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A lot can, and did, happen in 1.8 seconds

I don’t know how they did it, but that’s precisely what was happening inside my head last night, ominous music and all.

Christian James, the unknown Oklahoma freshman who decided Friday night would be his night and that he would scoop up his teammates and carry them to the Big 12’s championship game, caught the pass at the top of the key and aimed himself at the rim. One dribble. Two steps. Up he went, uncurling the right arm that was protecting the ball through traffic so that he could roll a shot up and over the rim. There was congestion, and there was contact with West Virginia’s Devin Williams, but there was no whistle.

The ball hit the right side of the rim and fell toward the Sprint Center floor, but before it made it there, the long arms of WVU’s Jon Holton pulled it out of the air and toward his chest. He was surrounded, Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler to his right and Khadeem Lattin to his left. They both poked and swatted at it, and then James came back in bounds and knocked the ball out of Holton’s grasp and off his left foot. Holton threw those long arms down at the ball and pulled it up and toward his chest once again, and this time the pokes and swats were interrupted by a whistle.

It was John Higgins, and the official fired his right arm up into the air and then pointed it at James.

Foul. Free throws for Holton with a 68-67 lead and a mere 1.8 seconds to go. The Mountaineers would survive after losing all of a 12-point lead with 7:05 to go and coming back from a three-point deficit with 1:47 left in the day’s second semifinal.

Believe it or not, this was when the drama started, drama that managed to unbelievably and understandably overshadow everything that happened before it. Everything, like Jevon Carter’s six 3-pointers on his late grandmother’s birthday, Jaysean Paige’s high-arcing jumper for the lead with 11.1 seconds remaining, Isaiah Cousins beating the shot clock with a very deep 3 for the lead with 2:12 to go, James rescuing the Sooners from Buddy Hield’s rare quiet night inspired by WVU’s defense. One thing followed another throughout an unforgettable 40 minutes.

Yet what we’ll remember is the final 1.8 seconds. Here’s how the Mountaineers chose to recall it late Friday night.

Holton shoots 66 percent at the foul line, but he hadn’t been there all game, and he’d never been there in a moment like this one. But the Mountaineers were 10-for-10 at the line in the second half, and a celebration was quietly beginning a few feet to Holton’s right on and behind WVU’s bench.

The first attempt was long, hitting hard off the back of the rim. Holton stepped forward and looked to his right. He flicked his wrist. His coach, Bob Huggins, extended his right hand. Slow down. Holton walked away for a second and gave Paige a reminder about what to do following the second shot. Then Holton stepped back to the line, slowed down and made the second shot. Given the situation, that might not have been the best strategy.

Holton: I was pretty mad at myself for missing the first free throw. I didn’t want to miss another one.

Spangler, a former high school quarterback, took the ball to the baseline and looked for Hield, the two-time Big 12 player of the year and the nation’s second-leading scorer who was 1-for-8 for six points against WVU.

Huggins: It’s kind of a blur. You don’t want to turn him loose, but you sure don’t want to foul him. And I think that’s what our guys are thinking. They’re trying to slow him down, but at the same time they’re trying not to foul him because he’s a 90-percent free throw shooter. So I guess we take our chances, the heave from half court rather than putting him at the line for two.

Paige tried to stay between Spangler and Hield, but Hield leaned one way and then darted the other way to get open on the left side.

Paige: He kind of pushed me down a little bit. He kind of pushed me down. I don’t know if they were going to call it, but he pushed me down.

Hield is right-handed. He was moving to his left. That was fine with the Mountaineers.

Ron Everhart, assistant coach: You’re thinking, ‘Make him catch it going this way.’ And we do. Good. Then he takes two dribbles. ‘Where’s the horn? Where’s the horn?’ Then he lets it go and it’s, ‘Oh [shoot], that’s on line.’ It banks in. ‘No way.’

Hield fit in two dribbles and pushed a runner toward the basket, but he had to maneuver the ball around the arms of guard Tarik Phillip, who hurried over, and Paige, who recovered from his fall.

Phillip: Jaysean attempted to block it. Hield clutched and everything. It was a heck of a shot. But watch the replay. I tried to block it, too. He double-pumped or triple-pumped or whatever it was and he still made it.

Teyvon Myers didn’t play Friday. He was next to assistant coach Erik Martin when the play started. When it ended, he looked over at Martin.

“There’s no way that shot counted, Coach.”

“It counted, Teyvon.”

