As March Madness is almost here, we take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of the best viral moments in NCAA tournament history. Here is Banners on The Parkway’s take on “Crawford’s gotta hurry”:
March is about moments. I don’t remember who won the tournament the year it happened, but I’ll never forget Pacer and Bryce Drew sinking Ole Miss. I can barely remember that they were playing Kansas, but Ali Farokmanesh pulling up on the fast break for the kill will live in my mind with Tyus Edney’s full court sprint, the Princeton Tigers, and Kris Jenkins.
Not every school has a March Madness moment. Loyola Marymount does, but Texas really doesn’t. Cincinnati is occasionally in the tournament, but if they have crowning moment, it’s conspicuously absent from anything CBS has ever compiled. Xavier, though, a team that has yet to grace the promised land of the Final Four, has one of the best of all.
There are 121 games that NCAA’s official March Madness YouTube channel has chosen to enshrine forever with a full game replay. Not highlights, not the last second shot, the entire game. The oldest stretches back to 1967, the rest of the top 30 are filled with a rotating cast from the latest tournament. That leaves room for 1.6 games from the other 55 years of coverage. In that pantheon stands Xavier v. Kansas State, one of the greatest games, and greatest moments in March history.
It’s March 25th, 2010. Xavier has a new coach walking up and down the sideline in the NCAA tournament (wearing a suit that now would be consider eight sizes too big). Sean Miller, the rising young star who had coached the Musketeers for the last five years, had left for Arizona, a program he compared to a Lexus to Xavier’s Buick. Chris Mack, one of his assistants, now had the reigns of the team. Xavier was on the way up. They had made two Elite Eight’s in six years, were riding a streak of tournament appearances, and reached the Sweet 16 the year before. Whether the Musketeers were a flash in the pan or a new power depended upon the youthful bald man on the sideline.
Chris Mack wasn’t yet the guy who left Louisville under a cloud this year. Xavier was his first head coaching gig. His pedigree was decent, but not incredible. Musketeer fans had hoped for a big name when Miller left, what they get was a guy with something to prove. The cupboard wasn’t bare for Mack, though. A highly touted transfer from Indiana named Jordan Crawford was joining the team, along with a player still known as Terrell Holloway. junior Dante Jackson and senior Jason Love added toughness.
Xavier had struggled to start the season but caught fire in the A10 regular season. A loss in the second round of the conference tournament hadn’t dented X’s at-large hopes and the Musketeers entered the tournament as a six seed. In the first round the Minnesota Golden Gophers were running Xavier close at the half before Crawford exploded for 17 of his 28 in the second half. In the second round Crawford went for 27 to drag Xavier past Pittsburgh in a three point game that had hearts in throats. More tension was yet to come.
In the Sweet 16 Xavier got Kansas State. The Wildcats were good. No, the Wildcats were great. Jacob Pullen had his team at sixth in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and a two seed in the tournament. They weren’t a dark horse Final Four pick, they were a legitimate national title contender. To get to the Elite Eight they would have to knock off a rookie coach and a team led by a guy playing with a t shirt under his jersey. Eight minutes into the game, KSU led by 15. It looked like the Wildcats were a team of destiny on their way to another steamrolling win. Xavier had other ideas.
The Musketeers came roaring back. Terrell “Tu” Holloway started burying three pointers, a tenacious Dante Jackson jarred one and harried sharpshooter Denis Clemente into a rough shooting night. By halftime, Xavier led. A 15 point deficit was a one point lead. For the rest of the game no team had a lead that crept higher than seven. An imminently beatable Butler loomed in the next round and both teams were scrapping ever deeper. It was the kind of the game that leads to thousands of calories in nervous consumption. With two minutes to play, the game was tied.
For a moment to be great there has to be something more than just the game that elevates it. No one remembers The Drive if it happens in November. The US beating the USSR in 1980 would be momentous, but “Do your believe in miracles?” makes it unforgettable. Kirk Gibson hit a lot of home runs, but one on a bad leg in the World Series created an iconic moment. For Xavier’s iconic March moment, there was a man on hand that helped make elevate a great game into something sublime.
Gus Johnson’s enthusiasm for sports cannot be questioned. When someone tells you to do something that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, they are surely thinking of Gus. Johnson is that rare person who is talented and hard working, but never seems to lose an almost child like excitement. As Xavier and Kansas State neared the end of regulation, Gus was losing his mind, and his voice, calling the game from the sideline.
Tu Holloway would become a Xavier legend, and it was him who bloodlessly drained three free throws to force overtime. With that last period waning, it was also Holloway who had the ball again. This time, though, he was in trouble. With their yet to be hero out of options, Xavier fans had only the man of the moment to turn to.
JORDAN CRAWFORD!! you are ridiculous!! Xavier-Kansas State in 2OT— SOTA Jefe (@jj62185) March 26, 2010
Tu Holloway turned the corner at the top of the key with his team down three and 11 seconds left. He hit a double team that cut him off, already in the air, he threw the ball backward toward mid court. Jordan Crawford was waiting. With eight seconds on the clock he gathered the ball inside the center circle. Gus’ voice was strained to the max and he took a beat to catch himself, just spitting out a “Crawford...”
Jordan Crawford took two dribbles to his right toward NCAA tournament immortality. As he gathered off his second dribble, two things happened. One was a screen from Jason Love that gave Crawford some space and left Love’s man, 6-8 Curtis Kelly, staring at a guard 40 feet from the basket. Surely not. The other thing that happened was that Gus Johnson, briefly visible rising from his seat on press row screamed “Crawford’s gotta hurry!!!” a his voice gave out.
“OOOOOOHHHHH.... OHHHH NOOOO!” Gus can’t form words as a shot from, conservatively, 35 feet finds nothing but cords. In the standard definition of the time Crawford is a perfectly shallow c, his body bent to find just a bit more lift from legs that will play 46 minutes. His hand has snapped all the way through as Kelly desperately lunges for a shot he never imagined would come from there. Jason Love, relentless, is sprinting for the rim. The other seven players are poised, briefly motionless, staring at the arc of the ball. It’s a masterpiece of college basketball. A moment frozen in time where a player on a blinding hot streak, an announcer overwhelmed with excitement, and a team that never said die came together perfectly.
If this were Hollywood Xavier would win this game and go on to the Final Four. It isn’t, and they didn’t. Jordan Crawford left for the NBA after the season, Tu Holloway went on to become Xavier’s icon, Chris Mack would become the team’s best coach ever. For one day, in one game in March of 2010, they all came together to make March magic. You can have Christian Laettner, give me Jordan Crawford from the logo and Gus Johnson coming to his feet.
Jordan Crawford sends the Xavier-Kansas State game to double OT with a ridiculous three...unbelievable— Joe Arancio (@LJ_Nomad) March 26, 2010