Commentary

Top 3-point shots in NCAA history

Originally Published: November 3, 2011
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com

It's safe to say the 3-point shot has changed college basketball. Those changes were deeply systemic; the game as a whole, its years of winners and losers, are infinitely different as a result. But within that systemic change, interspersed like constellations in a vast galaxy of box scores and records, some 3-point field goals stood out.

In celebration of its 25th anniversary then, here are 10 of the greatest moments in the history of the collegiate 3-point field goal. Thank you, NCAA, for allowing these plays to happen. We'd rather not imagine the alternative.

(A quick note: The author can't include videos with most of these clips, unfortunately, but he does recommend the aggressive use of YouTube as a supplement to the piece. Enjoy.)

10. Steve Kerr's perfect season. Kerr would go on to create more vibrant basketball memories in the NBA; he was one of the best long-range shooters in the game's history. But Kerr's college career was marked by distinct shooting excellence, too. His 1987-88 campaign stands out. He shot a blistering pace that season, making 114 of his 199 attempts, good for 57.3 percent -- but his excellence was best measured in a different statistic. In 1988, after making a 3 in Arizona's Final Four loss to Oklahoma on April 2, Kerr set a single-season NCAA record of 38 consecutive games with a 3-point field goal made. No one has matched it since.

[+] EnlargeStephen Curry
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonDavidson's Stephen Curry captured the nation's attention with his 3-point shooting prowess.

9. If my math is correct, that's 45 points. Here's one encouraging thing about college basketball: You never know when you're going to witness history. On Dec. 14, 1996, few of the paying attendees who showed up to watch Marshall play Morehead State could expect they'd bear witness to one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- long-range shooting performances in the history of the game. That night, Marshall guard Keith Veney shot 25 3-point field goals. He made 15 of them. Fifteen years later, Veney's single-game record still stands.

8. Jeff Capel defines a rivalry. In 1995, the heated Duke-North Carolina rivalry was in the midst of an unusually lopsided year. On Feb. 2, North Carolina came to Cameron Indoor ranked No. 2 in the country. Duke would eventually miss the NCAA tournament. But the game was far from lopsided; rather, it was a classic that came down to the final seconds of regulation, when UNC big man Serge Zwikker had the chance to ice UNC's 3-point lead with two free throws. He missed both, and with just three seconds on the clock, Capel got the ball, raced to midcourt and launched a 40-foot leaner. It went in. Tie game.

If you've seen an ESPN broadcast of North Carolina-Duke, you've seen this clip more than once. It's timeless. Less timeless is the memory that Capel's shot wasn't actually a game winner and that Duke later fell to UNC 102-100 in double overtime. But no matter: Capel's shot is one of the finest moments in the most spiteful, most entertaining rivalry in all of college basketball.

7. Stephen Curry's magical March. The most exciting NCAA tournament run of the past 10 years (at least!) came -- as they so often seem to do -- almost entirely thanks to the 3. But Davidson guard Curry's brilliance had a lot to do with it, too. In 2008, Curry blitzed the NCAA tournament like few players we've ever seen. He scored 40 points (including an 8-for-10 mark from 3) against Gonzaga, dropped 25 in one half on Georgetown and hit six 3s en route to a 33-point performance in a win over Wisconsin.

Then, in the final game of that run, an Elite Eight battle versus No. 1 seed Kansas, the nation's newest sporting celebrity glided past the single-season NCAA 3-point field goals record, setting a mark that stands at 162. Davidson lost that game. The run was over. But Curry's beyond-the-arc genius already had made an indelible impression -- on the record books, sure, but in our memories, too.

7 (tied). J.J. Redick fulfills his destiny. Duke guard Redick was never the most likable player. Nor was he the most versatile (at least, that is, until his senior season, when he developed an off-the-dribble game that made him essentially unstoppable). No, what Redick could always do was shoot. And shoot he did.

By the time Redick's senior season was nearing the homestretch, he was in striking distance of former Virginia guard Curtis Staples' NCAA 3-point field goals mark (412). In the first half of a Feb. 14 game versus Wake Forest, he curled off a screen, caught the ball and set his feet, unleashed that flawless shooting stroke and launched the record-breaking shot. (One play later, for good measure, Redick intercepted a Wake pass, finished a layup on the break and was fouled in the act. Three more points -- the old-fashioned way.)

