The play before the play began with a fly pattern, 15 feet of separation, and a ball, flying through the tension-filled Madison Square Garden air to its target and seemingly to the Elite Eight. It was caught, dribbled and raised toward an expectant rim. And…
Nobody will talk about what happened next, because what happened after what happened next was the greatest shot of the 2017 NCAA tournament, and arguably one of the great shots in NCAA tournament history. But what happened precisely 36 seconds of game time before that shot should go down as one of the great overshadowed plays of March.
There was Khalil Iverson, racing down the floor of the world’s most famous arena, about to put Wisconsin up four with 36 seconds to play. There were Wisconsin’s bench players, rising to celebrate as Iverson rose toward the rim. But there, out of nowhere, came Canyon Barry with closing speed and a chase-down block that saved Florida’s season:
As Iverson slowed to catch the slightly underthrown pass, Barry made up the 15-foot gap. As the Badgers forward, normally an explosive jumper, laboriously leapt toward the basket, Barry swept around him and turned the ball back toward a teammate rather than out of bounds.
“It was an instinct play,” Barry said after the game. “At first, I thought I was going to have to foul.”
“I channeled my inner-LeBron James,” he also said.
Indeed, Barry’s play was the human version of The Block, James’ breathtaking sprint to the opposite side of the rim to swat an Andre Iguodala shot off the backboard in Game 7 of the NBA finals. The pace of Barry’s play doesn’t compare to James’, of course, and his athleticism is not as mind-blowing, but the heroic nature was similar.
Chris Chiozza’s following of the play shouldn’t be lost, either. The ball fell into his hands. Ten seconds later, he whizzed past Iverson with an in-and-out dribble and tied the game:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 25, 2017
All of this will be lost, though, because Chiozza won the game at the buzzer with a running, flailing, falling, one-handed 3-pointer that one-upped Zak Showalter’s eerily similar shot at the end of regulation. Friday night at the Garden will be remembered as a game of two shots. Photo libraries are full of classic pictures of both. Videos have been watched by millions. Chiozza is the hero.
But don’t forget the play before the play, the block that made the buzzer-beating hysteria possible.
More March Madness coverage on Yahoo Sports:
• How Chris Chiozza hit the shot of the NCAA tournament and saved Florida’s season
• These photos of Florida’s buzzer-beater are almost as incredible as the shot itself
• Billion-dollar bust: De’Aaron Fox upstages Lonzo Ball to lead Kentucky past UCLA
• Commercials during March Madness mistakenly thank Republicans for repealing Obamacare
• The Internet loves LaVar Ball memes after UCLA’s loss to Kentucky