Jalen Suggs Etches Name in NCAA History as Gonzaga Advances to National Championship

Photo: Trevor Brown Jr/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

For freshmen in college basketball, trust by the head coach has to be earned. For Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, the trust was so deep that on one of the game’s biggest stages, he got the chance to play Superman for the Bulldogs.

Following a layup by UCLA’s Johnny Juzang to tie the game at 90 in overtime, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few elected not to call a timeout with 3.3 seconds remaining.

“I don’t like to call [a] timeout in that situation because I think you can make an open-court play better before they set up their defense,” Few said following the game. “But I was wondering if we were ever going to get the ball out of the net. I thought we might need a timeout there. I was getting ready to yell at the guys.

Instead, the ball was in the hands of Suggs, a true freshman. After just three dribbles to cross half-court, Suggs pulled up with just 0.7 seconds remaining on the clock. What happened next can best be described as basketball in March.

Time froze as the ball traveled through the air with a trip to the National Championship on the line. Two teams entrenched in a schematical battle of coaching masterminds stood helplessly. And, while the clock might have just passed 11 p.m. local time in Indianapolis, the banks were still open for Suggs.

“[Suggs] makes them in practice all the time. It’s been crazy this year how many he’s made in practice last-second shots,” Few said. “I felt pretty good. I was staring right at it. And I said it’s in. And it was.”

In a homage to some of the NBA’s best at hitting big-time shots, Suggs ran and jumped onto the scorers’ table as the man of the moment. In a stadium that previously hosted two Final Fours, a Super Bowl, and four Kenny Chesney concerts, Suggs might have delivered Lucas Oil Stadium’s most memorable moment.

That doesn’t mean that Lucas Oil Stadium hasn’t seen its fair share of moments, though. In the 2010 National Championship, Butler’s Gordon Hayward came inches away from knocking off Duke before his shot went in and then out in the cruelest way possible.

“I saw something afterward, Gordon Hayward walked, so Jalen starts to run. That was pretty funny. That’s the one I’ve seen before as well,” Suggs said. “Exact same situation. Got it with three seconds. Ran down the court, right side of the floor, let it go hit off the backboard, and went out. I mean, mine went in, which was great.”

See, that’s the important thing about all this. In a tournament that has seen its fair shares of “almost” and “so close”, Suggs had the luck of the basketball gods on his side. And that’s all that matters.

“I saw Johnny [Juzang] got the miss … and put it back in. And Corey [Kispert] took it out right away, ‘Corey, Corey come here,’ and I got as many dribbles as I can. Tried to get as close as I could,” Suggs said, reliving the shot.

“He was actually like right under me. But I just put it up. I was fading away with it. And it went off the backboard and in. I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to run up on the table and like Kobe (Bryant) and D(wyane)-Wade and go like that, and that’s the first thing I did. That is something that you practice on your mini hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that, it’s crazy.”

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – APRIL 03: The Gonzaga Bulldogs celebrate after their last-second, overtime win against the UCLA Bruins in the Final Four semifinal game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 03, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Trevor Brown Jr/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

That big-time shot wasn’t the first time Suggs came up big for Gonzaga this season. It wasn’t even the first time late in that game that he did. Lost in the shuffle was Suggs’ block on Cody Riley, someone who is five inches taller, with two minutes remaining in regulation. In transition, Suggs found Drew Timme behind UCLA’s defense with a beautiful one-handed pass to give Gonzaga a small lead.

“[Suggs is] a hell of a player. I mean, he’s electric. You know, especially when you get him out in transition. He’s confident enough,” Few said. “And to make that pass to Timme, when I saw him sizing it up, I was not thinking it was going to be one of his greatest decisions he’s ever had. …The beauty of Jalen is he does make plays like that and has made plays like that defensively where he comes down and blocks bigs because he’s so athletic and he’s so tough and he’s not afraid.”

Suggs also isn’t the only player who came up big for the Bulldogs. With just over a minute remaining in overtime, Andrew Nembhard connected on a three-pointer to put Gonzaga up five. While it didn’t end up winning the game for Gonzaga, it seemed like for a moment, it did.

“It was huge. And it was so great for Andrew, because he really is a good shooter, and he’s deferred a lot occasionally,” Few said about the shot. “And all of us have been on him, myself, and his teammates, to not defer.”

While both those moments certainly helped Gonzaga – as did 25 points from Timme and 22 from Joel Ayayi – it rightfully pales in comparison to Suggs’ shot, and, as he put it, the greatest moment of his life.

“I’ve always said a football game, section championship against Benilde-St. Margaret’s my senior year was my greatest sports moment I’ve been a part of,” Suggs said. “It skyrockets above that. I mean, it was nuts. And I still can’t speak. I have so many things going on in my head. …I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until I wake up tomorrow.”

Regardless of the outcome in the National Championship for Suggs or Gonzaga, one thing will remain true about the buzzer-beater Indianapolis witnessed: that play will be shot on mini-hoops across America for months and years to come.

The Bulldogs will face fellow No. 1 seed Baylor for a national championship on Monday night.

Kevin Fielder can be reached on Twitter (@TheKevinFielder) or via email ([email protected])