TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Ty Rogers had 172 text messages waiting for him Friday after his 26-foot buzzer-beater gave Western Kentucky a dramatic overtime win against Drake in the NCAA tournament.
His cell phone was still blowing up a day later.
De’Jon Jackson had a similar experience. Jackson got more congratulatory calls and messages than he could possibly handle after his jumper in the waning seconds OT helped San Diego oust college basketball powerhouse Connecticut.
“It was a little crazy,” Jackson said Saturday. “I’m not sure if I had 172, but I had a lot of text messages. It was kind of exciting for me.”
Rogers and Jackson hit the biggest shots of their lives, producing two huge upsets and sealing their spots in school history and tournament lore.
Now, they’re trying to put all the accolades and extra attention aside and get ready for the next game—against each other no less—when 12th-seeded Western Kentucky (28-6) faces No. 13 seed San Diego (22-13) in the West Region on Sunday.
“I really don’t think it will truly sink in until at least this season’s over, and maybe months after that,” Rogers said. “It was a big thing for our program.”
The Hilltoppers, despite a resume that includes 19 previous trips to the NCAA tournament, hadn’t won a game there since 1995.
The Toreros picked up their first tournament victory in four tries and put the small, independent Catholic school known mostly for its picturesque views overlooking Mission Bay, San Diego Harbor and the Pacific Ocean on the college basketball map.
“Certainly it can do nothing but positive things for the program,” San Diego coach Bill Grier said. “To get this kind of exposure on a national stage speaks volumes. … All this exposure helps.”
The attention was well deserved.
Rogers hit a desperation 3-pointer—26 feet was the best estimate—with three defenders in his face and no time on the clock to give Western Kentucky a 101-99 victory over No. 5 seed Drake.
The Hilltoppers trailed 99-98 with 5.7 seconds remaining in the extra frame. Tyrone Brazelton got the inbound pass, raced across midcourt and kicked it to Rogers, who drained the deep shot from the wing.
Brazelton, Rogers and all their teammates watched countless replays of the final possession, smiling and laughing every time. They have broken down every nuance of the play—the drive, the dish, the determination, the seemingly endless reactions.
“You’d have to be emotionless not to have that tug on you a little bit,” coach Darrin Horn said. “A kid that’s that great of a kid, from a small town, really been a role player his whole career for us, to hit that kind of shot and, you know, enjoy that kind of moment, I think that’s what this tournament is all about. We’re glad we’re on the good side of it.”
None of the players seemed to have a firm grasp on how that kind of game-winning shot on college basketball’s premier stage would affect their lives and legacies.
It probably won’t go down in history with Christian Laettner’s game-winning turnaround jumper that beat Kentucky 104-103 in the 1992 East Region final. And it may never compare to Tyus Edny’s coast-to-coast layup that allowed UCLA to edge Missouri 75-74 in 1995.
Both shots propelled those teams to national championships.
But it’s surely right up there with Bryce Drew’s winning 3-pointer that gave 13th-seeded Valparaiso a 70-69 victory over No. 4 Mississippi in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament.
“It’s going to be history for the school,” Brazelton said. “It’s just one game. It really hasn’t sunk in yet because we’re not done doing damage in the tournament. But I think we pretty much made our school proud. We just know … we’re going to have a long-lasting effect on the community.”
If not for Rogers’ buzzer-beater, Jackson might have the highlight of this year’s tournament.
His jumper with 1.2 seconds left in overtime gave San Diego a 70-69 win over the Huskies.
With the team’s best two players on the bench with five fouls, Jackson took over. He drove right on Jerome Dyson, stopped a step inside the 3-point line and calmly sank the game-winner.
He wasn’t done, either. Jackson intercepted the inbound pass to seal the victory.
His phone hasn’t stopped ringing since.
“I never had that many text messages in one day, so it was kind of fun,” Jackson said.
The winner Sunday will face top-seeded UCLA on Thursday night in Phoenix. UCLA beat Texas 53-49 on Saturday night in Anaheim, Calif.