NEW YORK — One of the most ridiculous buzzer-beaters in NCAA Tournament history came after one of the most shocking blocks in NCAA Tournament history, the heart-stopping, arena-rumbling climax to an overtime epic that provided, far and away, the best game of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
With a stilted stop-and-hop, a 6-foot junior speedster named Chris Chiozza sank the winning 3-pointer to push the fourth-seeded Florida Gators into the Elite Eight and etch his name in tournament lore. Madison Square Garden was popped with shock on Chiozza’s winner.
Florida 84, Wisconsin 83, and Manhattan quaked.
We looked up the meaning of the word "boss."— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 25, 2017
We found this video. pic.twitter.com/Yjd2MJJrKy
Chiozza’s winner is forever memorable because of its skittish action. He burped up a prayer, seemingly releasing the shot after his body hesitated on instinct — like he hit a wall that wasn’t there. Florida has won all season because of the speed of its guards, and the burners on Chiozza allowed for him to blow by Wisconsin senior Nigel Hayes, who just last weekend lived on the other end of this emotive torture mechanism when he hit the winner to upset No. 1 overall seed Villanova.
Chiozza navigated past Hayes, while Canyon Barry, threatening as the Kris Jenkins-trailer drooping behind, lured Wisconsin’s D’Mitrick Trice out of harm’s way. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ halted at the foul line, never getting a hand up.
“For Chris to have the wherewithal to know that he can get all the way the length of the court in four seconds,” said Florida coach Mike White, “he obviously utilized his speed and quickness and had tremendous composure, of course.”
Chiozza stops, hops, releases.
Who’s breathing? Anybody?
“Covering my eyes and praying,” Barry said.
Light. Horn. Ball in air, time is done, look — and swish.
“Thank goodness we didn’t have a timeout, right?” White joked.
He can laugh now. He got the win. But it so easily could have been Wisconsin. The best games are the ones you look back at and have no real decision on the deserving team. Time eventually runs out, a final shot does or does not go in, and the only conclusive thing about what just happened is the last play that made it so. All before Chiozza’s heroics cannot be forgotten. I fight the urge to focus solely on the ending, because this game provided three incredible moments.
Mike White’s stomach had to be a bucket of bees, because Florida had no business being in overtime. Chiozza’s 3 to win it was a delayed reply to Zak Showalter’s game-tying 3 with 2.1 seconds to go in regulation that gave Wisconsin life, hope, reason to think Bucky would win out yet again. What a thriller. This was not just an all-time ending. The tugs to this game kept tension tight throughout the second half, wherein the teams traded 16-4 runs. Wisconsin rallied from down 12 with 14:15 left.
“Most emotional, up-and-down roller-coaster game I’ve ever played,” Barry said. “That’s why people love basketball and why people love March Madness. It’s games like this.”
Showalter’s magic trick of a triple came after he dipped between defenders, born on the other side and grinning, knowing he just got lucky. Then he turned to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, sitting second row and all of 20 feet away from him, and flashed the discount-double-check move.
Overtime. The first game of this tournament with free hoops. And it seemed as though Wisconsin would win. It really did.
“I’m not going to lie to you, the shot Showalter hit was extremely deflating,” White told CBS Sports. “And as a coach you start to ask questions to yourself. Should we have done this? Should we have done that? And you’re fighting those thoughts, trying to be positive with your guys, keep them loose, reminding them that we still have a great opportunity.”
White’s always been anti-foul when up three late in a game. He’s never been burned by it. Friday night was the first. And now he says he’ll be open to changing his philosophy. There is no philosophy for what Canyon Barry provided late in overtime. Wisconsin had a drip-drip of missed free throws that kept the Gators lingering. And Barry’s sequence of underhand free throws to LeBron James-like block, it was a delightful dichotomy, the block being the second-biggest play of the game but the more shocking event.
“I never seen Canyon make a play like that,” Gators senior Kasey Hill said.
“I was just happy they didn’t call a foul,” Barry said.
A surprising no-call from the officials, because toward the end of the second half and into overtime, Gators and Badgers were colliding like a game of Galaga 25 feet from the hoop, inducing foul after foul. Bodies falling on every possession.
Barry’s two foul shots made it 81-79.
“FOUL! FOUL! FOUL”
That’s White pleading with his guys to get this game into a free-throw marathon for Wisconsin, which was shaky from the stripe all night. Instead, the ball finds its way to UW’s Khalil Iverson in the open court. And somehow, Barry goes from four strides back to meeting Iverson at the rim and getting the clean block. You kidding me with that? You know it was Chiozza that made the ensuing layup on that possession, right? These little flares set the ending on fire. That Chiozza scoop into the lane got the game to 81-all.
On the ensuing possession, Hayes would leave too much time on the clock. Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig, reduced to only one good leg by the end of the game, was waving (but not yelling) for the ball. Hayes never looked his way. Hayes wanted to drive in, to win it like he did vs. Villanova. With four seconds left, he got the foul call. The foul shots went in. But Hayes moved too soon.
Four seconds means five dribbles for Chiozza.
“That sh— looked good,” Kasey Hill told CBS Sports.
It’s the first Florida buzzer-beater since 2010, and White said it was the second of his coaching career. White was famously on the wrong end of the Bryce Drew classic in 1998, when Valpo beat White’s Ole Miss team in the first round. Does it feel better to be on the other end of that?
“Hell yeah,” White said. “Yeah. With an emphasis on the hell. Yeah. Absolutely.”
This tournament has done it again. The winner was ugly, yet beautiful. A jagged jumper, a prayer answered, the essence of the greatness of this blessed annual event, a simple three-weekend playoff that never ceases to give us the far-fetched, ridiculous endings that keep us begging for more. The 60th game of the tournament is unlikely to be topped by the seven that remain.
We will never forget the name Chiozza. We will always remember that shot. If history is fair, we’ll remember what came before it as well, because every epic ending has a string of events that allow it to be. Showalter, then Barry, then Chiozza. A trifecta of improbable plays. This was one of the best regional games in history. Now, if it’s not too much to ask, can we have another? Because this feeling, it’s never enough.