With the score tied at 68 in the NCAA title game against Kansas, Indiana's Bobby (Slick) Leonard was fouled by Jayhawks guard Dean Kelley with 27 seconds remaining. Leonard missed the first one but gathered himself and calmly drilled the second for the win. "After the game," Leonard would later tell author Pete DiPrimio, "reporters came to me and said, 'Coach [Branch] McCracken just said you have ice water in your veins.' I said, 'Baby, if that was ice water, it felt awful warm running down my legs.'"
This is an article from the March 23, 2009 issue
Trailing 54--53 in the first round of the tournament, Princeton senior guard Pete Molloy went to the line for a one-and-one and a chance to upset undefeated Rutgers with four seconds left. Rutgers called back-to-back timeouts in an attempt to ice him before Molloy finally shot ... and missed long, hitting the back of the rim. Rutgers would go on to the Final Four, while Tigers coach Pete Carril and Molloy only advanced as far as a local Princeton dive, Andy's Tavern, where they drank together until 6 a.m.
Skip Dillard's nickname was Money, with good reason: The 85% shooter had set No. 1 DePaul's record for consecutive free throws made (45). With the Blue Demons up one with 12 seconds left in the 1981 Mideast Regional second round against St. Joseph's, Dillard could have sealed the win with a one-and-one. But he missed the first and Hawks forward John Smith scored a game-winning layup at the other end. (Ironically, given his nickname, Dillard would be sentenced to federal prison six years later for armed robbery.)
Keith Smart's 16-footer in the waning seconds of the championship game is an iconic March memory, but it was Syracuse forward Derrick Coleman who enabled Indiana's shining moment. Coleman, who had 19 boards, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 30 seconds remaining, allowing Smart to dart down the floor—coach Bob Knight didn't call a timeout—and hit that baseline dagger to seal the title. If Coleman "makes the free throws," Smart would tell a reporter years later, "you're doing this story with Derrick."
Michigan guard Rumeal Robinson (left) had a national championship directly in his sights. With three seconds left to play in overtime, the 65.6% free throw shooter earned a one-and-one with the Wolverines down 79--78 to Seton Hall. Robinson nailed both, securing the victory. The secret? "I was comfortable there," Robinson later said, "but you really couldn't think about it all that much because that just puts too much pressure on you."
Ball State forward Paris McCurdy found himself in a place few others have ever been: alone at the line against fifth-seeded Oregon State in a West Regional first-round game, score tied, no time remaining, with just one shot to win it. McCurdy had swished a five-footer from the baseline and was fouled as time ran out. Luckily, he was prepared. "This week in practice, Coach wouldn't let me leave the gym until I made 50 free throws," McCurdy said later. He made the shot to seal the upset.
Having led Stanford in a frenzied comeback from six down to three up in the final minute, Stanford's Arthur Lee committed a cardinal sin with five seconds left in the Midwest Regional final. He fouled Rhode Island point guard Tyson Wheeler on a three-pointer, giving Wheeler a chance to tie the game at the line. A career 70.5% foul shooter, Wheeler bricked all three. Said Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick afterward, "To ask him to step up there in that moment, when the needle is already in the balloon ... he had no zip left."