On May 12, 2019, Kawhi Leonard released a high arcing shot over the outstretched fingertips of seven footer Joel Embiid. The entire sports world watched at the edge of its seat as the ball bounced four times on the rim before falling through the hoop, giving the Toronto Raptors a 92–90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in game seven of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Leonard’s heroics prompted Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan to tweet “You saw it. Why Sport is one of life’s greatest gifts. Pity the non-sports fan. He or she will never know what we know.” Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals was certainly one of the best games of 2019, but not the best. With a spot in the NCAA basketball tournament final four on the line, Virginia and Purdue played the game of the year.
My parents allowed me to skip elementary school on my birthday, and Thursday and Friday of the NCAA tournament’s round of 64. Anyone who’s watched the goosebump-inducing “One Shining Moment” tournament montages knows there’s just something special about college basketball in March. The Virginia–Purdue clash epitomized the NCAA tournament’s competitive purity, with both teams taking turns riding waves of momentum. The rollercoaster affair included 11 ties and 15 lead changes.
Ty Jerome (24 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds) and Kyle Guy (25 points and 10 rebounds) showed up in a big way for Virginia. Both stat lines would have earned a lot more chatter on SportsCenter if it weren’t for Purdue’s outstanding guard Carsen Edwards. Edwards came out on fire in the first half, adding gasoline in the second, going 10 for 19 for three and finishing with 42 points.
In a game where three stars combined to score 91 points, the biggest play was made by 5’9” true freshman Kihei Clark, who had yet to score a point. With 5.9 seconds left in regulation, Jerome went to the free throw line with Virginia trailing by three points. He made the first, then missed the second off the front rim. The ball was tipped backwards and corralled by Clark around the opposite 3-point line. What followed can only be described as an act of basketball mastery: the point guard equivalent of catching a fly with chopsticks. With the clock ticking toward zero, the freshman surveyed the court and calmly rifled a long one arm pass to Mamadi Diakite. Diakite caught the pass with less than a second on the clock and floated the ball over the outstretched arms of Purdue’s 7’3” Matt Haarms.
Nothing but nylon. Virginia went on to win 80–75 after a tightly-contested overtime period. Nine days later they would defeat Texas Tech University in overtime to win the national championship.
A game like this keeps cell phones in pockets and makes homework assignments due the next morning impossible to complete. After watching the game at a friend’s house, I drove home in silence feeling awesome. Pity the non-sports fan.