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Martin Rickman | March 19, 2013

The shot heard 'round March

Turn on the NCAA Tournament any March, and odds are good you’ll see Bryce Drew hitting his leaning three-pointer to give No. 13 Valparaiso the win over No. 4 Ole Miss in 1998. It’s been 15 years, but the moment is as ingrained in March Madness as the Laettner shot, N.C. State over Phi Slama Jama, the Keith Smart jumper vs. Syracuse or Villanova’s improbable title run.

All of it -- the pump fake, the touch pass and the jumper with Bryce’s father and Valpo’s coach, Homer Drew, watching -- looks more like choreography than basketball in real time, a scripted moment to a storybook underdog saga that would lead to Valpo’s first and only Sweet Sixteen in school history.

But just how did the play happen? How did the principal players come together to form one of college basketball’s most memorable moments?

Scott Holman, Ole Miss Class of 1992

"The game was one of the first games that day. It was fairly early. I just remember we had a really good team that year. We were kind of looking ahead. Lining up the brackets, it looked like we were going to play Kansas, and we really wanted to face them. It seemed like we shot really poorly for most of the game, and it seemed like Valpo was right there. If we could only make some shots, we could have pulled away from them. Ansu Sesay was playing like he was drunk the night before or he was stoned. He was just terrible. We couldn’t get over the hump and take the lead. We finally got there and Sesay went to the line."

Valpo guard Jamie Sykes, who threw the inbounds pass to Bill Jenkins

"I remember this all pretty vividly. Leading up to the play, we were down two, and Bryce shot a leaning three from the corner. As soon as they grabbed the rebound, I fouled Sesay. I remember a feeling of rejection and loss at that point. We gave the game away. I thought we had pretty much lost it. It was just an internal feeling I had, I don’t know if anyone else felt that way. We lost another big game."

Chris Wade, Ole Miss Class of 2001

"I found a sportsbook/restaurant in Cancun that would be showing the game. I can’t really remember the time of day, but I remember the restaurant was pretty big and we were on the second floor. and there was TVs all around and a big crowd on the lower level watching and eating as well. I was the only one who put money on the Rebels (no one else in my group bet on sports). I put a $50 spot on the Rebels to cover. We were pretty much the only table watching the Ole Miss game.

"We had been through this. We weren’t thinking the game was over." A fight for the loose ball after Sesay misses both free throws ends with Valpo gaining possession

"Everyone else was pretty much watching other games it seemed. The noise level was pretty normal in the restaurant. If memory serves me correct, we had the game in hand most of the day. But as the game came down inside the final five minutes I remember at some point thinking, ‘Well that $50 is gone, now I just want to make sure we win the game.’

"When Ansu was going to the line, I remember thinking, ‘I wish it was Keith Carter going to the line.’ But I was fine with Su going to the line also, because he was a hell of a player, and we would be OK. At some point during his free throws I realized that every TV in the sportsbook was now watching our game."

Valpo guard Bryce Drew

"I’d missed a three-pointer right before that, and I really had a good look at it. It’s crazy, I thought everyone was really calm out there. Nobody had their heads down when Sesay was going to the line. We had been through this. We weren’t thinking the game was over."

Valpo radio play-by-play announcer Todd Ickow

"When Ole Miss went to the free throw line up two, the feeling was there was still a chance, but it was very unlikely. I could remember it going through my mind, ‘We had such a good opportunity. What a shame.’ There was still a glimmer of hope, but obviously your mind is set and there’s severe doubt it’ll happen."

Valpo coach Homer Drew

"Obviously the game was an exciting game. It was hard fought, and it was close all the way. We had run out of timeouts and didn’t have any left. With about 8 seconds to go, Bryce had a wide open shot, and he missed it."

Ole Miss guard Keith Carter, the Rebels’ leading scorer in the game with 22 points

"We had our All-American at the line. We felt confident about where we were. He misses the first. I figured we had to make the second. Then he missed it."

Richard Gober, Ole Miss Class of 1998
"That stupid damn team just kept hanging around even though we were faster, stronger and more talented in just about every aspect."

