Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
North Carolina State freshman Kenny Matthews came into tonight's Big Four Tournament game wondering if he had left his confidence back at Dunbar High school in Washington, D.C.
But in the split-second before the final buzzer, Matthews found his answer in a desperation 15-foot baseline shot that sent the Wolfpack past defending champion Wake Forest, 79-77. N.C. State, which holds the best overall record in the seven years of the Big Four, at 9-5, goes in Saturday night's final against second-ranked North Carolina - a team frustrated by its lack of success in this wold tourney, which opened tonight before the customary crowd of 15,564 basketball-crazed North Carolinians.
The Tar Heels earned their berth by defeating Duke, 79-66, with 23-point efforts from Mike O'Koren and Phil Ford.
Ford, everybody's All-America, unveiled a jump shot seemingly spiked with cement, but still managed to be in on enough key plays to pace the second-ranked Tar Heels through a stretch late in the game that put UNC safely ahead for the first time. "It was one of those nights," said Ford, "when I couldn't have thrown the ball into the ocean from the shore."
Ford made only seven of 17 shots from the floor. But his quick hands and coolness at the foul line were the key elements in padding a 62-60 lead to 73-64 with less than two minutes left.
O'Koren was dazzling, hitting nine of 13 shots and passing out four assists, UNC had trouble in the first half, when Duke outscored the Tar Heels, 17-5, at the foul line and led, 31-29, at intermission.
"It was a rough game, (spectator Norm Sloan, N.C. State's head coach, called it the most physical game he'd seen in a long time), but UNC won it by easing off on defense in the second half and concentrating more on putting the ball in the hoop.
It worked. The Heels' shooting percentage improved from 33 per cent in the first half to 66 per cent in the second, all of which prompted O'Koren to say, "You know, we could go undefeated this year."
In the second game, State was a few points ahead throughout most of the game. Wake, ranked 18th in the nation, suffered its first defeat in three games after rallying from a nine-point deficit in the second half for a 77-77 tie with 21 seconds left in the game.
Muscleman Rod Griffin carried the Deacons there, hitting two of his tourney-high 32 points on a great feed from Larry Harrison.
Then, it was all up to whoever could get the ball and take a shot for N.C. State.
"We had no set play," said Matthews. "Coach just told us to take a good shot. It was easy.
"There was a lot of pressure on me in this game. This Big Four Tournament - there's nothing like it in the country."
"That shot had to be great for his confidence," said Sloan. "He has been shooting a little tight, but he'll be a fine player."
Hawkeye Whitney, from De Matha High in Hyattsville, Md., paced the Wolfpack with 26 points.
Saturday night final will mark the first time in the last four years that Wake Forest will not emerge the champion.