From NJIT's upset of Michigan to Wisconsin ending Kentucky's perfect season, the best college basketball games of 2014-15
It’s a familiar feeling this time of the year: March Madness withdrawal. Duke topped Wisconsin for the NCAA title exactly one week ago, and since then hoops fans across the country have faced the reality of the end to another season. The six-month wait until Midnight Madness feels like an eternity.
That’s why it’s never too early to relive the greatest moments from the 2014-15 season. Which games stood out the most? SI.com ranks the year’s top 10 college basketball games, including tournament play.
Yes, this really happened. New Jersey Institute of Technology’s shocking win over Michigan in Ann Arbor was the nonconference head-scratcher of the entire season. The Wolverines, which had played for the national title just two seasons earlier, allowed the Highlanders to shoot 59% from the floor, including 11-17 on three-pointers, and escape with a victory. NJIT wasn’t even at full strength for the trip: One of its best players, forward Terrence Smith, didn’t play due to injury. Afterward coach Jim Engles said he might place a call to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. NJIT was college basketball's only independent team last season. “I want to get in the Big Ten now,” Engles joked. “How about opening a spot for us, right?”
9. March 15: Wisconsin 80, Michigan State 69 (OT)
Wisconsin’s shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament looked bleak as it faced an 11-point deficit against Michigan State in the second half of the Big Ten tournament title game. The Badgers proved their worth in the waning moments, however, rallying to force overtime on two Bronson Koenig free throws, which tied the game 69-69. Wisconsin went on to own the extra period, scoring all 11 points as the Spartans went 0-6 from the field. Nigel Hayes scored seven points in overtime to help the Badgers to their third Big Ten tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA’s West Region.
Ole Miss sneaked into the NCAA tournament with a First Four matchup against BYU, but the Rebels wanted a real spot in the Big Dance. That goal looked unlikely after the Cougars build a 49-32 halftime lead in Dayton. But Ole Miss turned things around in the second half, scoring a whopping 62 points in the final 20 minutes to rally and sink BYU. Coach Andy Kennedy’s squad shot 60% after intermission and staged a 15-2 run midway through the second half. BYU senior guard Tyler Haws scored a game-high 33 points, but he whiffed on a three-pointer in the waning moments that could’ve kept his team alive.
Wichita State took its second-round NCAA tournament matchup against Kansas personally. The Jayhawks had continually refused to schedule the Shockers in nonconference play, meaning the two in-state powers hadn’t met since 1993. So the boys from Wichita took advantage of a chance matchup with the Big 12 blueblood in the Midwest Region. Kansas looked like its historically dominant self at moments in the first half, when it led by as many as eight points. But the Shockers entered halftime up 29-26, and that lead ballooned after intermission. Five players scored in double-figures for coach Gregg Marshall’s team as they headed to the Sweet 16 as the pride of the Sunflower State.
Texas fans were punching their tickets to the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, where their team held a 67-57 lead over Iowa State with less than four minutes to play. The Cyclones had other plans, however. Coach Fred Hoiberg’s team scored the game’s final 12 points, a run punctuated by a Monte Morris jumper with one second to play, to shock Texas. The Longhorns gift-wrapped the win by missing their last five shots and committing four turnovers during the final 3:55. Iowa State earned its fourth straight win over Texas for the first time in school history and went on to win the Big 12 tournament title.
5. April 6: Duke 68, Wisconsin 63
Fresh off its upset of previously unbeaten Kentucky, Wisconsin’s journey to the national title was nearly complete with 13:23 left in the NCAA championship game against Duke. Frank Kaminsky—the eventual Wooden Award winner—hit a layup to push the Badgers ahead 48-39, forcing a Duke timeout. But the Blue Devils used an 11-3 run to storm back into the contest and trailed 51-50 with 10:42 to play. The matchup in Indianapolis was living up to the hype.
The title game remained tight until the 4:09 mark, when a Tyus Jones three-pointer sparked a 10-0 Duke run that made it 66-58 with 1:24 to play. Wisconsin’s efficient offense then cut that lead to three with under a minute left, but it missed its last three shots as Tyus Jones knocked down two free throws to ice the Blue Devil’s fifth national title under Mike Krzyzewski. “I haven't loved a team any more than I've loved this team,” Coach K said.
The NCAA tournament wasted no time in making March memorable. On the first full day, Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter hit the wildest three-pointer of the tournament against Baylor. Hunter drained a trey with 2.7 seconds left to cap a rally from 12 points down and help his team upset the No. 3 seed Bears.
Yet the game-winner wasn’t as memorable as the ensuing celebration: As Hunter’s shot fell through the net, Panthers’ coach Ron Hunter—R.J.’s father—fell off his rolling chair on the sideline in a moment of euphoria. In an instant, Georgia State became the darling of March. "I saw him cannonball off his chair," R.J. said of his father after the game. "I told him, they've got to get him a chair with a back or something because that wasn't going to work."
3. Feb. 18: Duke 92, North Carolina 90 (OT)
This wasn’t billed as your normal Duke-North Carolina matchup. The Blue Devils had yet to cement themselves as sure-fire title contenders, while the Tar Heels had already lost eight games on the year. But the up-and-down meeting turned into a classic moment in the Tobacco Road Rivalry.
Duke led by as many as 13 in the first half and looked to be heading towards a blowout. But coach Roy Williams’ squad wasn’t finished. It used a 12-4 run to take a 54-53 lead early in the second half. The Tar Heels eventually led by 10 with 3:20 to play, but the Blue Devils went on a run and tied the game at 81-81 on a Tyus Jones layup with 29 seconds to play. In overtime, Quinn Cook hit two key free throws in the final 30 seconds to steal a win in front of a home crowd at Cameron Indoor.
2. April 4: Wisconsin 71, Kentucky 64
On 38 occasions, teams had tried—and failed—to beat Kentucky. But it was fellow No. 1 seed Wisconsin that finally accomplished the feat in the Final Four. The Badgers weren’t intimidated early, heading into halftime tied 36-36 with the Wildcats. Wisconsin then used a 9-0 one after the break to take control, 52-44, with 14:46 to play.
But with Kentucky on the brink, coach Bo Ryan’s team made only one field goal over the next 10 minutes—and the Wildcats got back into the game. The ‘Cats led 60-56 before going on a drought of their own, nearly five minutes without a point. The Badgers then turned on their defense and hit seven of their final eight free throws down the stretch. The loss ended the Wildcats’ season with a 38-1 record, two wins short of becoming the first unbeaten team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers.
1. March 28: Kentucky 68, Notre Dame 66
Notre Dame’s potent offense was almost enough to halt Kentucky’s unbeaten run in the Elite Eight. The Fighting Irish were in good position with 6:16 to play after they took a 59-53 lead on a Steve Vasturia three-pointer. But Kentucky looked like the true Final Four team down the stretch, hitting its last nine shots and sealing the win with two Andrew Harrison free throws with six seconds left. The matchup featured 12 ties and 20 lead changes. "We figured out a way to win it,” Wildcats’ coach John Calipari said after the game. “We've had other tests, but we have a will to win."
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