From mad dash buzzer beaters to agonizingly close tip-ins, the 2019 NCAA Tournament has had its fair share of dramatics in some of the most pivotal moments. In traditional March Madness fashion, it’s been a tournament that has been full of heart-pounding dramatics. So, how on Earth do we narrow down a definitive list of the 2019 tournament’s best games? From an Elite 8 OT instant classic to a near-upset of the tournament’s most talented team, read on as we rank the top 5 games of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
1 Duke vs. 4 Virginia Tech (Sweet 16)
5 Auburn vs. 12 New Mexico State (First Round)
2 Kentucky vs. 5 Auburn (Elite 8)
3 LSU vs. 6 Maryland (Second Round)
The first half of 1 Virginia vs. 16 Gardner-Webb (First Round)
Top 5 Games
#5: 2 Tennessee vs. 3 Purdue (Sweet 16)
Final Score: Purdue 99, Tennessee 94 (OT)
Up 2 in the closing seconds of regulation, Tennessee was primed for just their second Elite 8 appearance in program history until a foul on a corner three attempt from Carsen Edwards changed all that. With 1.7 seconds to go, Edwards drilled the final two of three free throw attempts to knot it up at 82 and send the game to overtime.
Thanks to the new PI review rules, this “foul” call with 1.7 seconds left would be overturned in the NFL pic.twitter.com/NU6Jz8Gb2W
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 29, 2019
The foul call upset many and has unfortunately overshadowed Tennessee clawing back from an 18-point deficit with 16 minutes to play as well as Purdue’s Ryan Cline having the game of his life.
Tennessee looked dead in the water for the overwhelming majority, with Purdue frustrating Tennessee to just 28 first half points. But the Vols found their groove in the second half after erupting for 52 second-half points. Tennessee held multiple leads in the final minutes but were unable to punch their ticket through to the Elite 8.
Ryan Cline meanwhile connected on 7-for-10 shooting from deep en route to a career-high 27 points. As much as Carsen Edwards and his 29 points were key, Purdue doesn’t get to their first Elite 8 in 19 years without Cline’s brilliant (and at times unconscious) shooting. It was a game of three-point shooting excellence (a combined 27 made threes) that made for scintillating tourney television and Grade-A drama.
#4: 2 Tennessee vs. 10 Iowa (Second Round)
Final Score: Tennessee 83, Iowa 77 (OT)
Sticking with the Vols, they barely survived a massive collapse of their own a round prior to nearly knocking off Purdue. Tennessee was putting the hurt on Iowa at the half, up by a commanding 49-28 advantage. The Volunteers led by as many as 25, and unfortunately for Iowa they switched to a zone too late into the game which ultimately led to their inability to get past Tennessee. SEC Player of the Year and All-American Grant Williams stepped up in OT to help the Vols narrowly escape the Hawkeyes by six. Iowa came tantalizingly close to tying the tournament record for biggest comeback in a win (25 points) but instead were saddled with a second-round exit. Meanwhile for Tennessee, Rick Barnes helped guide the school to its first Sweet 16 appearance in five years.
#3: 1 Duke vs. 2 Michigan State (Elite 8)
Final Score: Michigan State 68, Duke 67
This back-and-forth slugfest featured tons of first-half runs, which included a 12-0 Duke spurt followed by 13 straight Spartan points to end the first half. The stars were out as First Team AP All-American Cassius Winston propelled Sparty with 20 points, 10 assists and four steals in the win. Xavier Tillman contributed 19 points and former walk-on Kenny Goins hit the eventual game-winning three in the closing minute. Zion Williamson went for 24 points, 14 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks in the loss, in addition to R.J. Barrett’s 21, 6, and 6 effort. It was a game that featured an astonishing 16 separate lead changes and led to Michigan State making their first trip back to the Final Four since 2015 and ninth Final Four appearance in program history. The Duke loss meant Coach K’s dream recruiting class (featuring perhaps the top two overall picks in the upcoming NBA Draft) could not even get to the Final Four. Duke was the heavy tournament favorite to cut down the nets prior to tourney time, making the win one of the most significant in Michigan State’s already storied history.
