The madness that is March is over, and Virginia defeated Texas Tech to win the National Championship. The NCAA Tournament once again delivered, as over the last four weeks there were surprising upsets, heartbreaking losses and buzzer-beating finishes. Here are the top five NCAA Tournament games from this past March:
5. Auburn vs. New Mexico State
Fresh off an SEC Tournament crown, the Auburn Tigers’ stay in the Big Dance almost didn’t last very long. Up by seven with 56 seconds left, Auburn did everything it could to give away the game to upset-minded New Mexico State. Down by two with the ball, New Mexico State’s Terrell Brown was fouled on a three-point attempt. Brown missed two of three free throws, sealing the win for the Tigers. Jared Harper led Auburn with 17 points and four assists and the Tigers knocked down 12 three-pointers en route to a First Round win.
4. Duke vs. Michigan State
It was a battle of two heavyweights to see who would go on to Minneapolis for the Final Four. How would Duke’s young stars in Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett handle the pressure of a big NCAA Tournament game? On the other side was an experienced, talented Spartan team that included Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Matt McQuaid. Thanks to Winston’s stellar play down the stretch, Michigan State eliminated the top overall seed in Duke in a very entertaining affair. Cassius Winston had a team-high 20 points and 10 assists as the Spartans advanced to their 10th Final Four. In the last game of his brief collegiate career, Williamson scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Blue Devils.
3. Tennessee vs. Purdue
In a South Regional Semifinal, the Boilermakers held off the Volunteers in overtime after nearly blowing an 18-point lead. It was the highest scoring game of the entire tournament, with Carsen Edwards putting up 29 points in the Sweet 16 win. Edwards knocked down two of three free throws in the final seconds to send it to OT. Ryan Cline displayed his sweet stroke by scoring 27 points, including 7 of 10 from three-point range. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams combined for 42 points and 18 rebounds for Tennessee, but couldn’t generate enough offense in the extra five minutes. Purdue advanced to its first Elite Eight since 2000 in one of the most fast-paced, up-and-down games you’ll ever see.
2. Virginia vs. Auburn
En route to their first title in school history, Virginia needed some late-game heroics in order to advance. In the Final Four against Auburn, it required three free throws with under a second left from Kyle Guy to survive after the Tigers came roaring back. After trailing 57-47, Auburn’s Bryce Brown nailed three consecutive three-pointers and the Tigers took a two-point lead until their late-game blunder. Ty Jerome led the Cavaliers with 21 points and nine rebounds as Virginia held on despite scoring only six points in the final five minutes. It was Auburn’s first Final Four appearance in school history, and were one defensive stop away from playing for their first National Championship. Virginia would advance to the title game where they defeated Texas Tech.
1. Purdue vs. Virginia
Of all of Virginia’s close calls in the NCAA Tournament, none were as close as the Elite Eight matchup against Purdue. Staring elimination in the eyes, the Cavaliers recovered an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw with five seconds left. Freshman guard Kihei Clark grabbed the loose ball and passed it to Mamadi Diakite, where he threw up a rainbow floater at the buzzer to tie it. Virginia would edge the Boilermakers in OT by a score of 80-75, advancing to their third Final Four. Despite the loss, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards scored 42 points in a March Madness thriller. Mamadi Diakite’s buzzer-beating shot will forever be the highlight of Virginia’s first championship run in school history.