IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING: Winning by Dufault

ST. PETER As a sports reporter, I’m a little embarrassed to say that before Thursday, I’d never seen a buzzer -beater live. I’ve watched replays on Youtube or SportsCenter like every other sports fan, but I’ve never been present at one of these moments. However, in a literally unbelievable series of events in a span of one hour on Thursday, I saw not just one, but three.

Anyone who was with me at Lund Arena in St. Peter saw possibly the best high school basketball game of the year, and maybe even in high school history. It was the Marshall Tigers against the Waseca Bluejays in the Section 2AAA boys championship game, with the victor advancing to the state tournament. Four overtimes and three buzzer beaters were needed to determine a winner in this game, and with each overtime, the emotion and intensity grew. Somehow, they grew.

The Bluejays thought they had the win. They were leading 72-69 with 5.1 seconds left on the clock, and they had a shooter at the free throw line. One make and it was over. However, the ball rattled out, and Marshall’s Trey Lance said, “Nope, not today,” and drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Waseca was already celebrating its victory when the shot hit the back of the rim. By some sheer twist of fate, the ball didn’t bounce off. It stuck for what seemed like a lifetime and rolled around to the other side before it dropped. Waseca’s looks of joy immediately switched to looks of shock and awe while Marshall celebrated. End of regulation.

Let’s skip ahead to the third overtime. This time, the Tigers thought they had the win. Reece Winkelman just converted an and-one play to put the Tigers up 98-95 with just 1 second left on the clock.

Waseca inbounded the ball to Nick Dufault, who took two steps and launched the ball three quarters of the way down the court. Every eye in the building was on the ball. It was like watching a tennis match, seeing everyone’s heads turn in unison. As the buzzer sounded, the ball went through the net. The building erupted.

The look on Dufault’s face was not a look of happiness and excitement. It was a look of absolute amazement. He, like everyone else in the building, couldn’t believe the shot went in.

Waseca fans were jumping up and down, screaming and celebrating while Marshall fans were dead silent. Nearly every Marshall mouth hung open and almost everyone’s hands were on their heads as they stared in utter disbelief. Being a reporter, I’m supposed to remain impartial, but even I had to put my camera down for a moment and soak in what I had just witnessed.

With the fans still frozen in place, Marshall’s Blaise Andries, a heavily recruited offensive lineman on the Marshall football team, held up four fingers; as if they were in the fourth quarter of a football game. On to a fourth overtime.

As if two buzzer beaters weren’t enough, Waseca decided to throw in another one. With 7.5 seconds left and the score tied at 100, the ball was inbounded to Waseca’s Cole Streich, who drove down the center of the court, pulled up at the top of the arc and let the ball go. Once again, every eye was on the ball with time ticking down. Three. Two. One. Swish. Buzzer. Game.

At 8:15 p.m. on March 3, 2016, I had never seen a buzzer beater. At 9:10 p.m. that same night, I’d seen three. I couldn’t fall asleep until after 3 a.m. because my mind couldn’t wind down. After talking with people who were at the game, I know that I’m not the only one who knows they witnessed history witnessed something, to the complete definition of the word, unbelievable.

You can watch the replays on ESPN, SportsCenter, the Dan Patrick Show, Good Morning America, and HLN. You can read about the game in the New York Times. Yet it will never be the same as watching arguably the best high school basketball game ever in person. It’s as if the basketball gods were watching the game and decided that Waseca would be the team to pull off the win of a lifetime.

Streich may have made the game-winning shot, but it was Dufault’s full-courter that changed the course of history.

Brad Bigler, the head coach of the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs in Marshall, who has also recruited Dufault to play for him next year, wrapped up the game in perfect eloquence in just 11 words “Trey Lance’s shot was a miracle; Nick Dufault’s shot was destiny.”