiance, we promise!) of 10 of our favorites from the last 50 years:
- UNC Charlotte Makes History (1977) — Bet you thought this list was just going to be UNC and Duke, right? The 49ers made history in 1977 when they swept the Sun Belt’s regular season and tournament titles en route to earning their first NCAA tournament berth. In one of the most astounding runs for a team making its first tournament appearance, UNCC beat Central Michigan, and a pair of heavyweights in Syracuse and Michigan, to cement an unlikely appearance in the Final Four.
- MJ Makes his Mark (1982) — North Carolina’s 1982 title team may be the best in school history. And with players like Sam Perkins, James Worthy, and some freshman named Michael Jordan, it’s hard to argue they’re wrong. In a championship collision with Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas, Jordan drilled a jumper with 15 seconds left to give the Heels the lead and the title. That Jordan guy ended up having a pretty OK career after leaving Chapel Hill, didn’t he?
- NC State Wins on a Buzzer Beater Dunk (1983) — If you’ve watched a minute of March Madness, you’ve likely seen the clip of North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Charles snatching a desperation pass and dunking to win the title for the Wolfpack. You’ve also probably seen NC State’s legendary coach, Jim Valvano, running around frantically on the court in celebration after the win. The end of the game, which featured Valvano’s Wolfpack and the Houston Cougars, is one of the most unforgettable finishes in NCAA Tournament history.
- UNC Shocks the Sooners (1990) — Given the Tar Heels’ Blue Blood status and rich hoops history, it’s not often they get to be the underdog and make a splash. However, the Heels did just that in 1990 when eighth-seeded UNC upset Oklahoma, the No. 1 seed. To this day, it’s one of many UNC fans’ favorite all-time wins.
- Duke Runs Past the Runnin’ Rebs (1991) — Coached by Jerry “Tark the Shark” Tarkanian, the UNLV Rebels looked unbeatable heading into March—and that’s because they were. The defending champs entered the tournament with an undefeated regular season record. The Rebs cruised through the first few rounds before facing off against Duke in the Final Four, a game most expected UNLV to win. Led by Laettner, Hill and Bobby Hurley, Duke pulled off the upset and beat Roy Williams’ Kansas squad in the final to win its first national championship.
- UM’s Webber Calls Timeout (1993) — In this legendary contest, UNC faced off against Michigan and its “Fab 5.” Despite a dominant performance by MVP Donald Williams, the game is best known for something a Michigan player did. With 11 seconds left, Michigan star Chris Webber infamously called a timeout (one which he didn’t have). The error resulted in a technical foul and helped to clinch it for the Heels as Dean Smith captured his second title.
- Duke’s Final Four Comeback (2001) — Facing what appeared to be an insurmountable deficit of 22 points, Duke was down big to the Maryland Terrapins in the 2001 national semifinal. A dominant second half secured the win, the largest comeback in NCAA tourney history, before Duke held off Arizona to win Coach K’s third national title.
- Dean Wins No. 877 (1997) — With a team full of stars like Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, the 1997 Tar Heels were a juggernaut—they were also the squad that helped Dean Smith become the then-winningest head coach of all-time. The milestone was set after a second-round victory in the tourney against Colorado. And yes, for our Blue Devil fans scoring at home, Coach Mike Krzyzewski is the current NCAA leader in wins.
- Steph Goes Off (2008) — Before he was a member of Golden State’s “Splash Brothers,” Steph Curry was a sharpshooting Davidson Wildcat, and his performance in the 2008 NCAA tournament was legendary. After leading the Wildcats to a 26-6 regular season record, Curry shined under the Big Dance’s bright lights. Davidson beat Gonzaga in the opening round to earn its first tourney win since 1969 as Curry dropped in 40 points. Next up, Davidson used a 25-point second half effort from Curry to knock off Georgetown. Then, in a victory that propelled Davidson to the Elite 8, Curry scored 33 as the Wildcats sailed past Wisconsin. Even in a losing effort with the Final Four on the line, Curry contributed 25 points in a 59-57 heartbreaker against Kansas.
- Duke Edges Butler (2010) — The scrappy upstarts from Butler took the heavy favorite, Duke, to the brink in the title game in a contest that went back and forth throughout. With Duke up by two in the game’s closing seconds, Butler’s Gordon Hayward launched a desperation toss from half court that had Blue Devil fans holding their breath as it hung in the air. The ball hit the backboard and clanked off the rim, narrowly missing what would have been the most shocking finish in tournament history. Nevertheless, the win gave the Blue Devils their fourth national championship in school history.
How good is college basketball in the state of North Carolina? We could have included 50 more moments, and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
This year’s tournament kicked off with the First Four on March 19 and 20, and basketball analysts expect both Duke and UNC to make deep tournament runs this year. But if history tells anything, it’s that the only thing you can really expect during March Madness is the unexpected.
Best of luck to all the state’s teams as they fight for a national title!
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