As players and coaches from both teams surrounded the scorer's table and the sellout crowd in the Omni stood and waited, referee Paul Galvan posed the critical question to timer Larry Carter: Did the basket by Marquette's Jerome Whitehead go in before the buzzer sounded?

Carter said yes, and Marquette had won the NCAA semifinal game over North Carolina Charlotte, 51-49.

Galvan asked again: "Where was the ball when the buzzer sounded?" Carter replied: "The ball was in the basket."

Galvin turned and called the basket good. As the UNCC players stook looking around in disbelief, the Marquette fans went wild. They had their wish. Al McGuire, in his last season as Warrior coach, would have one final shot at winning a national title.

But the folks in Charlotte, N.C., won't forget this game, not even if Marquette fails to win the NCAA Tournament Monday night. Not after how this one ended.

After playing what coach Lee Rose called "teh worst half we've had all year," the 49er wiped out a 14-point deficit to lead for most of the second half. Then after Marquette clawed ahead again, 49-47, Cedric Maxwell tossed in a six-footer to tie it with five seconds left.

Marquette immediately called a time-out, stoping the clock with three seconds to go. McGuire took time to walk to midcourt and chick how high the scoreboard was suspended above the court.

Then he got into the team huddle and set up a despeeation play: Butch Lee was to heave a pass to Bo Ellis or Whitehead, near the UNCC foul line.

Lee threw and both Ellis and Maxwell, who was standing in back of the Marquette Ipaye, leaped for the ball. It went off Ellis' hands to Maxwell, who couldn't gain complete control. The ball trickled to Whitehead, who was behind both players, and he turned and tried to dunk it.

Maxwell, whose arms are 39 inches long, got his hand on the ball and deflected it to the back of the rim, but it bounced in.

Galvin, standing under the basket, did not signal whether the basket was good. He looked to fellow, referee Charels Fouty of the Big 10. When Fouty didn't respond, alvan walked to the scorer's table and talked to Carter, the timer.

Then he declared Marquette the winner, giving McGuire his second tournament final appearance.

Afterward, once the emotion of the moment had gone away, UNCC players Maxwell and Lew Massey said they had no disagreement with the desision.

"It beat the buzzer," Maxwell said.

Rose, who came here with an unsung team and spent much of his time defending its ability, said he didn't debate the refree's decision.

"I learned a long time ago you can't change an official's judgment. It was a difficult decision and I admire the men who ha to call it."

But he did wonder aloud whether Maxwell had been fouled by either Whitehead or Ellis as he tried to pick of Lee's long pass.

"At first I thought he (Galvin) said the basket was no good," Rose said. "Then I thought he had called a foul. Was he fouled? That's the question."

Maxwell said he didn't know if he had been pushed. "Everything happened so fast," he said. "I can't remember.

Neither could Whitehead.

"I was concentrating so much in getting the ball and putting it in, everything else was a blank," he said.

It was fitting that both Maxwell and Whitehead were involved in the final play. Without them, their teams would never have been in position to challenge to the end.

Whitehead, who had three miserable tournament games before today, scored 21 points and had 16 rebounds, both season highs, on a day when warrior stars Ellis (four points) and Lee (11) were 20 points below their combined averages.

Maxwell, called "the best player in America" by his coach, went head-to-head with Whitehead most of the game. He had 17 points and 12 rebounds, hitting five of six field goals and seven of nine foul shots. Whitehead was 10 of 16 from the field; one of two from the line.

"We stopped their big men, and the he (Whitehead) killed us," said Maxwell, who answered reporters' questions for 15 minutes in the locker room while staring at the floor.

Whitehead is McGuire's "aircraft carrier," the tall man in the middle who can launch the Warriors, normally through his defensive work, but today he was looking to the basket for points and sprinting dowm the lane to pick off rebounds and stuff them in for baskets.

"Jerome has had four or five droughts the past three weeks," McGuire said. "This was his day in the sun. He was beautiful."

For a while, so was Marquette, while UNCC fell victim to the pressure of the final four and played miserably for the first 13 minutes of the game ("Man, we were tight," said forward Kevin King), McGuire was orchestrating a beautiful first half.

The tempo was slow, the play sloppy, just like he likes it. With Whithead controlling the boards and everyone contributing points, Marquette's early 23-9 lead was music to its fans' ears. McGuire called it "a good run."

It didn't last long enough. McGuire switched from man-to-man to zone to force UNCC to shoot from the outside.

Instead, the 49ers (after missing 13 of the first 17 shots) worked inside for 10 straight points and Marquette limped into the locker room ahead by only three, 25-22.

McGuire, who was calling out every offensive move to his team, said he was delighted with that small margin. He clapped his hands as he left for the locker room because, he said, "those three points saved us. We were losing it, fudging around, but we didn't lose all of it."

The lead did disappear shortly after intermission. A 16-footer by Massey put UNCC ahead, 30-28. Only Whitehead's aggressiveness prevented the 49ers from running away with the game during the next few months.

He gave the Warriors time to recover and they finally responded with a 48-47 lead on a jump shot by Lec.

Then Massey missed an outside shot and Marquette reserve Gary Rosenberger was fouled. UNCC falled a time-out, which McGuire used to constantly bang Rosenberger in the arm. At one point, Whitehead tried to get McGuire to stop.

"Jerome thought I was giving it my psyche act," said McGuire, "but they called the time-out to ice Rosey. I kept hitting him so he wouldn't ice up. That's all."

The warmed-up Rosenberger made one of two throws for a 49-47 advantage with 1 3 seconds left. Then Maxwell countered with his basket eight seconds later to set up the dramatic conclusion.

When Marquette finally realized it had won, Lee threw his arms around McGuire and the two embraced at center court.

"We did it, coach, we did it," Lee kept yelling.

McGuire smiled.