In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
After two decades of near misses and heartbreak, Dean Smith finally gets to cut down the nets as North Carolina beats Georgetown 63-62 in the NCAA Tournament final at the Louisiana Superdome. The game came down to the final seconds, with freshman Michael Jordan of the Tar Heels hitting the winning shot with 15 seconds left, while James Worthy stole a pass from Fred Brown and nearly dribbled out the clock.
The 1982 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was the beginning of the modern March Madness we see today. It was the first year of the Women’s Basketball Championship, leading for the first year Men’s Basketball Championship was added to the designation. It was also the first tournament to be broadcast on CBS, which for the first time announced the selection of the tournament’s seeding live on Sunday.
The tournament had been growing since the 1979 Finals between Michigan State led by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s Indiana State. With the new big television contract on CBS came the arrival of two big freshman stars that would become among the biggest the sport of basketball would ever know.
Coming off a loss in the 1981 championship game to Indiana led by Isiah Thomas, the University of North Carolina again was one of the top teams in the county, as they were ranked first or second all season. Posting a record of 24-2 in the regular season, the Tar Heels coached by Dean Smith was the top seed in the East Region after winning the ACC Tournament, with a 47-45 victory over #3 Virginia, who along with Wake Forrest handed Carolina their only losses in the regular season.
Coached by John Thompson, Georgetown was a program on the rise. With the rise of ESPN, the Big East was becoming the new power conference in college basketball with the Hoyas being central to the conference rise. The 1982 Georgetown team got a big boost when they were able to land the top high school prospect in the country in Patrick Ewing. The seven-footer quickly became one of the best players in country guiding Georgetown to a 23-6 regular season record. After winning the Big East championship, the Hoyas were rewarded with the number one seed in the West Region.
Georgetown’s journey to the Final Four began with a 51-43 win over Wyoming in Logan Utah. Staying in the Beehive State, the Hoyas would beat Fresno State 58-40 in the Sweet 16 before recording a 69-45 win over Oregon State in the Regional Finals in Provo to reach the Final Four for the second time in school history. North Carolina meanwhile began their journey to New Orleans by surviving a first-round scare against James Madison in Charlotte, winning 52-50. Moving on to Raleigh for the regionals, the Tar Heels beat Alabama 74-69 to reach the Elite Eight, where they defatted Villanova 70-60 in the East Regional Final.
The 1982 Final Four at the Louisiana Superdome marked the first time it was held in New Orleans and the second time it was held in a dome, a practice that soon would become standard with the tournament’s growing popularity. In the semifinals against Houston, North Carolina came out hard and fast, scoring the game’s first 14 points. However, led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, the Cougars clawed their way back to tie the game early in the second half. North Carolina would eventually regain control and eat Phi Slamma Jamma 68-63. Georgetown meanwhile took on Louisville, the winners of the 1980 NCAA Tournament. The game was a defensive struggle, with the Hoyas winning 50-46.
The meeting of Georgetown and North Carolina was one of the most anticipated finals in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Looking to send a message, Patrick Ewing dominated the paint early part of the game. This was due in part to coach John Thompson telling him to make his presence felt. This led to Ewing being called for goaltending four times early in the game, leading to the Tar Heels first eight points. North Carolina did not make a shot from the field for nearly the first ten minutes but trailed by only two points. James Worthy finally got Carolina’s offense going late in the first half as Georgetown held a 32-31 lead, with Ewing getting called for goaltending five times. The game was close throughout, with Georgetown’s four-point lead being the largest either team would have as the teams traded baskets like heavyweight boxers in the middle of the ring. Looking to slow the game down, North Carolina employed Dean Smith’s patented four corners offense. This was the era before the shot clock in college basketball and teams could take as long as they wanted to shoot, this helped the Heels take a 61-58 lead with 3:50 left. Georgetown would answer and regain the lead with 57 seconds left after Eric Smith’s 12-footer following a rebound of Matt Doherty’s missed free throw. Looking for the right shot, the ball ended up in the hands of freshman Michael Jordan who hit a perfect jumper with 15 seconds left to again give Carolina the lead. Trailing 63-63 with no timeouts the Hoyas looked to set up a shot at the buzzer, but James Worthy intercepted Fred Brown’s pass intended for Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and was able to run all but one second off the clock before being fouled. Worthy who had a game-high 28 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, missed both free throws, but Floy’s prayer at the buzzer went unanswered as North Carolina won 63-62 to claim Dean Smith’s first National Championship.
The two freshman who would take the basketball world by storm, each had great games in their first of many meeting against each other, as Patrick Ewing was an unstoppable force for Georgetown, scoring 23 points with 11 rebounds, while Michael Jordan who hit the game-winning shot scored 16 points for North Carolina. Georgetown would play in the NCAA Tournament final two more times with Patrick Ewing, winning in 1984 against Houston and losing another one-point heartbreaker to Villanova in 1985.