Three years ago today, Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite made a play that Virginia fans will never forget.
It will be remembered so well that it is probably not necessary to remind UVA fans how the buzzer had sounded and Virginia still trailed by two points on the scoreboard as the ball sailed through the air. In a way, Virginia’s season was over.
Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter are rightfully heralded as the leaders of Virginia’s title run, but the 2019 National Championship does not happen without the pivotal contributions of Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite. In that moment, they were the two most important players to ever wear the orange and blue.
With Virginia trailing No. 3 seed Purdue 70-68 with 5.9 seconds remaining, Ty Jerome left his second free throw just a bit short and it went off the front of the rim. Mamadi Diakite managed to work his way into the middle of the paint and tapped the rebound out to the three-point line, where he thought one of his teammates would be standing.
Instead, the ball went sailing across mid-court and into the UVA back court. Kihei Clark turned on the afterburners and chased down the ball. By the time he collected it and turned, he found himself standing at his own three-point line with just three measly seconds remaining on the clock. Three seconds separating the Boilermakers from a trip to the Final Four. Three seconds separating the Cavaliers from yet another heartbreaking NCAA Tournament loss.
Clark, a true freshman, was faced with the impossible task of finding a way to get the ball into the basket 60 feet away with the entire season on the line. As Clark began to move back towards half court, he had two veteran teammates, Kyle Guy to his left and Ty Jerome to his right, screaming for Clark to pass them the ball.
Clark ignored Guy and Jerome, as he had already spotted his target.
Rather than passing the ball to Guy or Jerome for a low-percentage three-point attempt from well beyond the arc, or putting up his own desperation heave from half court, Clark, the smallest player on the floor, had the vision to see Mamadi Diakite open near the right wing.
Clark feels a one-handed push pass 50 feet down the floor, making sure to lead the pass ever so slightly so as to draw Diakite towards the basket. The pass could not have been more accurate, as the ball hit Diakite’s hands right near his head in what is called the “shot pocket”, making it so Diakite could go right up with the shot as soon as the ball reached him. It was only because Clark’s pass was so precise that Diakite even had enough time to get the shot off.
Clark’s pass is one of the most impressive plays in the history of the sport, just as Diakite’s shot is one of the clutchest in NCAA Tournament history.
The shot was no gimme.
The ball was in Diakite’s hands for only a fraction of a second – if he had taken even a tenth of a second longer, he wouldn’t have gotten it off in time. He was somewhat of an awkward distance away from the basket – a little further away from the hoop than he would be for most of his typical shots in the paint area. Not to mention, he had to hit his shot over the contest of Purdue’s 7’3″ center Matt Haarms. With his momentum carrying him towards the basket, Diakite put just the right amount of touch on the ball that it went over the arms of Haarms and into the basket, touching all twines after the buzzer sounded.
NCAA March Madness made a great video telling the story of the play, including quotes from Tony Bennett and several Virginia players:
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That shot punctuated regulation of what was already a legendary NCAA Tournament game. Carsen Edwards scored 42 points and hit ten three-pointers, breaking the record for most three-pointers in a single NCAA Tournament run with 28 made threes. No matter what Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers threw at Edwards defensively, they could not stop him. Their only hope was to keep up with him.
Behind 24 points and four three-pointers from Ty Jerome and 25 points and five threes from Kyle Guy, the Cavaliers did just that. Edwards went back-and-forth with Jerome and Guy in the second half of a game that was an instant classic even before the Clark-to-Diakite miracle play that sent the game into overtime.
In overtime, Edwards hits a runner in the paint to give the Boilermakers the lead with 42 seconds remaining. De’Andre Hunter responded with a strong drive and a tough layup on the other end to put UVA back in front with 26 seconds left.
Edwards attempted to hit his 11th three-pointer of the game on a tough step-back that was well-contested by Clark and it missed just short. Guy came down with the rebound and hit two clutch free throws, some nice foreshadowing for the Final Four. On Purdue’s last possession, Edwards threw an errant pass out of bounds to seal the victory for Virginia.
Even if the game was just a random regular season contest between non-conference opponents, it would have been one of the most entertaining games in college basketball history. When you add in the magnitude of the event – the stakes of two teams fighting for their first Final Four appearance since the 1980s – it goes down as one of the greatest college basketball games ever.
You can watch the full game here:
The victory feels Tony Bennett to his first Final Four as a head coach and UVA’s first Final Four since 1984. Of course, Virginia won its next two games, also in dramatic and heart-stopping fashion, to win the first National Championship in program history and completing the ultimate redemption story.
See more Virginia men’s basketball news and content: Virginia Men’s Basketball on Sports Illustrated
See more Virginia sports news and content: Virginia Cavaliers on Sports Illustrated
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