On Friday night, I was lucky enough to be one of the 15,279 people in attendance at Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City for what may go down as the greatest buzzer-beating shot in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament history.
After the opener of the night session between Texas A&M and Green Bay turned into a lopsided affair, there were high hopes that the nightcap between Texas and Northern Iowa would, at the very least, produce a competitive game with intrigue until the final buzzer. However, there’s no way that anybody in attendance – even Super Bowl winning quarterback and UNI alum Kurt Warner – could have predicted the final sequence that led to Panthers victory.
To briefly set the stage, Northern Iowa hit one-of-two free throws with just over 11 seconds remaining, taking a lead of 72-70. Texas grabbed the rebound and headed up court with an opportunity to tie or take the lead in the game and the Longhorns’ Isaiah Taylor made a runner with 2.7 seconds left to tie the game at 72-72. UNI inbounded the ball to senior Paul Jesperson who took one dribble and a couple steps to get himself a look at the basked from just passed half court and his heave hit the backboard and went through the rim as time expired.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 19, 2016
My instant reaction – and that of many people in the surrounding seats – was nothing but pure shock and excitement. No words, simply screams as we all tried to completely soak in that moment which will live in NCAA March Madness history and be seen for so many years to come.
As much as I wanted to look back at the end of the weekend and say I had seen the best-ever finish to a tournament game, by the end of the weekend it became clear that it might not even be the best finish in the tournament this season. The second round of tournament games on Saturday and Sunday saw some equally impressive performances, capped off with Texas A&M’s miracle comeback to take down that Northern Iowa squad and another buzzer beater, this time from Wisconsin as they knocked off Xavier on Sunday night.
Regardless of how this year’s event plays out and finishes, the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, version 2016, will be forever remembered. Stories will be told for generations of these games, the excitement and the heartbreak that has earned the tourney billing as March Madness. For many, many years to come, I will gladly share my memories of the Big Dance and be thankful of my chance to be in attendance and witness the greatest buzzer beater in tournament history.