JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The crowd stood and applauded career three-pointer No. 505 long after Fletcher Magee and the rest of the Wofford Terriers had run back on defense. That shot, after all, had given Wofford guard Magee the NCAA Division I career record for three-pointers. An appreciation was in order.
When career three-pointer No. 509 dropped through the net, the crowd gasped before screaming. Had that really happened? Had Magee really done that? That shot, after all, had broken Seton Hall’s back and sealed the first NCAA tournament win in Wofford history. It also had defied the imagination.
Keve Aluma threw a pass to Magee in the left corner. From his seat on the left end of Wofford’s bench, center Matthew Pegram had a perfect view. “His feet,” Pegram says, “were facing me.” If the basket was high noon, Pegram sat at four o’clock. Your middle school basketball coach always told you to square your feet to the rim. Well, when he caught the ball, Magee’s heels were closer to the rim than his toes. Seton Hall’s Myles Cale twisted around a screen from Cameron Jackson but had enough time to put his right hand inches from Magee’s face. Yet Magee still rose to fire, flipping his feet toward the basket as he ascended. “I’ll be honest,” Pegram says. “A lot of them, the first thought is you’re sitting there and saying ‘That’s not a good shot.’ Midway through it, you’re like ‘That’s going in.’ When it finally crashes, it’s a great experience.”
This was a sublime experience, perfectly captured by play-by-play man Ian Eagle.
To the millions who watched their first Wofford game Thursday night, this seemed like the ultimate heat check. But for Magee, the shot could have come on any random day on Wofford’s practice court. It just so happened to come on the biggest stage he’d ever played on. Wofford led by one 84 seconds before Magee launched that shot. Then Terriers guard Nathan Hoover, the guy Wofford coach Mike Young says “can shoot the snot of it,” drained yet another nasal cavity with three-pointers on consecutive possessions. Then the Terriers got another stop and flowed back down the floor. Magee found his spot in the corner. Aluma passed the ball. Minds were blown. And suddenly Wofford led by 10.
The Terriers would finish on a 17-2 run and claim an 84-68 win. This wasn’t an upset, even though Wofford is from the Southern Conference and Seton Hall is from the Big East. The Terriers were seeded No. 7 and the Pirates No. 10. Vegas favored Wofford by 3.5 points. There will be plenty of time for David and Goliath when the Terriers face second-seeded Kentucky on Saturday.
But for the moment, let’s appreciate a shot that looked like it was dreamed up during a game of H-O-R-S-E on acid. No way Magee has ever tried that shot before. It was pure chance that he made it. It had to be. Didn’t it?
“I see it every day,” Terriers guard Alex Michael says.
“Every single day,” Michael says. “During practice. After practice. Before practice. I’ve seen him do it a thousand times.”
Michael is a freshman, so a thousand times might be embellishing a bit. Or perhaps it isn’t. Magee estimates he practices that exact shot 30-50 times a day. If we split the difference and say 40, it would only take 25 days to reach 1,000. In reality, Michael the freshman probably has seen Magee attempt that shot thousands of times.
Magee, a 6’4” senior who grew up two hours away in Orlando, is legendary for his devotion to building the perfect shot. His parents told Dana O’Neil of The Athletic the story of a night that Magee had missed a free throw in a high school game and he’d kept the neighbors awake shooting past midnight. After he’d been shooed back into the house by his mom, he took the cushions off the couch, went back outside and placed them under the basket so the ball would land quietly. Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel unearthed a tale of Magee getting up shots at night at his school, The First Academy. The only problem was he couldn’t get the lights on. So he shot by candlelight. “He’s possessed,” Wofford coach Young says. “He’s a maniac.”
For most of his basketball-playing life, Magee—who wears No. 3 not because of his favorite shot but because he loves Allen Iverson—has sought to perfect an unblockable jumper. He concocts scenarios inside and outside of practice to force himself to shoot from awkward angles and positions. Quarterbacks would call it “off-platform.” When teammates first see his fanatical devotion to ripping shots from every possible body contortion, they scratch their heads. But when they see him making those shots in practices and games, they understand. He has recruited teammates to pass him the ball just so, allowing him to jump and twist and squeeze off shots in tight spaces. He has fired and fired so many times that he can draw faster than Doc Holliday. “When I see him have a blink…” Young says. A blink? Yes, as in the time it takes to blink. Here, Young snaps his fingers. “It’s just a blink,” he says. "Got it.”
So what does that perfect shot look like? “That was kind of the shot in the corner,” Magee says. But he’s quick to point out that he hasn’t completely perfected the perfect shot yet. “It’s not un-guardable,” Magee says, acting as sheepish as the all-time Division I three-point leader can. “But it’s hard to block because you can shield it with your body.”
Still, Magee, who scored 24 and made 7-of-12 from three-point range on Thursday, may need to review the footage. Ever heard an announcer say a hot shooter was “unconscious?” That may have been Magee on Thursday. Reminded which way he was facing when he caught the ball, he asked a question. “Did I turn?” he said.
While the rest of the nation turns to Day 2 of the first round, the Terriers will pivot to Kentucky. The Wildcats are so long on the perimeter that they can scare even the most confident shooters. After Abilene Christian’s best three-point shooter went 1-of-9 from deep on Thursday, Kentucky coach John Calipari explained what can happen when the Wildcats guard far from the basket. “After we really guarded he took some tough ones, he missed ones that you all said, ‘He never misses that,’” Calipari said. “But it's hard when you've got long players.”
Calipari will heap praise on the Terriers and their shooters because he knows if Magee, Hoover and point guard Storm Murphy get hot from deep at the same time, no amount of five-star recruits can stop the barrage. But the Terriers know they’ll face a challenge unlike any they’ve seen all season. Young underscored that when he walked back in the locker room following his postgame press conference. “Holy cow!” he yelled. “This isn’t The Citadel! What are we doing here?”
They’re making history, led by a shooter who is unconscious, inhuman, a maniac and — as of Thursday night — the owner of one of the most coveted records in college basketball history.