Strangely enough, Redick didn't hold the record alone for the rest of the 2006 season. Saint Peter's guard Keydren Clark actually surpassed Redick's mark in the MAAC tournament. But Redick hit 15 -- yes, 15 -- 3s in the ACC tournament, tossed 12 more in the NCAA tournament and finished his career with 457 total to his name. He didn't just break the record. He shattered it.

[+] EnlargeDrew Nicholas
AP Photo/Eric GayMaryland's Drew Nicholas hit the game-winning 3-pointer against UNC-Wilmington in the 2003 NCAA tournament.

6. Drew Nicholas fades and makes. This shot should never have happened. Maryland had five seconds to inbound the ball from its own baseline, get it down the court as quickly as possible and try to overtake UNC Wilmington's 73-72 lead. Given the circumstances, Wilmington deserved to win this NCAA tournament game in 2003.

Besides, Nicholas wasn't supposed to catch the ball. Maryland coach Gary Williams tried to free star point guard Steve Blake, but the Seahawks deftly denied Blake on the inbounds pass, forcing the ball into Nicholas' hands instead. He leaned, took off his left foot, fell away from a draped defender, and somehow -- somehow! -- his fading heave landed burst square through the cotton. As Nicholas sprinted off the court and into the tunnel, Wilmington could only watch in horror.

5. "Holy mackerel! Holy mackerel!" Georgia Tech looked beat. It was second round of the 1992 NCAA tournament, and the Yellow Jackets were less than a second from suffering a tough-as-nails loss to Southern Cal. They had one last chance, a sideline out-of-bounds play, and the prospects looked weak. The inbounds would come from an awkward spot 40 feet from the rim. There were eight-tenths of a second on the clock.

As the inbounds play unfolded, USC denied every possible route; the Yellow Jackets looked like they might not be able to inbound the ball. On the telecast, legendary broadcaster Al McGuire bleated, "Under the basket! Throw the ball under the basket!"

Georgia Tech didn't throw the ball under the basket. Instead, forward James Forrest caught the ball near the sideline, whipped free of his defender with a lightning turnaround move and launched a leg-splayed 3-pointer that splashed through the net. The shot inspired one of the great college basketball calls of all time, as a stunned McGuire screamed, "Holy mackerel! Holy mackerel!" We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

4. Three defenders and no time on the clock? No problem. Drake saw the play coming. It defended it perfectly. It still didn't matter.

The Bulldogs -- ranked No. 14 in the nation and seeded No. 5 in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament -- had just overcome a 16-point deficit in the final eight minutes of regulation when their forward, Jonathan Cox, made two free throws to give them a 99-98 lead.

The inbounds play came from the baseline. Ty Rogers, Western Kentucky's best shooter, took the ball out of bounds. He would have to get up the floor in a hurry to catch and shoot in time, but the Hilltoppers would try to find him; Drake had to be sure of that. When guard Tyrone Brazelton caught the ball and raced (much like Drew Nicholas before him) across the floor to the right side of the 3-point arc, Rogers had indeed caught up, but Drake saw the play the whole way. Brazelton handed the ball off, and three Drake defenders stood in a two-foot radius of Rogers -- close enough to challenge the shot, but not so close as to risk a foul.

The impressive read didn't make a difference. Rogers caught the ball and launched a 26-foot 3-pointer with three defenders in his face, one of the most thrilling and unlikely buzzer-beaters in NCAA tournament history.

3. Ali Farokhmanesh delivers a special order of onions. When ESPN analyst Bill Raftery coined the term "onions!" so many years ago, he couldn't have known that the best possible example of said onions would come from a totally obscure player with a challenging last name playing for a team from Cedar Falls, Iowa. But Farokhmanesh's 3 in the final seconds of Northern Iowa's shocking second-round win over No. 1 overall seed Kansas in 2010 is pretty much the reason the term was invented.

