Joe Pleasant stepped to the foul line to shoot two free throws with two seconds remaining on the clock and his No. 14 seed Abilene Christian Wildcats trailing No. 3 seed Texas by one point in the opening round of the 2021 men’s NCAA tournament. A 6’8 junior forward, Pleasant was a key piece in the Wildcats’ lockdown defense, but he wasn’t a good foul shooter.
As Pleasant stepped to the line for the first time all game, he was 38-of-65 on the season, good for a 58.4 percent mark. Now he had the chance to send his tiny school of 5,300 students over the in-state behemoth of 51,000 in March Madness with the world watching. All he had to do was make two free throws.
After a timeout, Pleasant stepped up and knocked down the first try to tie the game. He had one more shot to avoid overtime, and he drained it. Abilene Christian had stunned Texas, 53-52.
Talk about ice in the veins — this is as cold as it gets.
Joe Pleasant, only a 58% free throw shooter, hit BOTH of the game winning free throws and got 14 Abilene Christian UPSET over 3 Texas pic.twitter.com/bpEgkpiFKu
— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) March 21, 2021
The pressure of that moment would have cracked a lesser player. I pulled my shirt over my eyes just watching it. Those shots were going to be what Pleasant would be remembered for for the rest of his life whether he made them, missed them, or split them. He was writing his legacy in real time.
To hit those shots under that kind of pressure for a player who struggled so much at the line — it’s just awe-inspiring. Pleasant sounded like a man who never questioned himself in his post-game interview.
This is March Madness at its best: a little school knocking off a big school, a team from the Southland Conference taking out the Big 12 powerhouse, a new March Madness hero born with incredible resolve in the clutch.
There are a lot of moments in sports and in life we treat with cynicism, but this shouldn’t be one of them. Pleasant’s free throws were awesome.
A matchup with No. 11 seed UCLA on Monday is up next. This is why we love the NCAA tournament.