With the No. 3 Maryland men’s basketball team leading Notre Dame 30-20 with 5.8 seconds left in the first half Wednesday night, Anthony Cowan Jr. was fouled, setting up an inbounds play to the left of his team’s basket. The play was set up for sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins to curl around a double screen set by Jalen Smith and Darryl Morsell. Wiggins caught the pass from Cowan and shot a 3-pointer with three seconds left.
What happened next is something few who witnessed it in person or watched on it on the ESPN telecast could ever recall seeing before.
Here is a brief oral history of what many say is one of the greatest dunks they have ever seen in a basketball game, starting with the calls from ESPN play-by-play announcer Dave Pasch and Maryland play-by-play man Johnny Holliday.
Wiggins: “I knew the play was for me and I came off [a screen], so I had a good look, and as I shot it I kind of faded away from it. So I knew I was going [for the rebound]. I actually expected it to bounce off the front of the rim and kind of take a bounce and I’d lay it in, if anything. I saw it bounce off the rim and go up, and I jumped. I was like, ‘Go and get it.’ I realized I was close to the rim and I just put it in. I realized afterward that I just put-back dunked my own shot. That was crazy.”
Eric Ayala, who had a dunk in traffic only seconds before: "He shot it. I turned around and I turned back around and I [saw] him on the rim. I didn’t know that until after the game. I just [saw] it after the game that he shot it, then went to go grab it again. That was impressive. That’s something I do on video games, stuff like that. I thought somebody else shot it.”
Maryland walk-on Travis Valmon, who saw the play unfold from the bench: “I saw him catch it and shoot it, so naturally I was following the flight of the ball. I didn’t see who put it back; I just saw somebody catch it and dunk it. I saw him land and I said, ‘Wait, wait, wait, didn’t he just shoot the ball?’ I think the best part was that when he landed, he turned around and he tried so hard to keep that straight face. You could see he wanted to smile and laugh about it. He was flexing. I was shocked."
Former Maryland star Tom McMillen, who was at the game: “I have seen some pretty spectacular dunks in my career having played against or with Dr. J. [Julius Erving], Darryl 'Chocolate Thunder’ Dawkins, Michael Jordan and ‘The Human Highlight Film,’ Dominique Wilkins, but I must say that Aaron’s dunk the other night was pretty unique.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who made his college playing debut against Houston’s legendary Phi Slama Jama: “I’ve seen a lot of good dunks. Teams that I’ve coached, that’s up there. I was coaching DeAndre Jordan [at Texas A&M] and we’re like in game five [of Jordan’s freshman season] and I swear he took off at the foul line and dunked. And all the coaches on the sidelines were saying, ‘And with the fifth pick in the draft, DeAndre Jordan.’ He didn’t go fifth, but he’s played to that level in the NBA.”
Former Maryland standout guard Keith Gatlin, who coached Wiggins in high school, played with legendary dunker Len Bias in College Park and saw the dunk on ESPN’s “SportsCenter”: “Lenny did that in couple of practices. I never seen anyone do that in an actual game. That’s sick!”
Wiggins: “Growing up, I’ve seen a lot of guys on ‘SportsCenter’. Before I came here, Bruno [Fernando] was on ‘SportsCenter’ multiple times. You just look at yourself and think, ‘What if you have that play?’ I was just lucky enough, blessed enough, to have that.”
Greg Fiume, a freelance photographer shooting the game for Maryland athletics: “From behind the play, I could see as soon as the ball left his hands he thought his jump shot was going to be short. I usually stay with the play to try and get the reaction so I am not paying attention to much else. I do remember the crowd erupting. One of the louder moments in my 15 years there. Bruno [Fernando] might have gotten the crowd close last year. Cowan’s reaction showed how fired up everyone felt in the moment.”
Wiggins: “I knew it was something you don’t see often, a putback [dunk] off your own shot. It was fun to see I’m excited to have it No. 1 [on ESPN’s Top 10 plays] and go viral like that. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen, I’ve heard a lot of people say that.”
Maryland radio color analyst Chris Knoche, a former college player and coach: “A good shooter knows on the release if he missed it. Aaron knew it and chased it. Add to that a tired Notre Dame team, figured it would be the last shot of the half and made no effort to box out. It was one of those times when IQ plus opportunity equals eye-popping play.”
Turgeon: “That was pretty cool that he knows his shot well enough that he missed it. He showed great speed and great hustle to get to that. I think everybody was excited about it. I was joking with him, ‘Well, you know you missed it and that’s why you followed it.' Everything has to go perfect for that to happen and everything went perfect for that to happen. Good for him. The kid works really hard. He really tries to rebound, so it was good to see him get that play.”
An NBA scout in attendance: "Following up that missed shot that takes a high bounce off the front of the rim takes great timing and anticipation. Wiggins reached the pinnacle of his explosive leap with two hands off two feet and flushed it down. On its own athletic act, it was memorable. However, what made it one-of-a-kind was that his shot was from the wing, and his instinct to follow his own miss and his recognition of clock and score to dunk at the halftime buzzer [was remarkable].
Wiggins: “I think every kid dreams of having those big dunks. Maybe sixth, seventh grade, I started lowering my rim at home so I could work on trick dunks and dunking the ball hard. When Blake Griffin got into the NBA and the Clippers had Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Gerald Green — seeing those guys throw lobs, that’s always entertaining. You go out there and you want to dunk. You want to dream of it so when the moment comes, you’re ready for it.”
NBA scout: “You think you’ve seen everything when you get to my age in my journey as a player and scout. Not true. The dunk Wiggins had was gravity-defying, truly one of a kind. ... The reaction among NBA scouts I was sitting with just doesn’t happen very often. We usually stay stoic and calm with athletic plays. After all, we have seen it all. Not on this play. I elbowed the scout next to me and nearly knocked him out of his chair."
The dunk by Wiggins was preceded by another big dunk by a Maryland player. With 53 seconds left in the first half, Ayala made a pretty good dunk himself. After deflecting a pass in the Notre Dame frontcourt, Ayala took an outlet pass from Smith and went up over Fighting Irish wing Rex Pflueger for a two-handed slam for a 30-17 lead.
Ayala was so busy celebrating that he didn’t get back on defense, leading to an easy basket by center John Mooney. After a subsequent turnover by Morsell, Turgeon briefly pulled Ayala and Morsell out of the game. They went back in with 22 seconds to play.
Smith: “To be honest, I liked Wigs’ [dunk] better. I caught the last second of it. I saw him shoot a 3 and I I thought it went in. I saw him fly out of nowhere, trying to get the rebound and I was like, ‘Wow.’ Then I saw it on the replay.”
Morsell: “Aaron will have something to say about it, but I liked Eric’s. Eric’s was much more aggressive. ‘I’m making eye contact with you, jump with me and whatever happens.’ Aaron’s dunk was phenomenal too. It shows how much they’ve worked on their body. Just the phenomenal athletes they have become.”
Ayala, asked about which dunk was harder: “I would say his was more impressive because of the way he shot it, went and got it. That was impressive. But degree of difficulty? I was trailing, I had to turn, catch it and put it down. I’m a little egotistical that way."
Wiggins on Ayala’s dunk: “His was really tough. I think he said that he was backpedaling. I remember him calling for the ball and he had to catch it, turn and get it back in rhythm so he could dunk it. His was tough, but a put-back off your own 3, that’s crazy, right? I’d give it to me, but his was tough.”