In all honesty, Farokhmanesh probably shouldn't have taken the shot. Reasonable minds can disagree on this fact; given his position on the court (the right wing) and the athletic Kansas defenders bearing down on him, some have argued that the shot was the best way to avoid a potentially disastrous defensive trap. Maybe. Maybe not. There were 31 seconds on the shot clock and 35 seconds on the game clock. Farokhmanesh launched it anyway. If the shot missed, he would be a goat; if Kansas rebounded, Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris and Xavier Henry would have plenty of time to overtake UNI's slimmest of leads. Instead, it went down. The Panthers took a four-point lead, a flustered Tyrel Reed was called for charging on the next play, and within seconds, UNI sealed the victory.

There's a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Farokhmanesh's was one of the bravest shots in NCAA tournament history. Onions, indeed.

Bryce Drew
AP Photo/John Gaps IIIValparaiso's Bryce Drew hit one of the most cleverly drawn-up 3s in NCAA history.

2. Bryce Drew becomes one with the NCAA tournament. Few things in life fail to decline with overuse. Drew's 1998 buzzer-beater over Ole Miss is one of them.

It's impossible to watch an NCAA tournament game and not see it in some form. But no matter how many times you see it, it never loses its charm, its excitement, its sheer unbelievability.

There are 2.5 seconds on the clock when Valparaiso takes the ball out in its own corner baseline. Valpo's 5-foot-11 guard, Jamie Sykes, was tasked with making a long baseball toss. Ole Miss, like so many programs, took its lesson from Christian Laettner's classic shot -- you always guard the inbounder. So Sykes pumps once to get 6-foot-4 Ole Miss guard Keith Carter up in the air. Then he launches the throw. Bill Jenkins wins the jump ball cleanly, taps it to a streaking Drew, and in the blink of an eye Drew lands, catches, launches and … swoosh.

You know what happens next. Drew leaps Superman-style onto the hardwood, his teammates flailing and piling on. Even after all those views, even when you know what's going to happen, even if you click play on YouTube 10 times in a row, Drew's shot never loses a thing.

1. Mario's Miracle. "It will probably be the biggest shot made in Kansas history."

That was Kansas coach Bill Self on April 8, 2008, just a few minutes after Mario Chalmers made the biggest 3 in the history of the attempt. Every shot on this list has come with some import or excitement or charm; none of the shots listed above has decided -- in spectacular fashion -- the winner and loser of the national championship. Chalmers' did.

But it had those magical qualities, those strange cosmic collisions, too. The first was the comeback. With 2:12 left in the game, Memphis led 60-51. But the Jayhawks fought furiously back.

Memphis struggled to close the game, but it still had a two-point lead with 10.8 seconds left as Tigers guard Derrick Rose, the soon-to-be No. 1 NBA draft pick, stepped to the line to take two free throws. The first harshly rimmed out. The second fell in. The miss gave Kansas a chance.

Then-Memphis coach John Calipari made a decision -- or was victim to a no-call -- that has haunted him since: He didn't foul Sherron Collins. Had he done so, he would have put the guard on the line to shoot two, guaranteeing himself a lead and the ball back with less time than Kansas could plausibly use to find a buzzer-beater. It's a difficult call, and Calipari said after the game he thought his team fouled Collins on the handoff. It might well have.

Either way, the whistle didn't blow. That led to the next bit of magic: As Collins sprinted up the floor, he lost his footing and his handle, and had to sprawl toward the ball and flip it to Chalmers at the last possible second.

Then, the miracle: A floating, arcing 3 over the athletic freak that was (and is) Rose somehow falls through the hoop, tying the game with 3.6 seconds on the clock and leading to one of the truly great photos -- that classic shot from behind Chalmers with the hoop in the distance -- in the history of college hoops. Kansas opened a 6-0 run to begin overtime, and Bill Self -- not Calipari -- won his first national title in 2008.

Within minutes, the shot had a name: Mario's Miracle. It couldn't possibly be more fitting. It if had happened in the first round of the NCAA tournament, it'd still be an all-time great. But this shot decided a national title.

Kansas history? That doesn't do Mario's Miracle justice. In 25 years of 3-point field goals, they don't get any bigger than this.

Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com. You can see his work every Monday through Friday in the College Basketball Nation blog. To contact Eamonn, e-mail collegebasketballnation@gmail.com or reach him on Twitter (@eamonnbrennan).