erry Gannon, one of North Carolina State's four major heroes today, wondered aloud about the philosophy of trying to win an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship by shooting long-range, three-point jumpers.
"Fundamentally, it's just not a sound approach," Gannon said. "We've died by the three-pointer this season. But when you're shooting well, you don't think, you shoot."
So N.C. State shot from afar and lived. Virginia laid back and Ralph Sampson disappeared. And unranked North Carolina State left the Omni an 81-78 victor over the No. 2-ranked Cavaliers for its first ACC tournament championship since 1974, the days of David Thompson.
For Virginia, there was the disappointment of not having won an ACC tournament in Sampson's four years. "This is the only award in the world Ralph Sampson will never have in his house," said State's Ernie Myers. Today in Los Angeles, Sampson was named repeat winner of the Wooden Award as college basketball's best.
N.C. State played extremely well. Thurl Bailey, the senior forward from Bladensburg High School, scored 24 points. Dereck Whittenburg scored 15 and made two free throws with six seconds left to give State a three-point cushion. Sidney Lowe, Whittenburg's partner at guard for four years in college and before that at De Matha, made four of seven three-pointers in an 18-point effort.
And Gannon, besides making four of six three-pointers, stripped the ball from Sampson with 38 seconds left. That stopped what appeared to be a sure-thing dunk that would have pulled Virginia within one point.
But there were some crucial Virginia blunders, and there also was Othell Wilson's 40-foot, three-point basket at the end of the first half that was not allowed because officials ruled the clock had expired. Said Virginia Coach Terry Holland, "In my opinion, there was time on the clock, but I don't claim to be objective." Replays indicated that Wilson did not get the shot off in time.
Later, with Virginia trailing, 71-66, Wilson was tied up by Whittenburg and a jump ball was called. Led by an assistant coach, Jim Larranaga, the Virginia bench erupted vociferously, claiming Wilson had been fouled.
By the alternate possession rule, it would have been Virginia's ball anyway. But Larranaga was assessed a technical foul. Whittenburg made the two free throws with 5:11 left, then sank a jumper on the ensuing possession that gave State a 75-66 lead. So the technical foul had resulted in what could have been a six-point swing.
And also, as so many times over four years, the 7-foot-4 Sampson became a nonfactor down the stretch. Of his 24 points, his last basket, a five-footer, came with 7:48 to play and gave Virginia a 65-62 lead.
In the next two minutes he missed two hooks and one jumper, couldn't control an offensive rebound, and with 85 seconds left he passed up a 10-footer in favor of a pass to Rick Carlisle (who missed).
Asked if N.C. State won the game or Virginia lost it, Sampson said, "We lost it. We kinda laid back. I don't know if there's a reason for what happened. We waited around to see what was going to happen instead of running what needed to be run."
Sampson didn't even take a shot in the final six minutes, with State having taken a 67-65 lead at 7:01 on a Bailey three-pointer.
Asked why he didn't get the ball down the stretch, Sampson said, "It's the way it was. They couldn't get it in, or whatever. It was a fact."
Holland, asked if his team had tried sufficiently to get the ball to Sampson, replied, "Too much."
Certainly, N.C. State's defense aided in Sampson's frustration.
"In the first half, I was playing him straight up by myself," explained 6-11 Cozell McQueen. "In the second half, we kept three men around Ralph as much as possible. He got frustrated. I could tell because he kept fumbling the ball."
Gannon thought one of those times came with 38 seconds left, with Sampson so close to cutting what had been a nine-point deficit to 78-77. "I didn't see Gannon," Sampson said.
"I didn't think he did," said Gannon. "He turned for the dunk and I just stuck my hand in. I think he fumbled the ball up high and brought it down to his waist to get control. I kind of expected them to call a foul, because I wasn't sure the official was in position to see my hand, not that I fouled him though."
Gannon and Lowe led the 12-of-22 three-point shooting that gave Virginia fits throughout.
Virginia had taken a 46-39 lead with 13:50 left on Jimmy Miller's basket. Less than three minutes later, Lowe's three-pointer put the Wolfpack ahead, 49-48.
Virginia pulled away, 57-49, on a pretty, one-hand bank shot by Wilson (19 points, four three-pointers). But a three-pointer by Lowe and another by Gannon, in addition to a couple of jumpers by Bailey, cut the Cavaliers' margin to 61-59.
"The three-point shot was a big psychological advantage," said Gannon. "When we were down nine points, we thought of it as being down by three baskets."
Said Virginia's Miller: "Any lead of 10 points or less was nothing."
How ironic, Cavalier guard Doug Newburg said, "that a rule that was supposed to favor us so much has hurt us so much over the season."
State was fine on the three-pointers, but nearly let the fruits of long-range accuracy spoil by missing the front free throws of four one-and-one bonus sets and the back end of another in the final 2:49.
"We were missing one-and-ones," said Lorenzo Charles (12 rebounds), "but they were missing field goals."
Wilson (who fouled out with six seconds left) didn't miss a three-pointer that brought Virginia within 79-78.
But then Whittenburg, fouled by Wilson, stepped to the line.
"All I was thinking about was my usual four bounces and over the rim," said Whittenburg, who missed six weeks of the season with a broken foot he incurred Jan. 12 against Virginia.
"I thought I got fouled on the previous rebound (when called for traveling). I got poked in the eye, and I just fell down. But I was ready; ready to go to and shoot the free throws with one eye open."