#2: 1 Duke vs. 9 UCF (Second Round)
Final Score: Duke 77, UCF 76
Despite all the talent Duke had, it’s remarkable they even got past the second round. That’s because before they had to sweat it out against ACC foe Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16, they had to sell their souls to get past an upstart and upset-minded 9-seed in UCF. While 7-foot, 6-inch Tacko Fall got all the headlines (and rightfully so, I mean LOOK AT THIS DUDE), it was Aubrey Dawkins who stole the show for UCF. Dawkins, the son of UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins (a Duke standout in his playing days), absolutely torched Duke to the tune of 32 points on an efficient 12-of-18 shooting. But it was his agonizing near-make on a tip-in in the closing seconds that will be the lasting memory for Dawkins and UCF. Down one, UCF legitimately came THIS CLOSE to pulling off one of the biggest tournament upsets of the decade.
UCF was this close to winning. Duke was this close to losing.
Only in March. pic.twitter.com/Zqh8isZQSP
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 24, 2019
Zion Williamson was remarkable in the win, playing all 40 minutes and tallying 32 points, 11 boards, and four assists in Duke’s narrow win. Despite being outscored 40-33 in the second half, Duke was able to sneak into their fourth Sweet 16 in the last five years. As heart-breaking as it was to watch UCF’s upset bid drift off the rim in the final seconds, the waterworks would flow even harder in the locker room postgame.
“We end in tears…that’s because we’ve invested so much in each other.
— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) March 25, 2019
It was an instant classic and the tournament’s most compelling game until…
#1: 1 Virginia vs. 3 Purdue (Elite 8)
Final Score: Virginia 80, Purdue 75 (OT)
Oh. My. GOD. Where to even start with this one. How about Carsen Edwards? All he did was single-handedly put the entire Purdue student body and alumni association on his back as he hit for 42 points including a ridiculous 10 (yes, TEN) three-pointers. The dude was hitting from distances that would even make an ’08 Steph Curry blush. I mean seriously, look at where he’s pulling up from!
Edwards finished with 42 of Purdue’s 75 points. No other Boilermaker had more than seven. Virginia threw two guys at Edwards and it still never seemed to matter. It was one of the most amazing scoring displays in NCAA Tournament history and was nearly enough to have his one-man wrecking crew effort help Purdue get back to the Final Four for the first time in 39 years.
And then there’s Virginia, in particular Kyle Guy. The Third-Team All-American was unusually anemic from three to start the tournament and tweaked his ankle at the end of a listless first half for the Hoos. But he came out of the half firing, drilling two quick threes, and finished with 25 points (21 of which came after that ankle tweak). Ty Jerome was clutch with 24 points and Mamadi Diakite made the back-tap heard round the world.
Let’s set the scene: with 17 seconds to go and Purdue up two points, Ryan Cline, Purdue’s Sweet 16 hero, made the first free throw to push the Boilermakers’ lead to three. He bricked the second and on the other end, Ty Jerome drew a foul with 5.9 seconds to go. Jerome, a 73% free throw shooter, hit the first and had to intentionally miss the second. What happened next was perhaps the most level-headed mad dash you’ll ever seen in college hoops. Who am I kidding, words can’t do justice to what we witnessed in the final 5.9 seconds of regulation with Virginia down a pair.
After surrendering the opening bucket of OT, Virginia scored 10 of the game’s final 13 points to punch their tickets to their first Final Four since 1984. A year after becoming the first 1-seed to ever lose (let alone be completely dismantled) to a 16-seed, what sweet redemption for this Virginia program to respond in such a victorious manner. Between the back-and-forth second battle between Edwards and Guy, Edwards’ all-time great tourney performance and that absurd final 5.9 seconds and subsequent OT-forcing buzzer-beater from Diakite, this one goes down as not only the best game of the 2019 NCAA Tournament… but perhaps one of the greatest tourney games of the new millennium.