By Ron Griffitts
On March 28, 1977, at the Omni in Atlanta, the Marquette Warriors (26-5) coached by Al McGuire met the North Carolina Tar Heels (28-4) coached by Dean Smith.
The Warriors had gotten past Cincinnati 66-51, Kansas State 67-66, Wake Forest 82-68, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 51-49 in the semifinal to get to the final and were led by Butch Lee (19.5 points per game), Bo Ellis (15.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Jerome Whitehead (10.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg)
The Tar Heels advanced past Purdue 69-66, Notre Dame 79-77, Kentucky 79-72, and UNLV (University of Nevada Los Vegas) 84-83 in the national semifinal. They were led by Phil Ford (18.7 ppg, 6.6 assists per game), Walter Davis (15.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Tom LaGarde (15.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Mike O’Koren (13.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
Both teams had close wins on their way to the final with Marquette being behind by 10 points at halftime against Notre Dame in the second round to go on to a 2-point victory. They were also behind at the half against UNLV but eked out a 1-point win.
Marquette also had some tight games to get to the final. In the second round Kansas State led 36-28 at the half but the Warriors managed to win by one point and in the semifinal they dispatched UNC Charlotte 51-49 to get to the NCAA final.
In the final, Marquette took an early lead in the first half and held on to win 67-59 as the difference was at the free throw line where the Warriors made 23 of 25 attempts to 11 of 16 for North Carolina.
Butch Whitehead led Marquette with 19 points, Bo Ellis had 14 points and 9 rebounds, Jerome Whitehead pulled down 11 rebounds and Jim Bovian had 14 points for Marquette’s only NCAA title in that school’s history.
Walter Davis led the Tar Heels with 20 points and 8 rebounds while Mike O’Koren added 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The all-tournament team featured Jerome Whitehead, Butch Lee and Bo Ellis from Marquette, Cedric Maxwell from Charlotte and Walter Davis and Mike O’Koren from North Carolina. Davis would spend 15 years in the NBA and Maxwell spent 11, winning two NBA titles with the Celtics.
North Carolina under Dean Smith appeared in three finals, losing all three, before winning a title in 1982. Smith spent 36 years in Chapel Hill, winning 879 games and losing 254 for a .778 winning percentage. The title game was McGuire’s last as a college coach. He had a 295-80 record in 13 seasons for a .787 winning percentage.
Statistics for this article were from basketball-reference.com and YouTube.
Ron Griffitts a contributing columnist for The Daily Advocate.