The 6-9 forward from Ft. Thomas, Kentucky sat in a booth with fellow teammate David Fleshman and a couple of blonde-haired co-eds. The restaurant around was busy, typical for a Baton Rouge hot spot following a big sporting event on the LSU campus.
Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar is a favorite for Tiger fans wanting to get some food or beverage after the big game on campus. On this night, the atmosphere is abuzz after LSU's 61-59 win over No. 14 Alabama in the Maravich Center. Fans everywhere chatted about the game, which was one of the most exciting of the John Brady era at LSU.
As fans celebrated all around, Neltner sat and talked with friends. On first glance, you never would have realized the shy sophomore was the hero of the night. The most unlikely of players to be in the spotlight, Neltner, a reserve post player, was in the right place at the right time on this night. Just an hour earlier, Neltner made a shot no Tiger fan will soon forget.
After Kennedy Winston nailed a three pointer with 12 second left to tie the score 59-59, LSU regained possession with a chance to win the game. Brady elected not to call a timeout, instead allow his best player, Brandon Bass, to take the game's final shot. Bass got trapped in the corner, but managed to break free and get a shot off with five seconds left. Bass' offering from the left wing rattled out the cylinder and it appeared the game was headed to overtime.
However, a streaking Neltner wove his way through the opposition tipping the ball into the air. As time expired, the ball dropped through the net sparking an instant dogpile with Neltner on the bottom.
"I thought his shot was going in," Neltner said of Bass' jumper. "But I just ended up in the right place at the right time and it went in and we beat the No. 14 team in the country."
Neltner sat talking with friends when the ESPN replay was highlighted on the 10 p.m. edition of Sportscenter shown on the big screen television at Walk-Ons. As Neltner's shot was shown from three different angles, teammate Tack Minor, who was sitting three tables away, leapt from his seat and danced over to Neltner and began cheering wildly. A moment later, patrons of the restaurant all around were screaming. Neltner shyly stood up, offered a high five to Minor then eased his 6-9 frame back into the booth.
"You can play basketball for a lifetime and not have something like that happen," Neltner said. "It was like golfers hitting a hole-in-one; you have to be in the right place at the right time."
A former Mr. Kentucky in high school basketball, Neltner has won a number of games in his career, but never has he recorded a highlight like his tip in versus Alabama.
"I can't remember one that was at the buzzer like this one was," Neltner said.
The amazing thing is Neltner admitted he didn't remember much about the shot. He said all he can recall is Bass getting off his shot then a dogpile. Everything that transpired in that 10 second period is a blur.
"I really don't remember much about it," Neltner said. "It all happened so fast. All of sudden the buzzer was going off, the basket was going in and I was on the ground with my teammates piling on top of me. But that was just one play in the game. It took 40 minutes of basketball to win this thing and beat these guys. It was a good win for these guys and this program."
While LSU celebrated on one end of the floor, Alabama players looked on in horror as the scoreboard read 61-59.
"They really didn't know what they wanted to do so (Bass) threw up the shot," said Alabama's Kennedy Winston. "It was like slow motion to see this dude come out of nowhere."
LSU managed to outrebound Alabama 47-28, however Alabama coach mark Gottfried said the Tigers' final rebound (which resulted in Neltner's tip in) was the biggest board of the game.
"Bass got off a tough shot, which we defended without fouling, so we did a lot of things right," Gottfried said. "Except we just didn't get a rebound on the last play."
Not only was it a big win for the team coming on the heels of victories at Mississippi State and versus Florida, but Tuesday's win was the perfect precursor for Neltner's 20th birthday on Wednesday.
"It might be my most memorable game, especially coming the day before my birthday and making a game-winning shot against a nationally-ranked team," Neltner said. "But I don't know if it was my best game."
And for a birthday present, the guys up in Bristol gift-wrapped Neltner the perfect gift. At the close of Sportscenter, Neltner's tip in was voted the top play of the day.
Happy Birthday Ross.
Neltner most unlikely of heroes
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