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Gordon Hayward broke my heart.

I so desperately hoped to see his halfcourt heave find its way through the net at the conclusion of Monday night's NCAA Tournament championship game, which ended in a 61-59 win for Duke.

Not because I'm crazed about Butler. Not because a title for the Blue Devils would keep me up at night (although it definitely would for some).

No, I wanted to see that shot go in simply because I'm a sucker for game-winners.

This, by the way, does not make me unique. Who doesn't love an improbable jumper that barely beats the buzzer? Who doesn't enjoy late-game heroics and last-second drama?

Those are the moments that players and fans remember long after they occur. Through commemorative stories and YouTube videos, we don't let them die.

Those are also the moments that cement legacies. Christian Laettner was a great collegiate basketball player -- even a member of the Dream Team -- but where would he be without his epic turnaround in the 1992 postseason? Tyus Edney was an entertaining point guard at UCLA, but would his name stick out in your mind if it weren't for his coast-to-coast miracle over Missouri in 1995?

Edney's off-balance bank shot is probably my earliest sports memory, and it surely had a hand in making me a basketball fan for life.

More were coming, too. Michael Jordan over Bryon Russell. Robert Horry against the Sacramento Kings. Kobe Bryant against the Phoenix Suns. I could spend all day watching replays of those shots as well as the countless others that I could list here.

Kids playing in their backyards envision themselves in these intense moments, counting down the seconds aloud as they imagine post-game glory.

Nowadays, it seems every guy has his beer of preference, his celebrity crush and his favorite game-winning moment on the hardwood.

Indeed, the sports-consuming public is so intrigued by game-winners that ESPN often features game-ending greatness on its popular "Top 10" segment -- even if it was captured on blurry footage at a no-name Division III school.

Especially when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, people say, "I don't care which team wins. I just want to see a game that goes down to the wire."

We were blessed with several such scenarios in this year's edition of March Madness, as crunch-time clutch locked Murray State's Danero Thomas, Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh and Michigan State's Korie Lucious into college basketball lore. Their game-winning shots are their banners and trophies -- their shortcuts to fame.

You see, our obsession with endings isn't limited to the realm of athletics. After six seasons of "The Sopranos," all people could talk about was the finale. Readers sped through each segment of the Harry Potter series, unwaveringly curious about what J.K. Rowling had in store for them on the last page of the last book.

But because a novel or a movie has only one official ending, what makes conclusions to seesaw sporting events even more suspenseful is their variability. Game-winners arise from improvisation and creativity. They require a whole lot of skill and a little bit of luck. They silence arena crowds as they arc majestically towards the rim, each one bearing the possibility of a letdown, each one a coin flip of elation or frustration.

On Monday night, the Bulldogs left Lucas Oil Stadium with the latter, Hayward's last shot so close to having a moniker like The Hayward Heave or The Spring Fling.

And although Hayward made a game-winner to give Brownsburg High an Indiana state title a few years ago, he probably would give anything for another chance at his latest last-second shot.

Hitting a game-winner, after all, is one of the best feelings in the world.

Trust me.

Tags: NCAA TOURNAMENT, DUKE, GORDON HAYWARD, BUTLER, GAME-WINNERS


Congratulate Jeff on his game-winner at [email protected]



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