What are the odds of a play working when you ask a 5-foot-11 guard to inbound a pass over the outstretched arms of a leaping 6-4 defender?
Especially when that pass has to travel three-quarters of a court?
When a 6-6 forward has to outmuscle and outleap two 6-9 defenders just to get his hands on the ball, never mind catch it?
When that forward has to twist his body in mid-air and decide whether to shoot the ball himself or pass off to a guard streaking beside him?
When that guard has to pull up on the run and hit a jumper of at least 19 feet, 9 inches, with the weight of an entire game and four years of near-misses eating at his conscience?
When all that has to take place in 2.5 seconds?
"It works 30 percent of the time," said “the forward," Bill Jenkins.
He meant in practice.
"That play is not supposed to work," added “the 5-11 guard," Jamie Sykes.
Well, heck with all that.
No. 13 seed Valparaiso won its first NCAA Tournament game in three appearances Friday and supplied the school a lot of national exposure by beating the odds in most dramatic fashion.
Bryce Drew hit an off-balance 3-pointer on the right wing on a feed from Jenkins at the buzzer. That gave the Crusaders the 70-69 upset over fourth-seeded Mississippi in a Midwest Regional first-round game at Myriad Convention Center.
"I'm still wiping the tears away from my eyes," jubilant VU coach Homer Drew said in the postgame press conference.
The play is called "Pacer," and the Crusaders ran it to perfection, despite all the obstacles. Drew's three looked short off his hand, but had just enough to clear the front edge of the rim and twist its way through the net.
"Those three deserve all the credit," Homer Drew said.
Valpo (22-9) advances to play Florida State (17-13) Sunday at 1:20 p.m. for the right to go to the Sweet Sixteen.
On "The Play," Sykes, an outfielder in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, is supposed to throw the ball to the 3-point arc. Jenkins is supposed to run to the ball, get the pass and hit a back-cutting Drew, who throws off his defender by also running to Sykes.
"When Jamie was inbounding the ball, our eyes kind of met," said Jenkins, who was stationed under the basket when the play began. "And I thought to myself, 'I've got to get through there and get to the ball and get it to Bryce so we can win this thing.' "
"When I first let it go, it felt short," Bryce Drew said. "Divine intervention.
"We practice a bunch of different plays for situations like that all the time. And we're always like, 'Coach, why are we doing this?' And when you get set up for it, you never think those plays are going to work."
The Crusaders trailed 38-34 at halftime before scoring the first seven points of the second half, and they got some breaks down the stretch to set up the heroics after they coughed up a 65-60 lead.
After Drew missed a leaning three with eight seconds left and the Crusaders down 69-67, Sykes fouled Ole Miss All-America forward Ansu Sesay, sending him to the line for two.
Sesay, a 73 percent foul shooter, missed both. Rebels guard Keith Carter tipped the ball out of bounds, trying to keep the rebound alive, with 2.5 ticks remaining.
Valpo was out of timeouts and had to act fast.
"We run (Pacer) in practice from time to time but we never seem to get the chance to run it in the game," said Homer Drew. "But the guys had great recognition and they all yelled, 'Pacer. Pacer.' It was truly a miracle shot."
The Crusaders won, in large part, by shutting down Sesay, one of the Rebels defenders Jenkins beat for the now-famous pass. The 6-9 forward, a consensus choice for Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, finished with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting and had five rebounds. Valpo used a mixture of zone defenses and a box-and-one to confuse Ole Miss (22-7).
"Ansu did not have one of his better games," Ole Miss head coach Rob Evans said. "That was not typical of him at all."
The Rebels, a popular pick for the Final Four, were left stunned by the finish. Ole Miss got 22 points and 11 rebounds from Carter but shot just 33 percent from the floor in the second half.
Meanwhile, Valpo finished at 47 percent for the game and had just 13 turnovers against the Rebels' Lycra-tight man-to-man defense.
"We couldn't ask for anything more," said Evans. “Up two with four seconds left, your All-American on the line shooting a pair. But we give Valpo all the credit.
"The kid hit a great shot."
The Crusaders got 22 points and eight assists from Drew and 19 points in a dominant second half from Zoran Viskovic.
The win erased four years of frustration of trying to beat a high-profile team.
"This is the greatest feeling you could ever have," said Drew, who fell to the floor in tears and got mobbed by his teammates and coaching staff. "The seniors, we've worked so hard and come so close and waited so long for this our whole career."
Their wait is over. And all it took was a miracle.