"So I'm watching this game, looking at the best Ole Miss basketball team we have ever had. They were better than our Sweet Sixteen team as far as talent goes. If they had just taken care of business in the Valpo game, they would have done some good things. That stupid damn team just kept hanging around even though we were faster, stronger and more talented in just about every aspect. So they foul our best player, Ansu Sesay, who was an OK free throw shooter. All he had to make was one free throw to make it impossible for them to win, but he clangs both of those sons of bitches. Well, you know the rest."

Wade

"After the second missed free throw, it was kind of shocking how the ball went off us and out of bounds. I mean how many times does that even happen after a missed free throw? Sometimes coaches have players miss a free throw so that the clock will start and they can’t set up a play to get off any good look at a basket. I remember thinking, ‘Great, now they get to inbound the ball, instead of throwing up a half court shot.’ What were the freaking odds of that happening?"

Valpo runs "Pacer" to perfection, a long inbound pass from Sykes to Jenkins, who touch-passes to Drew for the shot.
Carter

"In hindsight, if we had taken everyone off the line, we force them into a halfcourt shot. But we didn’t. I was on the line. When the ball comes off the rim, I didn’t think I touched it. Technically they called the ball off me. To this day, I’m still not sure if it was. But, they say the ball goes off of me."

Sykes

"When he missed the second free throw, I honestly thought the ball went off [Valpo’s] Bill Jenkins. I don’t think it was actually off Ole Miss. But they gave us the ball."

Holman

"One of the things I remember is after missing the free throws, I wondered if Valpo had any timeouts yet. If we hadn’t knocked it out of bounds, they probably wouldn’t have gotten a shot off. It went to an inbounds play. That gave them a chance to win. We must have been in the first or second row of the Ole Miss section at the arena in Oklahoma City. Everyone was just in shock. You get a guy going to the line. You just have to hit one out of two. We’ll at least go to OT, worst case. When he missed that second one. It was like, ‘Oh my god.’ Even on the inbounds, there’s no way they’re going to throw it the length of the court in 2.5 seconds."

Carter
"Fifteen years later, it’s easy to watch the replay and say, ‘We should have done this and that.’" Ansu Sesay of Ole Miss. Photo Credit: Getty Images

"We had two freshmen on the court, a senior in Sesay and two juniors in me and Jason Smith. Coach was probably thinking we didn’t need to take the timeout because that would have given Valpo time to draw up a play. Looking back on it, I was probably the wrong man on the inbound pass. It would have been better to have a 6’9 player guarding the ball. That could have helped. Hindsight is 20/20, and we had to make decisions in a split second. We had two of our better defenders on the bench for different reasons, and they weren’t in when Ansu got fouled. Those guys had hounded Bryce Drew all game. Fifteen years later, it’s easy to watch the replay and say, ‘We should have done this and that.’ It’s like in slow motion."

Wade

"Things were happening too fast to ever think we had it in the bag. Literally seconds ago we were in an advantageous situation, and now they had a Christian Laettner situation on their hands. I was just waiting for the missed shot, so we could move on with our night."

Bryce

"We had a different play called when they were shooting the free throws. The play we ended up running after the miss, it was called ‘Pacer.’ It’s a play we practiced throughout the years. We actually ran it against Western Illinois, and it didn’t work, so we had to change our personnel around. When the ball got tipped and went out of bounds, with the amount of time that went off the clock, we called it. Jamie Sykes took the ball out of bounds, and we went to our spots – with Bill Jenkins in the middle."

Homer

"We had always had a full court play for situations like this. But what made me so proud was the guys looked over to the bench and called ‘Pacer.’ That made me feel good as a teacher. They knew exactly what to do. They knew what to run. They didn’t need me to draw anything up. That gave me good peace of mind. Whether they made it or missed it, I was happy they knew what to do. When Jamie took it out, he pump-faked. Jamie was a pretty good baseball player, and he made a perfect pass to Bill. Bill caught it at the very pinnacle of his jump and did a touch pass to Bryce."

Sykes
"My mindset was the game’s over. There’s no way we’re going to win it."

