Vanderbilt's seniors became the latest Memorial Magicians last night, connecting on a play ripped from the Grant Hill-to-Christian Laettner Hollywood script.
With 0.7 seconds on the clock and the score tied 63-63 against Wichita State, Holwerda threw a length-of-the-court strike to Smith, who caught the ball and laid it in as time expired, touching off a wild celebration on the Memorial Gym floor.
"Wow," Kevin Stallings said halfway through his press conference. "Wow."
When asked if things could get any better, Smith quickly replied, "It can get better. We can make it to NYC."
The Commodores would not be talking about the Big Apple if it were not for Mario Moore, who tied a school record with nine three-pointers en route to a career-high 31 points. Moore nailed four three-pointers in the final four minutes as Vanderbilt fought hard to extend its season.
Moore was so hot, in fact, two Wichita State defenders went with him on the game-winning play, leaving Smith open for the layup.
"It's just natural instinct (for the defenders) to go to him when he's shooting like that," Smith said. "My first thought was to just catch it. After that, I just turned around and put it in."
Vanderbilt was staring overtime in the face because of its failure to protect a three-point lead with six seconds left. Moore fouled Sean Ogirri with three seconds left at midcourt. Ogirri made the first, then missed the second intentionally. Jamar Howard was able to secure the rebound and lay it in to tie the game at 63 with 0.7 seconds left.
"We obviously intended to foul," Stallings said. "All you have to do is secure the free throw rebound and you win the game. The problem was securing that free throw rebound."
Vanderbilt gathered in its huddle and set up a play designed for Smith to catch a long pass from Holwerda with a defender behind him. When Smith screened for Moore, both defenders guarded Moore.
"The ball seemed like it was in the air for two and half hours," Stallings said.
Smith was mobbed by teammates and fans alike, and the floor of the court was in disarray when the officials reviewed the play and confirmed that Smith beat the buzzer. A $5,000 fine from the SEC will likely be coming Vanderbilt's way for allowing the students to rush the court, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone complaining about a finish that was destined for SportsCenter.
"I hope it makes the (SportsCenter) Top 10," Smith said with a laugh.
"That's got to be No. 1," Moore replied.
Vanderbilt appeared to have the game in control with 12 minutes to play, leading 44-33, but a 17-2 Wichita State run put the Commodores' season in jeopardy with just over four minutes to play. Shan Foster broke Vanderbilt's drought with a three-pointer, then Moore buried four more.
"The basket looked big," Moore said. "I didn't feel like anyone could stop me tonight."
Julian Terrell had 14 points and 14 rebounds, stats that became an afterthought after the first Memorial buzzer-beater since Greg LaPointe beat St. Joseph's during the 00-01 season.
"To tell you the truth, with 0.7 seconds left, I was just trying to put it up by the goal," Holwerda said. "I was hoping for a tip in or something like that. … Fortunately a miracle came through for us. That is exactly what I thought. Hopefully a miracle happens here. And it did."
Next up for the Dores is Memphis, a team that came two missed free throws from the NCAA Tournament.
"I heard their coach on the radio say they have no defensive weakness," Stallings said. "That is pretty strong if they have no defensive weakness. We're going to have a hard time scoring. That is kind of scary when your coach believes in your defense so much that he says there is absolutely no weakness to it."
Bill Trocchi is the interactive editor for Athlon Sports.