Danny Ainge, BYU
Kelly Tripucka had made a contested jumper to give Notre Dame the lead in a 1981 East Regional final at the old Omni. The Cougars inbounded with eight seconds left. Ainge took the inbounds pass and lost John Paxson with a behind-the-back dribble. Next he skirted Tripucka and Tom Sluby and ducked into the lane, dodging Irish center Tim Andree. Finally Ainge lifted the winning layup over the famous leaper Orlando Woolridge. Sometimes one does beat five.
Michael Jordan, North Carolina
The most famous photo of the freshman’s jumper against Georgetown in 1982 shows Jordan rising above Eric Smith from the left corner with 17 seconds remaining. The Superdome clock is visible. So is the Hoyas’ bench, where John Thompson and his assistants are up yelling. A wider angle shows that the Carolina coaches are seated, secure that Dean Smith’s tactics will carry the day. Sure enough, Jimmy Black’s skip pass undid the Hoyas’ 1-3-1 zone, and the greatest player ever nailed his first title-winning shot.
Lorenzo Charles, North Carolina State
The most famous ending of any NCAA title game was nearly the lowest moment in Wolfpack history. Benny Anders of Houston deflected Thurl Bailey’s pass toward midcourt, and for a moment it appeared that Anders would gather it in and flee to a climactic jam for the team known as Phi Slama Jama. But Dereck Whittenburg got there first and heaved the ball goalward. As a shot, it was an air ball. As a moment, it was serendipity. Charles rose and stuffed it home, and Jim Valvano went looking for someone to hug.
Keith Smart, Indiana
Another triumph of coaching. Derrick Coleman of Syracuse missed the front end of the bonus with 28 seconds remaining. Trailing by a point, the Hoosiers eschewed a timeout and ran Bobby Knight’s motion offense. Daryl Thomas nearly shook loose on the baseline, but Coleman cut him off. Thomas shoveled a pass to Smart, who took one dribble to lose Howard Triche and hit from the corner, not far from where Jordan had made his basket five years earlier. The basket came at 0:04. Shaken Syracuse didn’t call a timeout until 0:01.