"My mindset was the game’s over. There’s no way we’re going to win it. Just run the play, get the guy guarding the ball up in the air, and get the ball to Bill as best I can. It was like that Duke game earlier in the year when Shane Battier jumped up and knocked the ball down. I remembered that specifically I didn’t want to be the guy who didn’t pump fake and got the ball thrown back in his face. I made one move, then waited for [Carter] to jump and when he got to his peak, I let go of the ball. I knew I threw it well, and I just walked off to the side."

Carter

"It’s like in slow motion. Jamie Sykes throws the ball in, He pump faked me and got me in the air. I remember it seemed like the ball was in the air for a really long time. I just thought, ‘This is not good.’ Jenkins gets the ball and turns in one motion. For a split second, Jason Flanigan watched the ball instead of playing it. As he’s turning back, Bryce got behind him."

Ickow

"As the play started happening, I can just picture Bill Jenkins going up and deflecting the ball to Bryce. You can hear the inflection in my voice – wow – Bryce is going to get a good shot at winning the game. That gave him time to catch and shoot, and Bryce is open. Suddenly there’s a realization Valpo could do this. If he just hits that open look … and Bryce hit those open looks more often than not. Everything happened really quickly, but it went from no chance to a reasonable chance to a realistic chance Valpo would win this game in a span of three seconds."

Holman

"At least deny Bryce Drew the ball. He’s a pretty good player. But we didn’t do that. He got an open look. How did that happen? I just can’t believe we let him catch the ball."

Wade

"I have no idea what everyone else in the sportsbook was doing. I don’t remember anything other than concentrating on the TV in the final seconds. First off, when he caught and shot the ball, all I am thinking is, ‘Oh crap, they got a shot off that could beat us.’"

Bryce
"When I squared up to take the shot, it was automatic. I’ve taken thousands of jump shots from that spot." Bryce Drew's winning shot

"I was really the only option on that, unless the guy who caught the pass [Bill] wanted to take it in case I was covered up. When I squared up to take the shot, it was automatic. I’ve taken thousands of jump shots from that spot. I honestly thought it was going to be short when I took it."

Homer

"That little tiny fake Jamie did let Bryce streak down the sideline, and he had daylight. Bryce’s man was still chasing him, and he had a perfect chance to shoot it. I was right in line to see the shot, and it truly looked like it was going to be short. I still think the prayers of the building gave it a little bit of lift to get it over the rim."

Holman

"I had a great angle at the shot and when it went up, I knew it was in. It went from shock to anger in a matter of seconds. You start thinking: ‘I drove all the way to Oklahoma City. And got my hopes up. To watch this. God.’"

Carter

"It was a well-executed play. They ran it in practice many, many times. But I remember hearing it never worked. They knew they had to run it, and it worked. Bryce had just missed a wide-open three before that. We had all taken a deep breath and thought we avoided it. But he got another chance."

Wade

"When that shot went in, the whole sports bar exploded with cheers. I looked down on the tables below us and hands were up in the air, people slapping each other high fives and crap. One guy at our table just gave a smirk, another guy took off his hat and slammed it against the table, and I was pretty much it shock. I don’t really remember reacting at all."

Homer

"Then Bryce fell to the floor and everyone jumped on him, and I was just worried everyone would get up and be okay to play another game."

Bryce

"After that, I don’t really remember anything until I got up off the floor. I didn’t even realize I dove to the ground until I saw the replay on TV."

Sykes
"I just cracked open another beer and turned on the Nintendo 64."

"I started running down the floor as fast I could, and I was the third guy in the dogpile. It was pure elation. It just blew me away. We couldn’t believe what happened. We would run that play in practice five vs. zero, and it would never work. It was just so hard to get the timing down. To put the defense in there too? That’s impossible. That was by far the best that play ever worked."

Gober

"I would say I have never been so stunned in my life, but I am an Ole Miss fan, after, all, and I am almost certain I have seen every way a team can lose. I watched my roommate throw and break all kinds of shit in our house, and I just cracked open another beer and turned on the Nintendo 64."

Carter

"It was March Madness. It was March Madness at its finest. Unfortunately we were the team that came up on the short end of it. It is hard every March to watch it again and again. No matter how many moments we’ll have, that one will never go away. Just on a lot of different levels, if you’re an Ole Miss player or a fan, you’ll be replaying it in your head."

