All-Time Greatest Point Spread Finishes - No. 1
by Josh Nagel - 01/09/2009
This was the $30 million miracle heard around the sports betting world and, for some of us, our ears are still ringing from the memory.
The $30 million was the estimated amount that swung from one set of gamblers to another when the most seemingly meaningless half-court heave banged in off the glass and sent scores of gamblers into an abyss of misery.
Duke's last field goal of the 2004 Final Four semifinal proved that even when the Blue Devils lose a game, they find a way to make a lasting imprint. This ending gave Duke haters more ammunition for the cause, as even many of those who bet on the Devils were left empty handed and shaking their heads. At least everyone got a good story out of it.
Score: Connecticut 79, Duke 78
Date: April 3, 2004
Spread: Connecticut -2
Why it was memorable: For Chris Duhon's half-court prayer that seemed to take an eternity to come down. When it finally did - through the hoop - the buzzer-beating three-pointer allowed Duke to cover the two-point spread in a most unlikely way after an unusual sequence of events set the stage for the spoiler.
Connecticut seemed to be the logical pick here for several reasons. In short, the Huskies had the better team that season, with All Americans Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon leading the way. Duke had one of its lesser-talented but gritty teams, so it was not a huge surprise to see Shelden Williams and company in another Final Four.
But conventional wisdom suggested that Duke would hang around for a while but ultimately succumb to the more athletic and gifted Huskies. The line was an interesting one, as well. This looked like one of those rare occasions in which the public was likely to back the underdog based on Duke's reputation, and there was apparent value in laying just a basket with Connecticut.
It was tempting to bet the money line here at -135 but, then again, if you can't lay two points here, you really need to re-think whether to back the Huskies. The irony is that many bettors took Duke on the money line, which left both sides anguishing after the wild finish.
The game was predictably tight but unexpectedly marred by poor shooting on both sides for most of the way. Duke actually built an eight-point lead in the second half before going stone cold, allowing the Huskies to take command.
Unable to get a basket to stem the tide, Duke squandered its lead and let UConn pull away. Leading, 78-75, with time winding down, Okafor rebounded a Duke miss and was fouled with three seconds left.
It quickly became apparent what Huskies bettors needed: Either make them or miss them both. If Okafor makes them both, UConn goes up five and the best Duke can do is get a push, and that would take a miracle. If Okafor - who shot about 50 percent from the line - misses them both, the Huskies would be forced to defend Duke's last-second shot, making it more unlikely to go in. And if Okafor were to just make one, it's better if he hits the first, because missing the second would cause time to run off while the rebound was secured.
Naturally, none of the above took place. Okafor missed the first but made the second, creating the worst-possible scenario. That is, he sealed the game by giving the Huskies a four-point lead but they now had no motivation to play defense on the final play, and Duke could save time by rolling the ball down court on the inbounds pass.
Duhon picked up the ball after a couple of bounces and dribbled twice. Then, with the form of a first-grader attempting a free throw, he pushed the ball from his chest high into the air and out of sight of the cameras. The ball hung up for so long that the CBS cameras actually had time to pan toward a shot of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun shaking hands at mid-court before zooming back to the final shot.
The ball smacked the center of the backboard with a resounding thud and went straight through the hoop. An otherwise insignificant shot, unless you had a portion of the $30 million that was riding on it.