Virginia Cavaliers fans have had 36 hours or so to attempt to reconcile the final moments of regulation against Purdue in Saturday night’s epic Elite Eight game. In a game that has cemented itself in the annals of March Madness history for unbelievable moment after unbelievable moment, this is the play that stands out above the rest. Even crazier? The Play had four incredible individual moments that all had to go perfectly for things to work.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last two days and have no idea what happened, here’s the set up. Purdue took a 69-67 lead with 1:10 left in regulation after Carsen Edwards banked in his TENTH three-pointer of the game, becoming the fourth player in NCAA tournament history to hit double-digit threes in a tourney game.
Kyle Guy attempted a three on the other end to put Virginia back in front, but it missed. He grabbed his own rebound, seemingly tiptoeing the baseline before the referee’s shrill whistle interrupted the play. Guy was ruled out of bounds, and the Boilermakers got the ball back, up two, with 43 seconds left on the clock. Edwards attempted another three, but it didn’t go and teammate Grady Eifert came up with what should have been a program defining offensive rebound with 22 seconds standing between Purdue and its first Final Four.
Jack Salt had to foul, getting Ryan Cline and sending him to the line for a 1-and-1. Cline, who dropped 27 points in Purdue’s Thursday night win over Tennessee, stepped to the line. He made the first, but missed the second, leaving the door slightly ajar for the Cavaliers.
Purdue elected to foul up three at 70-67 in an attempt to prevent Virginia from tying up the game. With 5.9 seconds left on the clock, Jerome hit his first of two free throw attempts to make it a two-point game at 70-68. Then, things really got nuts.
It was a moment that will live in Virginia basketball lore forever, sending the game to overtime on a play that had to go absolutely perfectly from start to finish. If Jerome doesn’t miss perfectly, the game is over. If Diakite doesn’t tip the ball perfectly, the game is over. If Kihei Clark doesn’t make the most incredibly perfect decision and pass, the game is over. If Diakite doesn’t get the shot off perfectly, the game is over.
AND YET, all of those things happened, Virginia forced overtime, and the Hoos would go on to battle in the extra five minutes to punch their ticket to the Final Four for the first time since 1984.
Let’s break it down even further. Before Jerome took the second free throw, Guy was already signaling to Diakite where to tip the ball if the situation arose:
If you roll the frame just a couple seconds further, you see Guy motion his direction. He’s clearly not telling Diakite to come chat for a minute, so you can assume he’s directing traffic in case of a miss.
Unlike back in March of 2018 when Virginia pulled a comparably improbable comeback against Louisville in the same building (although with much lower stakes), Jerome didn’t intentionally miss the second free throw.
“I made the first one on purpose,” Jerome told the media with a sly grin after being asked his intentions on the shot. “I don’t know. There was so much going through my mind. I didn’t really miss it on purpose.”
Purposeful or not, it got the job done. By short arming the shot, it caromed off the rim at the right place. This allowed Mamadi to get one of Virginia’s 17 offensive rebounds in the game with a perfectly timed tip:
His effort among the crowd is unbelievable, and Diakite put enough on it so that Nojel Eastern (No. 20) and Edwards (No. 3) couldn’t get to it. He almost put too much on it and sending it too far down court, but things worked out.
Both Guy and Clark make an effort to track it down, but it’s Clark who corrals it in the Virginia half of the court with about 3.7 seconds left in the game and his momentum carrying him towards the 3-point arc.
Right off the bat, Guy makes himself available for an outlet. As Clark turns up-court, you can see Jerome start to make his cut back towards the ball near midcourt:
This is where things go from interesting to incredible. As a first year, Clark could have easily deferred to his upperclass teammates, giving them the ball and making it their responsibility to chuck up a long game-winning attempt with relatively low success rates.
Instead, he looked both of them off and found Diakite with one of the most incredible passes.
I short-armed it, and Mamadi did a good play by hitting it, and Kihei made the play of the century, and Mamadi being ready to shoot,” Jerome said postgame before stopping himself. “Actually, let me add, he [Clark] looked me off first, or looked Kyle off first and then looked me off. Then he got to Mamadi over here, and he made a great play.”
The whole play was kind of a blur for all of the players. “I was just screaming for the ball,” Jerome elaborated. “I was screaming at Kihei. I said a lot of words and was clapping my hands really fast.”
Coach Bennett also thought Jerome was the best choice, but was obviously thrilled with his young point guard’s decision making. “It was great,” Bennett said from the dais after the game, a grin that hadn’t left his face spreading ear-to-ear. “Ty was clapping. I was like throw it to Ty, we’ll get one up there.”
While it’s possible that Guy (5-for-8 from three in the second half) or Jerome (2-for-5) could have canned a buzzer-beating game winner, Clark made the heads-up play to go for the higher percentage shot in close. Diakite caught the ball with about 0.9 seconds (!!) left, and it was out of his hands well before the shot clock horn sounded. The shot sailed over the outstretched arms of the 7-3 Matt Haarms, heading towards the basket.
“It wasn’t an easy shot,” Jay Huff said after the game, struggling to find the words to describe an indescribable moment. “He put up a floater that was hard and...it’s crazy.”
For a brief moment, the crowd of 21,623 waited with baited breath (or a brief moment and 45 extra seconds if you’re Akil Mitchell on a bus in France). It fell through, and the celebration for overtime was on.
Diakite didn’t really know what to say, either. “I don’t know. It happened. I was the person who was designed to take it, and I don’t know. I took it, and it went in. I was happy and ready for the next five minutes. I don’t know how to talk about it. It was unbelievable.” He would add two more “I don’t know”s as he sheepishly grinned and shrugged at the podium, his new Final Four hat adorned with his snipping of net.
While Guy and Salt immediately crashed in on Diakite to rejoice, Clark was a more subdued presence, just pumping his fists and looking relieved he made the right call to pass it downcourt.
It was a moment for the ages, and one that the players, fans, and coaches are sure to remember for the rest of their lives. “Looking back on it I’m sure years from now we’re all going to be like, ‘Man, we were there’,” Huff said. “I don’t know if there’s going to be documentaries or not, but like I watched a lot of documentaries as a kid and it’s cool to think about possibly being in one of them.”