After a glorious first half full of running, shooting and imaginative basketball, No. 1-ranked North Carolina slowed the action while capturing the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title by defeating No. 3 Virginia, 47-45, today in Greensboro Coliseum.
A sellout crowd of 16,034 was booing loudly at the end, and Carolina's James Worthy, the tournament's most valuable player and the game's high scorer with 16 points, probably summed up the frustration of fans and participants best.
"It would be interesting to see what would happen if we went out and played 40 minutes with no coaches and no officials," he said.
After Virginia's Jeff Jones made a jump shot with 7:33 remaining to bring the Cavaliers within 44-43, North Carolina Coach Dean Smith told his team to hold the ball until Virginia came out of its zone defense.
Smith and Virginia Coach Terry Holland spent the rest of the game tinkering with delays and fouls and zone defenses. Neither team took another shot from the field until the final buzzer, when Virginia all-America Ralph Sampson slammed down a meaningless dunk.
Both teams will participate in the NCAA tournament. North Carolina (27-2) is the top seed in the East Regional, and Virginia (29-3) is the top seed in the Mideast Regional.
Matt Doherty made three of four foul shots in the final 28 seconds for the North Carolina victory. Trailing, 45-43, Virginia had a chance to tie the game, but freshman Jimmy Miller lost the ball out of bounds with three seconds left.
That final sequence began when Doherty missed the second of two free throws. Virginia got the rebound and called a timeout with 25 seconds left. North Carolina, which had committed only one foul in the second half, had five fouls to waste before Virginia could shoot free throws.
So with 21 seconds left, North Carolina fouled, forcing Virginia to inbound the ball. The Tar Heels did the same thing with 13 seconds left. On a third attempt to get downcourt for a final shot, Miller, a 6-foot-8 forward, dribbled to the left corner, looking for an opening from which to shoot with three seconds left.
"When I came up from the last dribble, Jimmy Black hit my right arm and the ball went out of bounds off my knee. He didn't hit the ball. I was just about to square up for my shot, too."
"I was going to foul him," Black said, "but I got the ball first."
North Carolina took possession and Doherty made two foul shots with one second left for a 47-43 lead. Sampson's uncontested dunk ended the scoring, and many fans stood and booed even as the Carolina players were celebrating the victory.
"It's an unfortunate thing that two teams as talented as ours can't go head to head, play as hard as we can, and let the best team win," said Virginia's Craig Robinson. "I don't have anything against strategy. But what happened out there hurts college basketball. And it especially hurts our conference for millions of people to watch this thing on national television.
"I feel like asking for a shot clock," Robinson continued. "I feel sick."
Holland had little to say about the slowdown or the outcome. "Right now, I'm just concerned about getting to the bus and going home," he said. "I've just lost a two-point game, and I'm not going to get into a discussion about that."
The second half was all the more disappointing because the two teams had split action-packed games during the regular ACC season. Fans in the coliseum looked on in confusion as two of the best teams in the nation took only nine shots each in the second half, after Carolina led, 34-31, at halftime.
But the Tar Heels, seeded first in this tournament, didn't have any regrets after giving Smith his ninth ACC tournament victory in 16 years. Smith said, "We went to our four corner offense to see if they would come out and chase us. They didn't attack it. It was up to Virginia to make the decision to come out and apply pressure. Virginia chose to wait, and when they came out at the two-minute mark, they certainly did a fine job."
"Once we got the lead, we wanted to do whatever we needed to do to keep it," said Tar Heel freshman Michael Jordan, who scored eight of Carolina's 13 points in the second half. Worthy scored all his points in the first half, making his first eight shots.
Virginia, playing without all-ACC guard Othell Wilson, who was out with a bruised right thigh, fell behind, 8-0, at the outset. But the Cavaliers, who shot 67 percent (78 percent in the second half), took a 39-36 lead with 16 minutes to play on a bank shot by Jones.
Then Jordan took over. He went over or around Jones for four straight jump shots to put Carolina ahead, 44-41, with eight minutes remaining. Sampson, who scored a team-high 12 points, did not touch the ball again until the final second.
Once Carolina had the lead and began working on the clock, Virginia mostly declined to foul. With 6:14 left, Ken Edelin fouled Black, only the second team foul of the half. Virginia's next foul came with 1:26 to play, when Sampson fouled center Sam Perkins. Carolina finally got into the bonus with 28 seconds left when Ricky Stokes fouled Doherty.
Holland said later that his team did not foul down the stretch because "I thought we could force a turnover without fouling."
Still, there was very little strategy being discussed after today's game. Many of the players and most of the fans went away feeling empty, wondering what could have happened if Smith and Holland had left the game alone.
"I'll always remember the first half more than the second," Perkins said.
"The first half had that special feeling," Robinson said. "You know, the feeling you get when you're about to be part of something big. I loved the first half, even though they took an 8-0 lead. Man, that was basketball. They came out and beat our butts, and we came right back after them."
Jim Kehoe, the former athletic director at Maryland, was upset about what he had seen.
"I can't believe that we watched two of the greatest teams in college basketball--teams with four all-Americans--play this way," Kehoe said. "All this talent, all those millions of people watching on national television, all the millions of dollars involved in running this tournament, and we get this.
"This is not in the best interest of college basketball. And it's certainly not in the best interest of our conference."