The Kansas State players were beside themselves with joy; the rest of us in Pauley Pavilion, from casual fans to pro scouts, were beside ourselves with wonderment. How had it happened? How had a team with one great player, who played to his ability perhaps 20 pecent of the game, managed to beat one of America's great college teams?
"Coaching has so much to do with the college game," Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry said in obvious recognition of the country's best unheralded coach, Jack Hartman. "He knows what he has, which isn't a whole lot. And he doesn't ask 'em to do more they can. Tell you the truth, though, I thought the game was over when (Rolando) Blackman missed that layup."
That came with about nine minutes left, when Blackman had that layup partially blocked by Steve Johnson and Oregon State, rated No. 1 in the land most of the season, hit two easy baskets to increase a three-point lead to seven.
Harman kept coaching. Unlike everyone else, he realized that while the Wildcats were not playing especially well, they were still better than they had been the first half-hour or so.
"We couldn't get going, probably because we were aware of who we were playing," he said later, after the Big Eight runners-up had beaten a team that had lost just once all season. "We had only 13 shots the whole first half. That's unbelievable. But we were able to stay close, within 10 points. Bad as we were playing, they couldn't put us away."
Like Ferry, Hartman sensed imminent doom after Blackman's miss and OSU's two quick baskets.
"I thought: 'Here we go again,'" he said. "Marquette beat us by one in the NCAAs the year they won it all and Louisville (the eventual national champion) beat us last year in overtime on a questionable shot. But it all worked out today. It wasn't pretty, but it worked."
It worked, in part, because OSU botched three bonus free-throw chances and its biggest -- if not best -- player, Johnson, was both uncommonly erratic and predictable. The nation's best-ever collegiate field-goal percentage shooter, who this year made a remarkable three of every four shots he tried, missed two layups.
Johnson also fouled out, with 3:23 to pay. He had done that seven other times this season, averaging four fouls in 27 games. And when his opposite number at center, Ed Nealy, made both foul shots after Johnson's fifth personal, the game was tied at 48.
After freshman Charlie Sitton missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:03 left, Hartman made two decisions. One was brilliant, the other so obvious everyone in the gym knew it was coming. And nobody from OSU could stop it from producing the winning basket, for K-State's only lead of the game.
Hartman's first bit of strategy was not only to stall for the final shot, but also not to take a timeout in the final seconds to discuss how it should be taken.
"You take a timeout then," he reasoned, "and the other team has a chance to set its defense."
Besides, it was clear to anyone who pays the scarcest attention to college basketball that State would be smart enough in the final seconds to get the ball to Blackman and then get out of his way. Which is what happened with 15 seconds left.
Blackman surely is the least noticed great player in college basketball, an Olympian but very often a nonfactor until the game is about to be decided. Against San Francisco Thursday night, Blackman took just three shots the first half. But he scored the winning points.
"A lot like our Jimmy Jones used to be," said Ferry. "He can do a lot of things any time he wants. You just wonder why he doesn't do 'em more often."
He did them just often enough again today.
"We were trying to go back door (for a layup) while the clock was running down," said Blackman, "but when that didn't work I faked inside, then broke toward the free-throw line for the ball with 15 seconds left. With about eight seconds left, I looked at the clock again -- and started my move."
It began from a spin just beyond the foul line that took him and defender Mark Radford toward the right baseline, about 12 feet from the basket. Another OSU man moved toward Blackman as he turned for the shot. Blackman did not see him. He was in the trance all special players drift into at the ultimate moment of a game.
"When I popped up, all I saw was the rim," he said. "It was just me and the rim. And everything felt good, the rhythm, the release."
"Too many crucial mistakes," OSU Coach Ralph Miller said. "But we had our opportunities; you've got to boil it down to that. And you do not beat Jack Hartman's teams easily. I'm primarily disappointed for the players. I like this bunch very much. They've been dedicated to a team concept, and you like to see young men like that do better than this year and last."
Last year favored OSU also lost early in the NCAAs. Why two years in a row?
"If I knew," Miller said, "I'd be glad to tell you. I guess Ray Meyer (of De Paul) is thinking the same thing. I've got my share of wins (he passed 500 in career victories late this season), but I've also got some big numbers on the other side of the ledger.
"That helps me at times like this. But it doesn't mean a thing to my players. All I could tell them was: 'I'm sorry. I can say nothing that's gonna help your feelings right now.'"
Miller clearly was not as poised as he pretended during that postgame press conference, saying at one point near the end: "I have a very warm spot in my heart for this team."