Is Caleb Love's 3-pointer the biggest shot in North Carolina basketball history?
Caleb Love entered a special, exclusive place in North Carolina lore on Saturday night.
His game-sealing 3-pointer didn’t just send UNC to the National Championship game. It didn’t just give North Carolina the first NCAA Tournament win over Duke in program history. It didn’t just end Mike Krzyzewski’s career.
It did all of those things, and plenty more.
A shot of that magnitude is instantly iconic, even at a program like North Carolina. The Tar Heels have decades of history in huge games with massive stakes and indescribable moments. But they don’t have anything quite like Love’s dagger from Saturday night.
So is this the greatest shot in the history of North Carolina basketball?
The short answer? Probably. But there are a few strong contenders for that title. Let’s break it down:
1982 National Championship Game | Michael Jordan beats Georgetown
Prior to Saturday night, the great Michael Jordan owned arguably the greatest shot in North Carolina basketball history. It was his base-line jumper with under a minute to go that propelled Dean Smith to his first-ever National Championship.
There’s a simple difference between Jordan’s go-ahead bucket and Love’s dagger: Georgetown still had a reasonable chance to win. The Hoyas got the ball back with a few seconds remaining, down by just 1. But Georgetown panicked and turned it over with an errant pass shortly after crossing half court.
Contrast that with North Carolina-Duke on Saturday night. Love’s 3-pointer gave North Carolina a 4-point lead with under 30 seconds to go. Sure, a miracle could have happened for Duke. But the Blue Devils never had the ball in a 1-possession game the rest of the way. Love’s shot was truly the deciding factor.
Here’s Jordan’s sequence:
Jordan finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals as the Tar Heels took down the Hoyas, 63-62. James Worth scored 28 points, which matches Love’s total from UNC’s win over Duke. Love is the first North Carolina player score 28+ points in a Final Four game since Worthy did it in ’82.
1990 Round of 32 | Rick Fox beats No. 1 Oklahoma
This shot didn’t lead to a National Championship, but it did create one of the Tar Heels’ most memorable moments from the Dean Smith era.
Facing No. 1 Oklahoma in the Round of 32, North Carolina had the ball in a tie game. Hubert Davis caught the inbounds pass above the break, drove to his right and kicked it out to Rick Fox.
Fox drove to his right and found enough space to get a floater in the line. It banked off the glass and fell through the net just as time expired, sending North Carolina to the Sweet 16.
Here’s the play:
North Carolina’s season ended the next week against Arkansas. The next season, Davis and Fox led the Tar Heels all the way to the Final Four but lost to Kansas by 1 point. Smith’s second national title didn’t come until 1993.
2016 National Championship Game | Marcus Paige nearly forces overtime vs. Villanova
This shot is ultimately a sore subject in North Carolina history, but that’s not the fault of Marcus Paige. It’s because of what happened next — Kris Jenkins’ back-breaking, buzzer beating 3-pointer that gave Villanova back the lead and the 2016 national title.
Still, all things considered, Paige has an argument for one of the most memorable shots in UNC history. The combination of the stage, the moment and the degree of difficulty are unparalleled.
Here’s video of Paige’s sequence:
2017 Elite Eight | Luke Maye’s jumper beats Kentucky
North Carolina won the National Championship 2017, but that outcome almost didn’t happen. The Tar Heels were in a neck-and-neck fight with Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Moments earlier, the Wildcats hit a wild 3-pointer to tie the game.
UNC got the ball back with 7.2 seconds remaining. Theo Pinson raced the ball down the floor and kicked out to a wide-open Luke Maye for a mid-range jumper.
Here’s the sequence:
North Carolina went on to beat Oregon in the National Championship and Gonzaga in the title game. Maye, for all his heroics vs. Kentucky, scored a grand total of 2 points across 2 Final Four games.
Maye’s shot is undoubtedly beloved in North Carolina history. Not only did it eventually lead to a national title, but it helped ease some of the pain caused by Jenkins’ game-winner a year earlier.
It’s hard to argue that any of these shots measure up to Love’s 3-pointer over Duke. It almost doesn’t matter whether or not North Carolina beats Kansas in the National Championship on Monday night. Love’s game-winner stands on its own. It won bragging rights for a generation, at least. For as long as North Carolina is playing basketball, Love’s shot will be adored by millions.