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On This Date in Sports April 4, 1983: NC State at the Buzzer

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NC State stuns Houston to win the NCAA Tournament 54-52 in Albuquerque. The Wolfpack were in control most of the game, but the talent of Houston took over in the second half. With the game tied, NC State had a chance for a final shot. Dereck Whittenburg launched a long shot near center court. Lorenzo Charles caught the ball and dunked home the ball as time expired to win the game.

When March began, NC State was not assured of playing in the NCAA Tournament. The field was expanding from 48 to 52 teams, but after a 17-10 record in the regular season, the Wolf Pack coached by Jim Valvano needed a good showing in the ACC Tournament to assure they would make the big dance. NC State took it out of the selection committee’s hands, winning the conference tournament and the automatic bid with wins over #5 North Carolina and #2 Virginia along the way. 

NC State was given the #6 seed in the West Region and survived a scare in the first round, beating Pepperdine 69-67 in double overtime in the first round in Corvallis, Oregon, as they rallied late to force overtime. In the second round, the Wolf Pack scratched clawed their way again, as they beat UNLV 71-70. In the Sweet 16, NC State beat Utah 75-56 in Ogden, Utah. This set up another showdown with Virginia in the Western Regional Finals. In the regular season, the Cavaliers beat NC State twice. However, as they did in the ACC Championship, NC State won when it mattered most, scraping by with a 63-62 victory to reach the Final Four. 

Joining NC State at the Final Four in Albuquerque was Houston, the top-ranked team in the nation, who came out of the Midwest Region. Louisville, the #1 seed in the Mideast Region and Georgia the #4 seed in the East Region. Houston’s Phi-Slamma-Jamma coached by Guy Lewis had taken the nation by storm, ranked #1 with a 27-2 record after a first-round bye beat Maryland 60-50 to reach the Sweet 16. From there, it was 70-63 win over Memphis State in Kansas City. They would go on to beat Villanova 89-71 to reach the Final Four. 

Louisville’s path to the Final Four included a 70-57 win over Tennessee in the second round. From there, it was 65-63 win over Arkansas and an 80-68 overtime win over archrival Kentucky in the Mideast Regionals. Georgia, the four seed in the East, started their path to Albuquerque with a 56-54 win over VCU. The Bulldogs would upset top seed St. John’s 70-67 in the Sweet 16 and stunned defending champion North Carolina 70-67 in the East Regionals in Syracuse. 

The two top seeds Louisville and Houston squared off in one semifinal with the Cougars winning 94-81. NC State meanwhile beat Georgia 67-60 in a battle of surprise semifinalist. In the championship game, NC State took advantage of Clyde Drexler getting in early foul trouble as they built a 33-25 lead at the half. After the break Houston took control of the game, outscoring the Wolfpack 17-2 over the first ten minutes to take a 42-35 lead. Hakeem Olajuwon, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, who had a game-high 20 points with 18 rebounds, began to show the effects of playing at a high altitude and need a break. With Olajuwon on the bench, NC State got back in the game and rallied to tie the game with a 17-10 run.

With under a minute left, the NC State defense looked to keep the ball away from Drexler and Olajuwon. When Alvin Franklin got the ball, he was fouled and sent to the line. Franklin was a poor free-throw shooter and made just two of six attempts in the title game. Franklin missed the front end of the one-and-one, as NC State got the ball with 44 seconds left in regulation with the game tied 52-52. With no shot clock, Jim Valvano instructed his team to use up the clock and take a shot at the buzzer. On several occasions, the ball nearly got away. Including a carless pass with seven seconds that almost went over the midcourt line Dereck Whittenburg saved the day but had to take a poor shot with five seconds left. The poor shot turned into a great pass, as Lorenzo Charles caught in under the basket and slammed it home as time expired to win the game and the national championship.

The ending to the 1983 NCAA Championship could not have been more dramatic as coach Jim Valvano ran around looking for someone to embrace.