Less than 24 hours earlier, Jimmy Black had left Capital Centre in uniform and on crutches, his injured left ankle strapped with ice. Coach Dean Smith had just finished saying: "I wouldn't trade Jimmy Black for any point guard in the country. Any point guard." We found out why last night, when North Carolina won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship because Black -- ailing -- was too fast and too quick for anyone in Maryland uniform.
Black magic is what the final three minutes became. He flicked the ball away from Maryland and outran Dutch Morley's flying tackle to score the layup that gave the Tar Heels their final lead. He disappeared from his defender on the final play and gleefully dribbled away with the one-point victory.
"Ice in my room during the afternoon," he was saying a few seconds after the final buzzer, after he had tossed the ball toward the roof in relief. aHe was standing by himself on the court, quite a distance from where his giddy teammates were hugging one another and cutting down the nets. "And something pretty hot."
What helped him play and get hot against the Tarrapins was a therapeutic gadget called TENS, for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator. What helped the Heels was Black's instinct, his ability to take advantage of the Maryland Achilles' heel -- point guard and pressure passing.
Let him pick up the action, when a seemingly safe pass from Buck Williams to Dutch Morley suddenly was scooped up by Black with the score tied at 54:
"Buck placed it there. I just took it."
And took off.
A 20-year-old who looks 16 and who had an ankle puffed up to about baseball size the night before is not supposed to win any sort of sprint, especially against a swift turtle hell bent on stopping a layup at nearly all costs. He had about a two-step lead at midcourt, but Morley was gaining.
"I just went for the basket," Black recalled. Like the devil was chasing him.
About the free throw line, Morley dived. Whether it was to flick away the ball or Black's legs doesn't matter, for he missed everything. He looked like a Redskin in pursuit of Tony Dorsett, flailing and then clutching air, and Black sailed in for the layup.
Black's last bit of agility hurt about as much.
Two un-Carolinalike mistakes helped the Terrapins get within a point with four seconds left. The Tar Heels had the ball under the Maryland basket, where their Sam Perkins had thrown it to Ernest Graham less than a minute earlier. Maryland's only hope was either for some Heel to look like a heel again or to smack whoever grabbed the inbounds pass.
Carolina was too cool for the former and anticipated the latter. It got off three passes before anyone from Maryland got close to the ball, even before Lefty Driesell could stomp his foot in frustration at losing for the fifth time in the ACC final.
Mike Pepper whipped a pass to Al Wood, who lateraled to Black, who was unimaginably wide open. Reporters at courtside were closer to Black than any Terrapin. Dazzled to be free, at last, Black was clever enough to dribble away from trouble, toward the Carolina bench as the four ticks and Maryland's hopes drifted away.
There were lots of ways for Carolina to win, but its smallest and gimpiest player did not necessarily figure to be one of them. But when the giants, Perkins and James Worthy of Carolina, Buck Williams and Graham for Maryland, canceled one another, little men became important.
And Carolina's little men played biggest.
Black and Pepper used every trick they knew. On defense, they tried to become body casts on Maryland players. They played with their arms and legs -- and mouths. They dared Reggie Jackson to shoot.
Pepper would back off now and then when Jackson, whose problems with jump shots have been careerlong, got within 15 feet of the basket. Graham considers that layup range; Carolina considered that hopeless range for Jackson.
"You can shoot that all day," Pepper yelled once to Jackson as he politely stepped aside.
Another time he yelled: "Go ahead!"
Goaded, Jackson went ahead the next time downcourt, though from the side of the court opposite Pepper. And hit. But he was two for six for the game. Worse, the other guard, Greg Manning, was two for five. Worst of all, Albert King, most valuable player of this tournament a year ago, was just five for 11.
And became a Wood cutter at the wrong moment.
After all the thinking by both coaches, all the moves and countermoves, the game quickly became a jump-shooting test between Graham and Wood. To the surprise of everyone, Wood was miserable.
In the Carolina rout in College Park earlier in the season, Wood was sensational, as though the basket were 12 feet in diameter and the ball three inches. Seemingly, Wood would not miss if the entire Maryland student body guarded him.
For the first half last night, Wood was a veritable conveyor belt of bricks, two for six from the field and zero for three on free throws. With nobody guarding him, he was helpless, once missing the easiest eight-foot baseline jumper he will ever se.
Graham, meanwhile, was in the extraterrestrial shooting trance he sometimes catches, but not always at important moments of important games. His first-half bombs (for 19 points) did much to explode the defensive pressure Carolina hoped would melt the Terrapins once again.
In that earlier game, the Tar Heels used what might be called a rape defense, a trap that stripped whoever happened to bring the ball past midcourt. dThe Maryland antidote last night was to spread its guards wide at half-court. When two Carolina defenders leapped toward the Maryland guard with the ball, he slipped it over their heads to a free teammate.
Maryland still was shaky much of the time after that first safe pass, but Graham usually made the end result pleasant with something far out from far out.
Unfortunately for Maryland, there was a second half. An evil omen was obvious on the opening tip. Wood would not be a game-long embarrassment after all. He scored with his first shot, over King. Then King went for a block on a Wood layup, hit him and gave him an immediate chance to redeem himself from the foul line.
He sank both shots. Confident once more, Wood ended by making half his 12 shots from the field. After Black's bit of thievery, Wood soared over the rim and gently put in a followup of Pepper's missed layup. This was a night once again when every Carolina player contributed mightily. Its most valuable players were its largest, but not always the best.