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On This Date in Sports March 9, 1974: Only One Will Dance

In an era when the conference was limited to one team in the NCAA Tournament, the ACC Tournament Championship between NC State, the top-ranked team in the country, and #4 Maryland took on an added sense of drama. The game, which was played feverishly, went to overtime, where NC State survived with a 103-100 victory. The Wolfpack would go on to win the NCAA Tournament.

With just 25 teams participating in the 1974 NCAA Tournament, teams in a conference had to win their conference to get into the tournament. The limited at-large bids were reserved for independent teams. That would make the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, take on added importance, as two of the top four teams in the nation participated, with only the winner moving on. Both teams were loaded with professional prospects: The NC State Wolfpack had eight future NBA and ABA players, while Maryland boasted six.

North Carolina State, under coach Norm Sloan, posted a record of 24-1 in the regular season, going 12-0 in conference play, as their only loss of the season occurred early in the season against UCLA. The Wolfpack had gone unbeaten the year before but were ineligible for the tournament due to questions over the recruiting of star David Thompson. Lefty Driesell led the Maryland Terrapins and went 21-4 in the regular season and 9-3 in the conference. On their way to the championship, game Maryland beat Duke 85-66 and UNC 105-85. NC State, meanwhile, with a bye into the semifinals, just needed to beat Virginia 87-66.

With just one team going to the tournament, it was clear early that this game at Greensboro Coliseum would be unique as both teams were at the top. Both teams came out shooting, as Maryland held a 55-50 lead at the half after jumping out to an early 13-point lead. The Wolfpack would take the lead early in the second half as the teams battled back and forth, with the Terrapins shooting a torrid 61% while NC State made 55% of their shots from the field. The teams traded the lead throughout the final 20 minutes, as John Lucas missed a potential game-winner for Maryland with the score tied 97-97 at the end of regulation.

In overtime, play got tighter as neither team wanted to give up, especially NC State, who came into the game with a 31-game ACC winning streak. Maryland held a 100-99 midway through overtime when Lucas missed the front end of an and-one. Down the other end, NC State took the lead for good on a shot by Phil Spence, as Monte Towe hit two late free throws to seal the win for the Wolfpack.

Some have called the game the greatest college basketball game ever played, and it was filled with great performances. David Thompson struggled from the field but still managed 29 points, while Tom Burleson scored a game-high 38 points with 13 rebounds. Maryland, meanwhile, was led by Tom McMillen and Mo Howard, who each scored 22 points, with Len Elmore adding 18, matching Burleson’s 13 boards.

The disappointed Maryland Terrapins turned down an invitation to the NIT, having won it two years earlier. NC State, meanwhile, ended UCLA’s seven-year reign and won the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The outcry over Maryland’s exclusion led to the expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 32 teams in 1975.