March Rewind: Laettner's First Buzzer Beater
What's March without Duke Tournament basketball? With this year's ACC and NCAA Tournaments cancelled, we'll go back in time to look at the top Blue Devils postseason games from each date in March and early April. Special thanks to SportsReference.com for boxscores and the Duke Library for the newspaper archive.
Kids dream of hitting an overtime buzzer beater to send their team to the Final Four. Christian Laettner hit the first of two in his career as Duke won the 1990 East Regional in East Rutherford with a 79-78 win over UConn.
“We had three options on that last play,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. None of them were Laettner. With seconds left and UConn up one, Tate George stepped in front of a Bobby Hurley pass with what appeared to be a game-clinching steal. He couldn’t get a grip on the ball, however, fumbling it out of bounds with 2.6 seconds left.
That led to Coach K’s audible. After reviewing the top three options—Phil Henderson, Bobby Hurley and Alaa Abdelnaby, Krzyzewski decided to call a play called Special. Laettner inbounded to Brian Davis, who sent the ball right back to Laettner with a touch pass for a 15-footer.
“I took one dribble, shot it, and when it went in, I couldn’t believe it,” Laettner said. Two years later, he would be a little more confident when in the same situation.
In other March 24 action:
Duke moved into the 1988 East Regional final with a 73-72 win over Rhode Island in East Rutherford. Duke opened with an 18-5 run, then held on as Rhode Island made a run. Robert Brickey had an offensive rebound of a Kevin Strickland missed free throw in the final minute and went four-of-four from the line to preserve the win.
Exactly a year later, in the same building, Duke had an easier path to the East Regional final, cruising past Minnesota, 87-70. Phil Henderson and Robert Brickey each had 21 points, and Christian Laettner had a double-double.
Duke made its fourth straight Final Four, beating St. John’s, 78-61, to win the Midwest Regional in Pontiac, Michigan. Duke had 17 steals, including four each by Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner. “They really took away our candy,” said St. John’s coach Lou Carneseca. Hurley scored 20 and led the team with seven rebounds. Laettner had 19.
Duke advanced to the 1994 Southeast Regional final with a 59-49 win over Marquette in Knoxville. The Warriors led by one at the half, but Grant Hill scored nine of the first 13 points in the second half to spur a Duke rally. Hill had 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Top seed Duke lost to Florida, 87-78 in the 2000 Sweet 16 in Syracuse. Florida outscored Duke 13-0 in the final four minutes. Duke’s young stars showed they needed a bit more seasoning. Jason Williams shot just 1-of-9 from three and fouled out. Center Carlos Boozer also fouled out. Mike Dunleavy had as many turnovers as points—four.
A year later, everyone was all grown up. Williams scored 28 with seven rebounds and six assists. Dunleavy had 11, Boozer played 22 minutes in a return from a broken foot, grabbing two rebounds, and Duke beat USC, 79-69 to win the East Region in Philadelphia.
Duke had no answer for Derrick Williams, as Arizona beat the Blue Devils 93-77 in the 2011 Sweet 16 in Anaheim. Williams scored 32 to help the Wildcats erase a six-point Duke halftime lead. Kyrie Irving scored 28 in what would be his last college game.
The Blue Devils advanced to the 2013 Sweet 16 with a 66-50 win over Creighton in Philadelphia. Rasheed Sulaimon scored 21, Seth Curry 17 and Mason Plumlee 10 to lead the Blue Devils. Doug McDermott scored 21 for Creighton.
Oregon ousted Duke, 82-68, in the 2016 Sweet 16 in Anaheim. Dillon Brooks scored 22 for Oregon and got a lecture from Coach K afterward for taunting the Duke bench, which led to an outcry on social media. Brandon Ingram scored 24 in his final game as a Blue Devil. Luke Kennard added 13 and 11 rebounds.