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Andy Wittry | | December 20, 2022

NCAA Video Vault: Jordan Poole's March Madness buzzer beater from all angles

Jordan Poole's 2018 buzzer beater to beat Houston, from every angle

"Houston's not gonna put anybody on the man that's inbounding."

"So the pass is gonna come from Livers. He rifles it right in front of us to midcourt...extra pass...AND IT GOES, FOR THE WIN! THE 3-POINTER, BY JORDAN POOLE! A freshman...has won it...for the Wolverines!"

That was CBS' Brad Nessler's call of Michigan guard Jordan Poole's game-winning buzzer-beater over No. 6 seed Houston in the second round of the 2018 NCAA tournament โ€” tied for the fifth-longest game-winning buzzer beater in the history of the NCAA men's basketball tournamentย โ€” Michigan's 11th win in a row, en route to the Wolverines' eventual run to the national championship game for the second time in six seasons.

Let's start with the fun part: the celebration

It looked like a scene from a schoolyard game of tag.

Poole was on his back when the shot went through the hoop as the final buzzer sounded, but he quickly propped himself back up on his feet, before teammate Moritz Wagner, arms outstretched, could reach him.

Then the chase was on.

Peter G. Aiken | USA TODAY Sports Images Michigan's Jordan Poole celebrates his buzzer-beater over Houston.

Poole took off towards the opposite baseline, but not to anything in particular. No, he was running from something.

Well, someone.

Actually, many someones.

Peter G. Aiken | USA TODAY Sports Images Michigan's Jordan Poole celebrates his buzzer-beater over Houston.

They included his four teammates who were integral parts of Michigan's final possession โ€”ย Isaiah Livers, the trigger man serving as the inbounder who delivered the one-armed baseball pass to ... Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who was wearing a pair of pink sneakers and who was the recipient of Livers' entry pass, before giving a slight shimmy, taking two dribbles, one with each hand, before delivering a jump pass to Poole ... and while that pass was mid-air, Poole received something of a screen, intentional or not, from a backpedaling Ibi Watson, a seldom-used sophomore who played just three minutes in the game and who got a taste of a deep NCAA tournament run that unfortunately never materialized two seasons later for Watson and his Dayton Flyers, whom he'd joined as a transfer and which won their final 20 games in the 2020 season before its cancellation ... and of course there was Wagner, the brash baller from Berlin, who paced the team in scoring at 14.6 points per game that season and whose 39.4 3-point percentage led the team, yet who served as nothing more than a screen-setter (twice over) and a decoy on the final play.

Peter G. Aiken | USA TODAY Sports Images Michigan's Jordan Poole runs from Mortiz Wagner.

So, Wagner and Watson and Livers and Abdur-Rahkman gave chase, as did the players who were on Michigan's bench, the ones who Poole later said served as critical fact-checkers for the author of the dramatic story.

"After the shot went in, I kind of didn't know it went in and I looked at the bench and saw everybody was celebrating," Poole said in the postgame press conference.

The bench emptied, like a classroom letting out for recess. That meant that Duncan Robinson, the Division III transfer from Williams College who played for an NCAA title in 2018 and later an NBA title in 2020, and Charles Matthews, the Michigan player who was the most highly ranked by recruiting experts coming out of high school, could both return to the floor after each player fouled out during the game.

Peter G. Aiken | USA TODAY Sports Images Michigan's Jordan Poole runs from teammates.

So Robinson and Matthews joined Wagner and Watson, Livers and Abdur-Rahkman as they chased Poole across midcourt, past the March Madness logo, in front of the Houston bench, the one full of hands on heads and heads in hands, they chased Poole as he ran around a security guard, the one who slid left once, as if DJ Casper had told him, "Sliiide to the left," in junior high dance and wedding reception anthem "Cha Cha Slide."

They chased him past press row and around Houston's Devin Davis โ€” and in two players' cases over Davis, as the Houston senior picked his head off his right hand to check out the commotion for an instant, before returning to his prone state. Davis, with four seconds left and with Houston leading 63-61, had missed two free throws, which set up Moritz Wagner's defensive rebound, the Wolverines' timeout and final play call, and the events described above.

Just feet away from Davis, where one college career had just ended, is where the chase for Poole ended.

"I was always thinking, like, if I hit a shot like that, I didn't want to get tackled," Poole said, "so I was kind of just trying to avoid everybody but I gave up and they tackled me and it was an amazing experience."

Kelly Ross | USA Today Sports Images Michigan's Jordan Poole runs from teammates.

Breaking down the play

The play โ€” the two passes, two dribbles, the one shot and the 3.6 seconds โ€” that resulted in the absolute elation for the Wolverines and the ultimate despair of the Cougars wasn't an in-the-moment brainchild of Michigan coach John Beilein or one of his assistant coaches. It had been practiced, repeatedly.

"We worked on that play thousands of times in practice and we executed it perfectly, especially from the inbound pass and getting it to our senior guard, Muhammed," Poole said afterwards. "'Ham could've put the shot up, easy, but he had the confidence to find me and I just knocked the shot down."

Given the amount of time remaining and its two-point lead, Houston elected not to guard Livers, who was inbounding the ball. That left five defenders guarding four Michigan players. The Cougars played something of a three-quarters-court zone defense, with Rob Gray as the only Houston player in the backcourt, although he mostly had his back to Livers.

Poole curled from the left wing of the far side of the court and he took three steps in the backcourt, briefly getting Gray's attention, who had waited for Abdur-Rahkman, who was making a similar cut behind Poole. However, once past Gray, Abdur-Rahkman then cut towards the ball. Gray, seeing Wagner having set a screen for each of the two Michigan cutters, appeared to be caught off-guard when Rahkman broke free to catch the inbounds pass.

Livers, with both feet planted firmly, used all his might to rifle a pass, baseball-style, to Abdur-Rahkman. Wagner had made a similar cut towards Livers as a safety valve, but he wasn't needed. Aburd-Rahkman was parallel to the scorer's table, almost in line with Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, when he caught the pass, because with less than four seconds remaining, he needed to be ready to make his move.

Initially, Houston actually had three defenders in position to swarm Abdur-Rahkman if he got close enough, with Galen Robinson and Davis ready to provide help-side support if Michigan dribbled across midcourt and to the left. But Abdur-Rahkman had other intentions. With his right foot planted squarely at midcourt, just below the lower "A" in the "March Madness" logo, he rose, legs symmetrical, and found Poole, who had darted from the right corner to the right wing, hands ready for the catch. There was about 0.8 seconds left on the clock when Poole released his first and only 3-pointer of the game, and his 100th attempt of the season.

Houston's Corey Davis was the nearest defender and his route to Poole was just a little bit longer because of Watson, who, facing Michigan's basket and not Houston's, had been backpedaling towards the baseline when Abdur-Rahkman passed to Poole. He may have never even been aware that Davis was right behind him, but Watson's presence created a little extra clutter for the Cougars guard, who rose up with both arms extended, contesting but not fouling, like every good coach would preach.

But it didn't matter.

Poole sank the shot, with both legs extended, like the Jumpman logo that carries Michael Jordan's likeness โ€” a fitting depiction for a school that has a deal with Jordan Brand.

Twitter reacts to Poole's buzzer-beater

Here's what your Twitter timeline may have looked like around 12:17 a.m. ET on March 18, 2018.

Watch the play again

Below, you can watch every angle of Poole's buzzer-beater.

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