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BYU’s Kevin Nixon hit a big buzzer-beater to beat No. 9 Oklahoma in 1992 Maui Invitational; now he’s back to watch his son, Dalton, play for Cougars

That week of Thanksgiving, Kevin Nixon’s shot was replayed over and over and over on ESPN. For the first time since that Maui Invitational, Nixon is returning to the island and to the Lahaina Civic Center as BYU plays in this year’s tournament.

SHARE BYU’s Kevin Nixon hit a big buzzer-beater to beat No. 9 Oklahoma in 1992 Maui Invitational; now he’s back to watch his son, Dalton, play for Cougars
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Brigham Young Cougars forward Dalton Nixon (33) eyes a free-throw as BYU and Southern Utah University play in a NCAA basketball game in Provo at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. BYU escaped with a 68-63 win.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Twenty-seven years ago this week, before the existence of social media, BYU forward Kevin Nixon sank a buzzer-beater in a prestigious holiday tournament.

That jumper stands as one of the most clutch shots in Cougar basketball history and it sent shockwaves around college basketball. That shot also went viral in a 1990s sort of way.

In the closing seconds of a first-round matchup in the 1992 Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center against No. 9 Oklahoma, Nixon grabbed a long offensive rebound and, surrounded by two defenders, hit a 14-footer as time expired and the Cougars stunned the Sooners, 76-75 — jumpstarting an improbable run for BYU in Maui.  

“It was pretty special and it was one of the highlights of my basketball-playing career,” Nixon remembers.

“lt’s a surreal feeling. I really look forward to Dalton having another experience in Maui. It will be a fun atmosphere and I’m excited. For Dalton to be able to go there as a freshman and then as a senior is really rare.” — Kevin Nixon

That week of Thanksgiving, Nixon’s shot was replayed over and over and over on ESPN and other sports shows on television.  

For the first time since the ‘92 Maui Invitational, Nixon is returning to the island and to the Lahaina Civic Center as BYU plays in this year’s tournament, starting with Monday’s matchup against UCLA (9:30 p.m., MST, ESPN2). Other teams in the field include Kansas and Michigan State. 

And what makes it even more special is that his son, senior Dalton Nixon, will be playing for the Cougars. 

Dalton played in the Maui Invitational five years ago as a freshman but Kevin wasn’t able to go. Presented with the opportunity this time, Kevin and his family weren’t about to pass it up. 

“lt’s a surreal feeling. I really look forward to Dalton having another experience in Maui,” Kevin says. “It will be a fun atmosphere and I’m excited. For Dalton to be able to go there as a freshman and then as a senior is really rare.”

This is a father-son basketball bond they are relishing. 

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Former BYU basketball player Kevin Nixon, left, poses for a photo with his son, current Cougar basketball player Dalton Nixon.

Courtesy Nixon family

“It will be really cool to have him there,” says Dalton, who served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Boston after his freshman campaign. “I know my dad had some success in this tournament. It’s a pretty cool opportunity for us to share that together.”

When Dalton was here five years ago, he discovered a photo that hangs on a wall at the Lahaina Civic Center of his dad celebrating with teammate Kurt Christensen after that dagger against Oklahoma, commemorating a memorable tournament moment. 

For Kevin Nixon and the Cougars, that win over Oklahoma wasn’t the only highlight of the ‘92 Maui Invitational. The next day, BYU upset a Memphis team that featured All-America and future NBA star Anfernee Hardaway.

While Hardaway scored 37 points, Nixon, then a senior, buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 63 with 1:09 to play in regulation. In overtime, Nixon hit another 3-pointer with 56 seconds left to give the Cougars a decisive 69-67 advantage.

“I remember thinking after the first game how I was going to have enough energy the next day,” Kevin says. “Then after we beat Memphis in overtime, I thought, I hope somebody has something because I’m physically drained.” 

Nixon ended up with 14 points in BYU’s 73-67 overtime victory against Memphis. That win catapulted the Cougars into the Maui Invitational championship game the next night against No. 1 ranked and defending two-time national champion Duke, led by Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski and stars like Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley.