Ickow

"The importance of what just happened dawned on me – just how this play would be there the rest of my life and the rest of the life of Valpo basketball. I remember as it’s happening, you think, ‘Everything’s sounding good, everything’s sounding good.’ But then we go to commercial, and my thought process changed to, ‘Oh man, I hope I didn’t screw up the call.’ I got to hear myself about 15-20 minutes later, and everything was fine. But I realized the call was going to be played on highlights. I was going to have to hear this for a long time. I just was relieved everything went OK, it sounded fine, and it was a good description."

Holman
"I’ve never seen the full replay. This memory is ingrained. It’s never going away."

"I was so pissed off after the game. Just angry and disappointed. We had a book of tickets and I just sold them all to a Kansas fan for like $20. We immediately checked out of the hotel and left. It was such a terrible feeling. We just had to get out of there. They’ll show that game on ESPN Classic. I’ll turn it right off. I’ve never seen the full replay. This memory is ingrained. It’s never going away."

Homer

"It’s amazing, it’s 15 years ago, and people come up to me and tell me they remember where they were when they first saw the shot. That’s still exciting. After it was all over, and we lost to Rhode Island in the Sweet Sixteen – they say in coaching fame is fleeting – I figured no one would remember the shot. But it’s one of the special ones. We get to see it every March. So it makes it feel like it was yesterday. The nice thing is now you know the shot is going in, so it’s easy to relive it. It was a great moment for our fans and for all of college basketball except for Ole Miss fans. A lot of people were rooting for the underdog, the Cinderella, and it actually happened."

Wade

"I remember feeling embarrassed leaving that place and then going over and over all the ‘what if’s’ on the way back to the hotel. The only thing I’m thankful for was that we were in Cancun, so it was easy to forget later that night. However, today all I remember from that entire trip was that game. Maybe it was because I went to Cancun like four years in a row for spring break and all the memories blend together, but as hard as I try, I will always remember where I was on March 13th 1998. Mainly because my buddies send me a text every March 13 to remind me. Texts like: ‘Valpo dude. Valpo.’"

Bryce

"After the game, we were back in the hotel watching highlights, and we were just so excited they showed our game. We got to see the last play on SportsCenter. We were just so happy we won. We never would have dreamed they’d be playing that shot 15 years later. I look over the course of my career, and that’s the most dramatic point. That’s what people remember."

The final score of the game was Valpo 70, Ole Miss 69. Bryce Drew was drafted 16th overall in the 1998 NBA Draft and played six years for three different teams. Homer retired after the 2002 season, leaving son Scott, an assistant on the 1998 team, as the head coach.

When Scott took the head job at Baylor a year later after the Dave Bliss scandal, Homer returned to coach until 2011, when Bryce was named head coach. It was later revealed Homer was battling cancer, as was his wife Janet. In his first season, Bryce led the Crusaders to a regular season Horizon title, but the team lost to Detroit in the Horizon League Championship.

The one seed again in 2013, Valpo was hoping to be dancing in March for the first time since 2004 – when Homer was coach – and had home court through the Horizon Tournament. Trailing by two against Green Bay, senior Ryan Broekhoff took the ball down the floor with just over four seconds remaining, got to almost the same spot Bryce hit the shot against Ole Miss, and buried it. The score: 70-69. And Bryce fell to the floor, just as he did 15 years ago.

The Crusaders would use a late second half 16-0 run against Wright State in the Horizon final to secure a second round 14 vs. 3 matchup against Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament.

But Valpo wasn’t exactly about to draw up Pacer if the situation called for it.

"Pacer is not in this team’s playbook," Bryce said. "Maybe it’ll come back someday, but at this point as far as I’m concerned, it’s retired."

Design/Layout: Josh Laincz | Producer: Chris Mottram | Copy Editor: Kurt Mensching | Infographics: Justin Bopp

About the Author

Slothrop

I make words with sports happen.

You can follow me on Twitter @MartinRickman, but I understand if you don't want to. I still want to be friends.

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