As with every season, 2018-19 gave us a litany of classic college basketball games to enjoy. This list is pretty simple: we remembered the 10 best mid-major games from the season and wrote about them below. Then we realized there were more than 10 great ones so we added another.
1. Furman 76, Villanova 68 (OT)
In a classic display of buy game brutality, the Furman Paladins took down the defending National Champions in a thrilling overtime game. Despite coming in with a 4.7 percent chance to win the game on KenPom, Furman outplayed Villanova for the entire second half. While the Wildcats’ Eric Paschall and Phil Booth combined to shoot 5-of-24 from three, Furman star Matt Rafferty went for 15 points and 13 rebounds as the Paladins dominated the glass and the paint. Furman missed a chance to win the game in regulation, but was too good in the overtime period and completely shut down Villanova’s offense. The upset was big enough to get Furman ranked in the AP Poll, even if it didn’t have too many long-term implications.
2. Gonzaga 89, Duke 87
Remember this instant classic from the Maui Invitational? The Zion Williamson vs. Rui Hachimura matchup produced a great game and proved Duke was not an invincible juggernaut. Gonzaga led for much of the contest, but Duke made a furious comeback to make it a close game late. Gonzaga clung to an 89-87 win after a chaotic (and entirely unsuccessful) late-game sequence.
3. Central Connecticut 93, Maine 90 (2OT)
Believe it or not, I watched this game live on ESPN3 (shoutout to my guy Joe Wilkinson at SI.com for not letting me sleep on the Black Bears that day). Maine, one of the worst teams in the nation this year, was a huge underdog against Central Connecticut, but that didn’t stop the Black Bears’ Sergio El Darwich from hitting two ridiculous threes to send the game to overtime and double-overtime. Central Connecticut somehow survived this and won thanks to a runner from Tyler Kohl.
4. Presbyterian 103, Gardner-Webb 101 (OT)
You might think that Gardner-Webb’s win over Radford to make the NCAA Tournament or even its stunning first half against Virginia should make this list, but its completely ridiculous game against Presbyterian in February was actually the best game the Runnin’ Bulldogs played this season. The game ranked No. 1 in KenPom’s excitement score for good reason. The scoring in this game was ridiculous. Both teams averaged over 1.2 points per possession, and there were 10 scorers in double digits.
After a thrilling back-and-forth game, it all came down to dramatic clutch free throws. Gardner-Webb’s David Efianayi made three straight to tie the game at 90-90 at the end of regulation, but Presbyterian’s Francois Lewis outdid him in overtime. With the Blue Hose down 101-97 with under 15 seconds left, Lewis canned a three, the Blue Hose forced a steal with one second left, and then Lewis was fouled while shooting a buzzer-beater. Lewis calmly hit all three foul shots to ensure a Presbyterian upset.
5. Wofford 107, Samford 106 (OT)
Fletcher Magee, Nathan Hoover and Storm Murphy have been involved in some SoCon classics in their careers, but this game against Samford was surely one of the best. Wofford, vying for an undefeated season in a stacked SoCon, was given a huge test by the Samford Bulldogs. Samford’s Brandon Austin could not miss (31 points, 11/15 from the field) and Wofford was outgunned offensively for the first time all season. Samford found itself in a commanding position late. Down 91-87 with 30 seconds left, Hoover and Magee both hit huge threes that eventually tied the game, and then the Terriers came up with a huge stop on defense to go to overtime.
Samford continued to play well in overtime, matching Wofford shot-for-shot. However, Murphy finally won it for the Terriers with a crazy buzzer-beating fadeaway jumper that gave Wofford a 107-106 win. Maybe he should’ve been drawn up for some of the late game plays against Kentucky...sigh.
6. Harvard 98, Columbia 96 (3OT)
Any triple-overtime game at least deserves a look on this list, and the Harvard-Columbia game from February fit the bill. The story of the game was Harvard’s Bryce Aiken, who scored 44 points, including an insane off-balance three with 1.6 seconds left to force double-overtime.
Harvard pulled out the game in the end of triple-overtime, surviving two last-second heaves from Columbia.
7. Western Illinois 79, South Dakota State 76
This game illustrated all that is great and terrible about conference tournaments. Mike Daum and South Dakota State dominated the Summit League in the regular season. Western Illinois finished eighth and lost to SDSU 100-56 and 86-66 in the regular season.
But the Leathernecks showed no signs of fear. They jumped out to a double-digit lead and survived a last-second three to score their biggest win of the season. For Daum and South Dakota State, it was heartbreak, but the drama was unparalleled.
8. Murray State 76, Jacksonville State 74
There’s never enough Ja Morant content on Mid-Major Madness. His OVC semifinal performance against Jacksonville State, while not as dominant as the win over Marquette, was surely the most dramatic. With Murray State needing a win to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament, the Racers got everything they could handle from a gritty Jacksonville State team. The Gamecocks and Racers played a back-and-forth struggle in an electric atmosphere in Evansville (with Magic Johnson in attendance, no less). But after the Gamecocks took the lead with less than a minute to go, Ja Morant did this:
9. Auburn 78, New Mexico State 77
Trigger warning for Aggies fans:
This game was pure agony. New Mexico State brought its A-game against Auburn. Everything seemed set up for a classic 12/5 upset. Then, the last few minutes happened. There’s a novella to be written in the last seconds of this game. There were the Auburn misses. There was New Mexico State passing up a game-tying layup, then getting bailed out with Auburn fouling a three-point shooter. Then...misery for the Aggies.
This set up Auburn to make a run to the Final Four, where it once again fouled a three-point shooter at the end of the game. And we all know how that worked out.
10. Norfolk State 80, Alabama 79 (OT)
Surprisingly, it was the NIT that provided some of the biggest postseason upsets of 2018-19. Norfolk State stunned Alabama, coming back from a seven-point halftime deficit to win in overtime. The game also ensured Avery Johnson would get fired from Alabama.
11. Lipscomb 94, North Carolina State 93
The NIT also provided one of the wildest finishes of the year. Lipscomb came into its second-round matchup against NC State with much to prove after losing to Liberty in the ASUN final. NC State, also out of the tournament, still tried mightily to win in front of its home crowd. Torin Dorn put up 34 points, but it was easily matched by Lipscomb’s Garrison Mathews, who scored 44 points with eight made threes. And then, the ending...which simply must be enjoyed.
The ending of Lipscomb-NC State was WILD pic.twitter.com/AkFvbjUTFj— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) March 28, 2019
Honorable mentions: UC Irvine def. Kansas State, Maryland def. Belmont, Wofford def. UNC Greensboro, and many, many more.