The Blue Devils claimed a 89-66 win in the title game. But that lopsided loss didn’t detract from what BYU did that week in Maui. 

“We accomplished the thing we set out to do by beating a ranked team. To do it again the next night was just crazy. Nobody thought that was going to happen,” Kevin says. “We went into the tournament thinking we’re just happy to be here and be part of what was going on. We knew we were capable of beating some teams, but realistically, making it to the championship game wasn’t really in anybody’s thoughts. There were so many good players and teams. It’s grueling. College basketball against great teams is very physical. Emotionally, it’s very difficult to get up for games and turn around and say that we need to bring the same energy the next day against a team that’s just as good, if not better.”

What many people don’t know is that going into that tournament, Nixon had been dealing with some back pain and he received a cortisone shot before the team left for Hawaii.

“I wasn’t even thinking about basketball. I was thinking about how I was going to survive for hours crossing the ocean, sitting in one spot having back issues,” Kevin says. “When I got there, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to play. It was a matter of how I felt. I had a big, old back brace underneath my uniform. I remember thinking I needed to get through this first game.”

But in the waning seconds against the Sooners, Nixon was ready for his game-winner.

“At the end, it’s kind of a blur, obviously, but I just remember thinking, ‘This shot’s going to go up and there’s not going to be a lot of time. I need to go to a spot where I think the ball might land,’” he says. “Ultimately, that’s what happened. I got the offensive rebound with little time on the clock. I got the rebound and it had to leave my hand. It goes in and we win.”

As thrilling as that shot against Oklahoma was, it’s overshadowed by Kevin Nixon’s heroics seven months earlier in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship game, when his 54-foot buzzer-beater propelled BYU to a win over UTEP and earned the Cougars an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

“To be able to hit one game-winning shot in your college career, I think most people would take that because it doesn’t happen very often,” Kevin says. “To have two? When I talk to people about the Maui tournament, people don’t remember much about it. That first one was during March Madness. They don’t call it November Madness or Thanksgiving Madness.”

When he hit that shot against Oklahoma, memories of that miracle heave against UTEP raced back to his mind. 

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BYU’s Kevin Nixon launches a jumper.

Mark Philbrick/BYU

“The one regret I had from the year before when I hit the half-court shot against UTEP was, in my mind after I hit the shot, I thought I didn’t want to get buried under the bottom of a pile,” he recalls. “I knew that was going to happen. Afterwards, I wanted to enjoy the moment instead of running from my teammates. So I just stood there and put my arms up. My first recollection was Kurt Christensen jumping on me and climbing me like I was a tree. Then everybody else kind of smashed in from the sides. I didn’t want to hit the ground. But I wanted to enjoy the pile of celebration. I enjoyed that a lot more than I did after hitting my half-court shot.” 

Now, 27 years later, he’ll be back at the Lahaina Civic Center, watching his son compete at a venue that holds many happy memories. 

“I look back at the experience of playing Oklahoma and Memphis and Duke on back-to-back-to-back days and for Dalton to potentially have the same opportunities — he’ll play some really good teams on a national stage.” Kevin says. “It’s been fun for me to reminisce on the time that I played.”

Dalton enjoys being able to talk with his dad about basketball — and not just about exciting wins.

“We have similar experiences. When challenges come up, you face losses or hard times, he shares his experiences and shares the positive outcomes that have come from his college career,” he says. “It’s a good opportunity for me to connect with him and share experiences together. His advice has really helped me in my career.”

Unfortunately, Nixon’s shot against Oklahoma during the Maui Invitational is nowhere to be found on the Internet, unlike his shot against UTEP. Kevin says he has a copy of it on a VHS tape that his brother made for him years ago. 

“With as much as there is on YouTube, I thought it has to be out there somewhere,” Kevin says. “But I haven’t been able to find it. I watched it on that tape after my BYU career ended. That’s the last time I’ve actually seen it.”

Dalton hasn’t actually seen that shot at the ‘92 Maui Invitational, either. But he’d like to at some point. 

“That might have to be something we do over the holidays,” he says, “when we get back from Maui.”