Printed April 5, 1983
An uncontested dunk as time ran out made the underdog North Carolina State Wolfpack the national champion Monday night in one of the most stunning upsets in the history of college basketball.
The 26-10 Wolfpack completed the final chapter in their storybook season by shocking the Houston Cougars 54-52 at University Arena to take the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship. The Pack became the only team in history to win the title after losing 10 games in a season.
The 14th-ranked Wolfpack somehow convinced No. 1 Houston to play a slow-tempo game that kept North Carolina State close. The vaunted Houston “Phi Slama Jama” fraternity apparently wore itself out in Saturday’s 94-81 slam-dunk exhibition against the No. 2 Louisville Cardinals, and Houston had none of the hoop acrobatics that marked their semi-final win.
With the last seconds ticking off the clock and the game tied at 52, North Carolina State set up to take the final shot, hoping for a win or a chance at overtime. Normally hot-handed guard Dereck Whittenburg was supposed to put up the outside jumper, but pressure from the Houston defense and from the clock hurried his 27-footer. The shot fell short but into the grasp of forward Lorenzo Charles, who went up and put it in without interference from the nearest Cougar, 7-foot center Akeem Adbul Olajuwon.
Charles said in a post-game interview that he was as surprised as anybody that he was able to make the uncontested dunk.
“Akeem was about 5 feet away from me, and when I got the ball and went up I thought he’d go up too. But he just short of stood there and watched,” said Charles, who scored the second and last Wolfpack baskets of the night.
“I couldn’t see any time on the clock so I put it up,” explained Whittenburg, who at first claimed the 27-foot bomb was designed to be a pass thinking about it going in. “Next thing I knew, Lorenzo was grabbing it and putting it in. Then everybody was jumping up and down, and that was the end of the ball game.”
Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano got Houston to play the championship game his way. Good defense held the Cougars to a poor 38 percent shooting performance – the worst for Houston in the entire season. Although the Wolfpack nailed only 39 percent of their shots, they got the key buckets down the stretch by guards Sidney Lowe, Whittenburg and Terry Gannon.
North Carolina State held an eight-point halftime lead at 33-25, thanks largely to forward Thurl Bailey, who had 15 first-half points. Houston coach Guy Lewis altered his defense in the last half, and Bailey was shut out completely by Cougar board work. The Pack had only one offensive rebound in the second half.
Houston came out in the final period playing a Wolfpack-style, ball control game. The Cougars set up at halfcourt, using the speed and passing ability of guards Alvin Franklin and Michael Young to feed Olajuwon underneath or slip inside for layups.
Stone-cold shooting by North Carolina State allowed Houston to claim a 35-33 lead with 16 minutes to go. The Cougars outscored the Wolfpack 15-2 during a seven-minute stretch and led by six, 50-44, with only 3:56 remaining.
After Valvano called time, the reorganized Wolfpack began to hit outside again. Lowe and Whittenburg each popped two long-range shots, answered by two Cougar free throws by forward Clyde Drexler which tied the game at 52-52.
Franklin, a star of Saturday’s semifinal crushing of the Cardinals, came out to meet the Wolfpack four-corners stall. He rushed Whittenburg’s last shot, allowing Charles to be the hero of the Wolfpack victory.
North Carolina State took its second NCAA title in three attempts. The Pack took the 1974 championship with a win over Marquette.
Bailey’s 15 first-half points were enough to lead Wolfpack scorers. Whittenburg had 14, Lowe eight and Gannon seven in the three-guard Wolfpack attack. North Carolina State center Cozell McQueen snagged 12 rebounds.
Houston got 20 of their 52 points from Olajuwon, who also led all players with 18 boards and seven blocked shots. Benny Anders scored 10 off the Houston bench after starter Drexler got into foul trouble.
In describing the Wolfpack performance Monday, coach Valvano characteristically gave all the credit to his players.