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March Madness rewind: Taking a look back at Tate George’s iconic buzzer-beater in the Sweet 16

Tate George helped UConn’s dream season live on with an iconic buzzer-beater in the Sweet 16 of the 1990 NCAA Tournament.

UConn Tate George, 1990 NCAA East Regional Semifinals SetNumber: X39579 TK1

As March Madness is almost here, we take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of the best viral moments in NCAA tournament history. Here is The UConn Blog’s take on Tate George’s unforgettable buzzer-beater:

With exactly one second left on the clock, UConn’s 1990 NCAA tournament run seemed all but certain to end at the hands of the Clemson Tigers in the Sweet 16 at Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey. The No. 1 seed Huskies led the No. 5 seed Tigers by as much as 19 in the second half, but fell apart down the stretch and wound up trailing by one point after Clemson’s Sean Tyson made one of two free throws.

Following a timeout, head coach Jim Calhoun drew up an inbounds play that featured Chris Smith and 3-point specialist John Gwynn at half court. Scott Burrell, months removed from being selected as a first round pick in the MLB draft out of high school by the Seattle Mariners, would inbound the ball.

Instead of hitting Smith, who would go on to become UConn’s all-time leading scorer, or one of the team’s best deep threats in Gwynn, Burrell used his major-league arm to throw the inbounds pass 94 feet to Tate George by the baseline.

George caught the ball and fired a 17-footer from the right side of the lane. The senior guard got the shot off just before the buzzer and hit nothing but net, sending the Meadowlands and Huskies fans across the country into pandemonium.

“The Shot,” as it’s affectionately called by UConn fans all over, almost instantly became an unforgettable moment in both NCAA Tournament and Huskies history. UConn’s “Dream Season” would live on another day.

The aftermath of the shot is almost as good as George’s bucket itself. The swarm of Huskies fans at the Meadowlands erupted, and Calhoun was ecstatic, jumping and fist pumping all the way up to the handshake line. Calhoun would go on to see his fair share of buzzer beaters in March, including Kemba Walker’s epic stepback against Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament, but his celebration remained the same — awkward hops, flailing limbs and an incredible ability to never know what to do with his hands.

“I think that’s the highest I’ve ever jumped. Nevermind being young, old or indifferent,” Calhoun said in a season recap video. “I think I got six feet off the ground when that ball went. But it’s funny, I never believed we would lose.”

While UConn’s tournament run would fall just short of the Final Four one round later in the Elite Eight thanks to a overtime buzzer-beater from Duke’s Christian Laettner, George’s shot and the Huskies’ advancement to the Elite 8 marked new heights for a program on the rise and cemented many Connecticut residents as UConn fans for life and members of “Huskymania.”

After taking over as head coach prior to the 1986-87 season, Calhoun quickly transformed the Huskies from a pushover in the Big East to a program that was rapidly achieving success on the national level. In his second season as coach, Calhoun led UConn to 20 wins and claimed the 1988 NIT title at Madison Square Garden — the school’s first national basketball championship.

Following another NIT berth one year where the Huskies broke into the Top 25 for the first time in seven seasons, Calhoun put together his best team yet in Storrs for the 1989-1990 season, featuring Smith, George and Nadav Henefeld, a 21-year old freshman from Israel who led the country in steals and scored 11.6 points per game in his only season with the Huskies.

With that dominant trio and the likes of Gwynn, Burrell and Rod Sellers off the bench, UConn put together the team’s best season in program history. The Huskies won 12 Big East games — as many as they had won in the past four seasons — and finished the regular season 24-5 to claim their first Big East regular season title. UConn then dispatched Seton Hall, No. 5 Georgetown and No. 4 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden to win the first of the program’s seven Big East Tournament titles.

As regular season and tournament champions of one of the best conferences in the country, the Huskies returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade and earned the program’s first No. 1 seed. After rolling past Boston University and California in the first two round of the tournament at home at the Hartford Civic Center, UConn survived the chaos of the Clemson game thanks to George’s shot before their historic season eventually came to an end at the hands of Laettner in the Elite 8.

Even though Calhoun and the Huskies fell just short of the program’s first Final Four, the head coach reflected on how much that year’s team meant to him at the end of the season.

“I’ve worked 23 years a coach, ever since I got out of college, and my dream is to coach in the Final Four someday, and I think I will someday” Calhoun said. “But I wouldn’t trade 100 Final Fours for the privilege of coaching this team.”

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the “Dream Season” team reunited at Gampel Pavilion — the building they christened with a win over No. 15 St. John’s in 1990 — to commemorate the team’s 30th anniversary at halftime of a men’s game in February 2020. Even three decades later, Calhoun still felt strongly about what the Dream Season team accomplished and how it established UConn as a perennial basketball power.

“Thirty years ago, these were the guys who got the whole thing started,” Calhoun said at the reunion. “The Big East Championships, the National Championships, the All-Americans, all the great things — they started it all because they believed in each other, they believed in our coaching staff, but they really believed in UConn.”

As for George himself, the senior would go on to graduate and be selected by the New Jersey Nets with the No. 22 pick in the 1990 NBA Draft. He’d go on to play four seasons in the NBA. Following his basketball career, he was arrested in 2011 for running a real estate Ponzi scheme through his company The George Group. George was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2016, but was released from jail in 2021.