Myers: I started walking away from their bench. I started walking toward the end of our bench.

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There’s no protocol for this. No two players or coaches were doing the same thing. The crowd, peppered with fans of different teams, lost its mind. Press row was a mess. People were cheering and yelling, and that is almost acceptable given the moment.

Hield was hopping atop and then over press row and then into the crowd, and suddenly everyone in the area was rushing to that scene, cameras and cell phones up in the air, trying desperately to capture the insanity. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla had both arms above his head. “Hield! Hield! Hield! Hield!” His colleague, Brent Musberger, who had a heck of a day, tried to pull it together. “Oh, my goodness! Buddy Hield! Oh, I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! Buddy Hield! At the buzzer!”

Everhart: You could tell it was on line. He kind of had his back to our bench when he went to double-clutch it, but you could tell it was right on line. I was just hoping it was short. When it was long, I was like, ‘Oh, no. That’s going off the backboard.’ And it went in.

Daxter Miles: I thought it was a dream at first, like, ‘No, he did not just hit that shot.’

Holton: I closed my eyes, like, ‘[Frankly], the Big 12 championship, our goals, it’s all broken.’

Carter: I stood there like, ‘That didn’t just go in. No. He didn’t just make that shot. Nah. Nah, he didn’t make it.’

Phillip: I’m walking to the bench, thinking it’s over with. ‘That [shot] hit the backboard and goes in?’ My heart dropped.

Huggins stood in place for 10 or so seconds and then finally walked across the way to meet Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. They shook hands as the Oklahoma coaches and whoever wasn’t in the stands with Hield followed in line. WVU’s line wasn’t quite as long or convinced.

Everyone soon dispersed.

Everhart: Obviously, we thought they won. They came down — and we know their staff really well; they’re good guys — they came down, and we said congrats and good luck in the NCAA tournament and they wished us luck in the tournament.

Miles: I didn’t shake hands. At first the coaches started shaking hands, but I didn’t shake hands. Then I heard the crowd going, ‘No, no! It’s off, it wasn’t good.’ Then it’s like, ‘OK, let’s check the replay.’

Phillip: I’m going with my teammates who are already down the line shaking hands, and then I heard the commotion, and everyone in the back is saying, ‘No good! No good!’ I see the coaches and everyone screaming, ‘No good! Look up, look up! They’re reviewing it!’

All three officials went to the monitor. After 20 seconds, Hield came out of the crowd. By then, the Mountaineers were the ones celebrating. Hield then joined his teammates on the bench, and the mood could not have changed more dramatically than it just had. Twice.


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The Mountaineers were sure that Paige and Phillip made Hield take a little more time than he had to spare and that his shot wasn’t out of his hands in time. They looked up at the video board above the floor. They studied the people behind the scorer’s table who were watching replays on the monitors there. They wanted to believe they were safe, but they also knew Hield is the likely national player of the year, and the Mountaineers will forever believe they get the wrong side of the coin whenever it’s a toss-up, which this sure seemed to be.

Miles: When I saw it the second time, I knew we were going to get it. The first time, I was like, ‘Damn, that’s pretty close. That might still be good.’ But the second review on the big board, I knew it was no good.

Paige: I was sitting there trying to take it all in when I saw the refs go check it out. I felt a little better about it when I had a chance to see it myself. I was more confident. If it’s not out of your hand, they can’t count it. Once I saw that, I knew.

Holton: My eyes were closed. I was just praying it was no good. Once they showed the replay a couple times, my teammates were going crazy. Then I’m like, ‘Wow.’

Everhart: I was looking up just because I was curious to see it, but every time I looked at the screen, the only thing I saw was the light was on and the ball was in the air. I couldn’t tell whether it was still in his hand or not.

Carter: It was just crazy. The shot went in, and you’re thinking, ‘Man, this is what March Madness is all about.’ When we saw the replay, we saw his hand and the ball was still in his hand. I knew they weren’t going to call it.”



One minute, 57 seconds after the review started, Higgins waved off the shot. It was Holton’s turn to jump onto a courtside table. Myers picked up the Mountaineers mascot.

Huggins had to gather players and shepherd them to the handshake line, but, again, this was surreal, and it’s not over yet.

Phillip: That’s the craziest game I’ve ever been in.

Carter: It’s a win. That win is good for us now, but that’s not that we came here to do. We came here to win the Big 12 championship.

Holton: We want Kansas as bad as we wanted Oklahoma.