Jon Ramey recently watched a video of The Shot, 22 years after having lived it. The passage of time had given Ramey a perspective he didn’t have as a much younger man.
“At the time, what did it mean to a 22-year-old kid? It was fun; it was neat to be a part of,” Ramey said. “But there is an image in the video of the coaches at midcourt. They are embracing and they’re very emotional. Here’s an emerging program that hadn’t been Division I for very long and we’ve just knocked off one of the top teams in the country. They understood that play would be something they would still talk about 20-some years later.”
Wright State men’s basketball fans still talk about The Shot, Delme Herriman’s buzzer-beater that followed a perfectly placed pass from Ramey and gave the Raiders a 71–70 victory over Xavier in the quarterfinals of the 1995 Midwestern Collegiate Conference (MCC) tournament.
Xavier had been playing basketball since 1919. The Musketeers had dominated the conference for years and had no reason not to expect to dominate this tournament, their MCC swan song before leaving to join the Atlantic 10. Xavier had finished the regular season 23–3 overall, 14–0 in the MCC, including a pair of victories over Wright State. The Musketeers came into the tournament ranked No. 25 nationally.
Wright State hadn’t become a university until 1967 and didn’t move up to NCAA Division I until 1987. The Raiders had struggled through a 10–16 regular season in 1994–95 despite the presence of future NBA star Vitaly Potapenko, then a 6-foot-10 freshman.
“That team really had a tough time finding their identity,” Ramey said.
“We all felt we’d massively under-achieved during the regular season,” Herriman wrote in “Mr. Versatility,” his 2010 autobiography.
Herriman’s journey to this moment was almost as interesting as Potapenko’s. He had grown up in England and came to Claymont High School in Uhrichsville, Ohio, as a foreign exchange student. Wright State signed him after assistant coach Jim Brown watched Herriman during an all-star game in 1991. He was one of the most likable players on the team and often served as a host for potential recruits. After earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology at Wright State, Herriman would go on to play professional basketball in seven different European leagues.
The 1995 MCC tournament took place at the Nutter Center. The Raiders had finished eighth in the conference during the regular season, so they were required to open with a play-in game against No. 9 seed Cleveland State, a game won by the Raiders, 88–81.
“It was like we had a new lease on life,” Herriman said.
The next night, saw nearly every seat filled as the Raiders faced Xavier in the quarterfinals.
“We didn’t like them, and they hated us,” Ramey said. “We were confident going into that game. We weren’t intimidated in the least.”
Both regular-season meetings had been close and physical before the Musketeers pulled out the victories. Xavier played an up-tempo style that the Raiders matched up well against. And, Wright State was riding the momentum of its victory one night earlier.
“Their band and a lot of their fans wore those old ugly blue and white horizontal striped rugby shirts,” Ramey said. “They were loud and vocal. Our fans that night were absolutely amazing. The energy level from the opening tip was something very special.”
Wright State led by a point at halftime, and the score remained close most of the night. The Raiders took a broadside, however, when Potapenko picked up his fourth and fifth fouls within a few seconds, putting him on the bench with more than seven minutes to go.
“He was the guy we had run with the whole season, the guy who had carried us,” Herriman said. “We thought the ship might have sailed.”
The discouragement of that moment got to Herriman, who took exception to some profanity directed at him by teammate Rob Welch.
“I ran back up to (Welch), grabbing the neck of his jersey, yelling in his face,” Herriman said.
Freshman Antuan Johnson separated the two and the Raiders persevered. Head coach Ralph Underhill went with a smaller lineup and utilized a bench that had enough effective ball-handlers and shooters to compensate.
Xavier led, 70–69, in the final minute and worked the ball around, running down the clock, until Martinez stole a pass with 3.1 seconds remaining to give the Raiders hope. Unfortunately, the realization of those hopes was 94 feet away.
Ramey took the ball underneath the Xavier basket and saw in front of him Xavier’s 6-foot-9 255-pound Larry Sykes — and very little else.
“Larry Sykes is guarding me on the ball and I can’t see anything,” Ramey said. “I can’t get the ball to Rob Welch or Delme — I can’t see them. So I make a pass over to my left, to my outlet, Rick Martinez. The ball gets knocked out of bounds and we lose 2 seconds in the process.”
There were now just 1.1 seconds left, but Wright State was a few feet closer to the basket — and with Ramey now operating on the right sideline, where he had room to maneuver. Head coach Ralph Underhill had called for “home run,” a designed play for such a desperate moment, but one the Raiders had practiced very little.
“It was about all we had in our bag of tricks,” Ramey said. “Larry Sykes is still face-guarding me, but it doesn’t matter because I’m on the side. All I have to do is turn my body. All of a sudden I have a clear line and I only need to throw the ball 50-some feet.”
Herriman had positioned himself at the free-throw line, sandwiched between Xavier defenders Tyson Britt and Jeff Massey.
“Quickly in my mind I’m thinking, ‘If I can drop it in-between those guys and throw the ball to a 6-7 athletic kid and let him go and make a play, we’ve got a chance,'” Ramey said.
Ramey floated a pass toward Herriman, but Massey launched himself into the air to intercept. The ball instead fell over Massey’s fingertips and into Herriman’s hands. He turned toward the basket and fired a jump shot just before those final 1.1 seconds expired. The ball dropped cleanly through the net, the Raiders were 71–70 winners, and pandemonium ensued.
“The world exploded,” Herriman said. “I did a crazy tuck jump into the air, another 180-degree spin, and sprinted off down the court like some lunatic with my teammates in pursuit.”
The basketball nation was able to watch, as ESPN had broken into its North Carolina-Duke telecast to show the final seconds of the Wright State-Xavier game.
Wright State sold plaques with photographer Nick Falzerano’s photo of the game-winning shot, autographed by Herriman and Ramey. That photo is also on the cover of Herriman’s book, which can still be purchased at the Wright State Bookstore in the Student Union.
When Herriman had showered and walked into the arena while the next game was being played, he was greeted by a standing ovation from 7,000 fans.
“It was one of the most moving experiences of my life,” Herriman wrote.
The Raiders would go on to defeat Detroit Mercy in the semifinals before falling to Wisconsin-Green Bay in the championship game.
“Basketball can be like this,” Herriman said. “It can be a machine that takes on a life of its own. A truly great team can function as a single entity, working together to combine all their talent into one explosion of victory.”