By Ron Griffitts
On April 4, 1983 at the Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico the North Carolina State Wolf Pack (25-10) coached by Jim Valvano met the Houston Cougars (31-2) coached by Guy Lewis in a game which had one of the most memorable finishes in any NCAA Final ever played.
The Wolf Pack who had finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference defeated Pepperdine 69-67, UNLV 71-70, Utah 75-56, #1 seed in the west Virginia 63-62 and in the NCAA semifinal Georgia 67-60 to earn the right to face Houston.
They were led by 6’ 11” senior forward Thurl Bailey (16.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg), 6’ 5” freshman guard Ernie Myers (10.7 ppg), 6’ 0”senior guard Sydney Lowe (10.7 ppg), 6’ 1” senior guard Dereck Whittenburg (15.7 ppg), 6’ 7” sophomore forward Lorenzo Charles (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and 6’ 11” sophomore center Cozell McQueen (5.6 rpg).
The Cougars finished first in the Southwest Conference and got past Maryland 60-50, Memphis 70-63, and Villanova 89-71 and in the semifinal against Louisville 94-81 to get to the final.
They were led 6’ 7” forward Michael Young (17.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), 6’ 7” junior forward Clyde Drexler (15.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.8 apg), 7’ 0” sophomore center Hakeem Olajuwon (13.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg) and 6’ 9” senior forward Larry Micheaus (13.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
North Carolina State led at the half 33-25 but Houston went on a 15-2 run to lead most of the second half and were leading 52-48 with two minutes left in the game. North Carolina State scored four points to tie it and after a missed Houston free throw had the ball with 52 seconds left in the game.
Houston put on a pressing full court defense and almost stole the ball twice but North Carolina State guard Dereck Whittenburg managed to hang on to the ball but the Wolf Pack could not get a decent look at the basket. With the clock running down, Whittenburg threw up a desperation field goal attempt that came up short of the basket but Lorenzo Charles was at the basket, grabbed the ball and just before time expired on the game clock, jammed it through the basket for a 54-52 North Carolina State win. Fans and players alike were stunned.
The colorful, energetic Jim Valvano was out on the floor running from one end to the other reacting to the play that many consider the greatest buzzer beater in NCAA Finals history.
Thurl Bailey led the Wolf Pack with 15 points while Whittenburg had 14 but was only 6 of 17 from the field but it was his gutsy play in the last 50 seconds of the game that made Charles’s field goal possible. Cozell McQueen added 12 rebounds.
For North Carolina State it was their fourth win in the NCAA tournament by two points or less.
For Houston, Olajuwon had 20 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocked shots and Benny Anders had 10 points off the bench.
Whittenburg and Olajuwon were the Chevrolet co-MVPs of the game. Houston was back the next year while North Carolina State has not been back to the final since 1983.
Statistics for this article was from sports-reference.com and YouTube.com.