With players such as James Worthy and Sam Perkins, North Carolina Coach Dean Smith doesn't have to worry much about his front line. His back court, though, has shown weaknesses this season. But not today.
Jimmy Black played an almost flawless floor game and Michael Jordan, despite being weakened by a week-long bout with tonsillitis, outplayed North Carolina State's Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg. As a result, Carolina advanced to Sunday's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final against Virginia with a 58-46 victory over State.
The front line of Worthy, Perkins and Matt Doherty dominated, as usual, getting 43 points and 16 rebounds. But Black and Jordan also played significant roles.
Black played all 40 minutes, with five assists and only one turnover. Smith said that, according to his statistics, Black had 14 assists. Black also defended against Whittenburg, who did score 18 points but made only six of 14 shots.
"Defensively, all I tried to do was not let him get the ball, and when he did I just tried to play him straight up," said Black.
Jordan did not get a point the first half, but made three of four shots after intermission and had five rebounds. Worthy had 13 points the first half and only two thereafter.
"They weren't going to let us beat them inside in the second half," said Jordan, "so they left the outside shots open and I hit a couple."
The Tar Heels were up, 37-34, with 14:12 remaining when Jordan banked in a 16-footer, then 45 seconds later put in an offensive rebound. His three-point play with 5:44 left gave Carolina a 50-40 lead. State never recovered.
Jordan spent part of this week in the hospital. Early in the week his throat was very sore, he had trouble breathing and it was feared his tonsils would have to be removed. That would have ended his season. Instead, he twice had abscesses removed from his tonsils and his condition improved.
If the abscesses grow back, Jordan said, he has been told the tonsils will have to come out. "I was weak yesterday, but not today," he said after playing 35 minutes.
Surprisingly, State came out running with Carolina, but settled into a more controlled tempo as the game progressed. "We still got a few fast break baskets and we got the second shots," said Smith.
Coach Jim Valvano said 22-9 State "played as well as we can, but Carolina is just too tough. They beat you with their defense more than anything else. You can't get any easy baskets off them."
Despite the defeat, State probably will get an NCAA tournament bid.
"I've done my lobbying and it's out of my hands now," said Valvano. "But I think we deserve a place in the tournament. We only lost nine games and six of those were to teams that were ranked either one or two at the time. I think we belong in the tournament and I think it would be a shame after all we've done if we didn't get invited to the big dance."