Michael Jordan's 16-foot jump shot with 15 seconds remaining gave North Carolina a thrilling 63-62 victory over Georgetown and the NCAA basketball championship before 61,612 at the Superdome tonight.
The biggest basket of the freshman's career and a key steal of Fred Brown's errant pass by James Worthy, who scored a career-high 28 points, with five seconds left earned Carolina (32-2) its first NCAA basketball title since 1957 and first in Coach Dean Smith's 21 years at Chapel Hill. Smith's teams had advanced to the final four on six previous occasions, reaching the title game three times in the last six years. The Tar Heels lost to Indiana in the final last year.
"It was the kind of game I thought it would be," said Georgetown guard Eric Floyd, whose jump shot inside the foul line gave the Hoyas the lead, 62-61, with 57 seconds left. "Hard-fought, close. It was a tough loss but there weren't but two of us left. One had to win, one had to lose."
As expected, the outcome of the game that matched two coaches who are the best of friends and a highly touted freshman center against two of the best big men in the college game came down to the final seconds. It was the first one-point championship game since California defeated West Virginia, 71-70, in 1959.
"It had to be that way," said a disappointed Eric Smith, who scored 14 points for Georgetown (30-7). "I think the best came out in us and for Carolina also."
In the end, it was vintage Carolina. After trailing most of the game, the Tar Heels moved ahead, 61-58, with 3:26 left on a driving bank shot by Jordan, who finished with 16 points. Patrick Ewing, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds, made a soft one-handed jumper to cut the deficit to 61-60 with 2:37 to play.
Everyone in this spacious dome knew exactly what UNC was going to do next. Working out of its four-corners delay game, the Tar Heels played keepaway until Matt Doherty was fouled by Smith. Usually a fine free throw shooter, the 6-foot-8 Doherty missed the foul shot in the one-and-one situation and Ewing took the rebound with 1:19 to play.
Sam Perkins, the Tar Heels' 6-9 center, and Worthy watched the 7-foot Ewing closely, virtually eliminating any chance of a pass inside. Floyd got a step on Jimmy Black, moved just inside the foul line and arched a soft, looping shot over two defenders for the 62-61 Hoya lead.
UNC never looked worried. Black, who has played in a school-record 127 games, casually brought up the ball, then called time with 25 seconds left. The crowd, not believing what it was seeing, was standing now, wondering if Smith and the Tar Heels had a miracle in their playbook. The miracle turned out to be Jordan.
"The play was designed for Mike to shoot the jumper," said Black, who along with Perkins, Jordan and Worthy were named to the six-man all-tournament team. "They were in a 1-3-1 zone and he should have had about a 15-foot shot after we passed it couple of times."
He did. The 6-5 swing man, who also had a team-high nine rebounds, moved to the left side of the court in front of his bench, took Black's pass, squared up and shot. Georgetown's defensive strategy was to give up the lower-percentage shot. But Jordan's shot was true and UNC was ahead.
Hoya Coach John Thompson elected to put the ball in play immediately, saying afterward, "We could have called timeout and set up a play, but I wouldn't have known what kind of defense Dean was going to use. So I would have been wasting my time setting up a play."
The Hoyas rushed the ball upcourt and point guard Brown, trying to pass to Smith on the left side, threw a soft pass that was intercepted by Worthy with about eight seconds left.
"I picked up my dribble and that killed it," said a dejected Brown, who was consoled by his teammates. "At that point, I should have called timeout. But I saw Eric (Floyd) open on the left base line. But they overplayed so I looked for Pat.
"They were all covered so I tried to pass it to Eric Smith. But it wasn't him."
Said Floyd: "Fred doesn't have to explain anything to me about his pass. He was playing hard . . . We just couldn't pull it off."
In the game's first 39 minutes, almost everything the Hoyas tried worked--everything except defending against Worthy.
UNC didn't actually put the ball through the basket until nearly eight minutes elapsed. Ewing got some credit for that, being called for goaltending on Carolina's first four baskets. This was not an accident: Thompson told his center to make his "presence known" and not worry about the goaltending calls.
Worthy then went to work, scoring 12 straight points at one stretch to rally his team from a 12-6 deficit to a tie at 24 with 4:47 left in the first half. Floyd, who had eight straight points at one stage in the half, made a long basket and two free throws and assisted on a dunk by Ewing to give the Hoyas a 32-31 halftime lead.
Only nine teams in the 43 previous NCAA title games had recovered from a halftime deficit. Carolina became the 10th.
Neither team could gain control of the game in the second half. Floyd and Ewing carried much of the scoring burden for the Hoyas; Jordan and Worthy did the bulk of the work for the Tar Heels.
A three-point play by Ewing put the Hoyas up, 47-43, with 12:51 remaining. But the poised Tar Heels came right back, getting a jumper by Perkins from the side and three straight dunks. In between Worthy's dunks, Smith scored four points and Ed Spriggs added a free throw and the Hoyas led, 56-54, with 7:36 left.
Each possession was crucial now and both teams were extra careful on offense. Both still got the high-percentage shots they wanted until Jordan made his game winner.