team for all rules, North Carolina State won the NCAA West Regional tournament today. By the margin of Lorenzo Charles' two foul shots with 23 seconds left, the Wolfpack beat Virginia and forced Ralph Sampson to end his college career without the championships he covets most.
With a shot clock and three-point basket, State denied Sampson an Atlantic Coast Conference title two weeks ago. With conventional rules here, its Washington-area threesome of inside and outside forces literally denied Sampson one last shot at the NCAAs and escaped with a 63-62 victory.
"Four guys almost tacklin' Ralph," said Dereck Whittenburg of State's strategy during that 17-second sequence of Cavalier futility, "and me chasing Othell Wilson."
State was willing to give Virginia an open jumper. But when reserve Tim Mullen actually got it, near the top of the key with six seconds left, Whittenburg suddenly felt sick. Mullen was too free, he thought.
"Another dribble and it would have been a foul shot," he said. One of the Cavaliers' most accurate shooters, Mullen has been injured and played sparingly since the semifinals of the ACC tournament. In his sixth minute of action, he hustled off the bench to take his only shot of the game; it was just bad enough to keep Virginia alive.
The rebound sailed over State defenders and to Wilson, perhaps 10 feet from the basket. He grabbed the ball and went back up with about three more ticks left in the season. Then he either threw up one of the ugliest shots in memory or was trying to slip a pass to Sampson.
Whatever, the ball ended in the hands of State's Cozell McQueen. Depending on where loyalties were aligned, partisans here either were close to ecstasy or depression. The moment called for that range of emotion. Virginia wanted desperately for the game's most graceful man his size to capture its most precious prize. Without lots of magic, State could have been planning for next year seven games ago.
"Our first option was penetration with Wilson," Virginia Coach Terry Holland explained. "The second was inside, Sampson coming to the ball. The third was to our perimeter shooters. We thought we would have to take a perimeter shot, so we put Mullen in.
"They were box and one (on Wilson), and there was no way Rick Carlisle (who had been four for seven from the outside) could get a shot."
The Wolfpack fought from seemingly hopeless situations to beat North Carolina in the ACC tournament and Pepperdine in the NCAAs. With that in mind, today was rather a breather. The Pack trailed by only seven points with 7 1/2 minutes left.
Had the ACC's three-point line been used today, State may have won by a dozen points. Nearly all of Whittenburg's 11 field goals were from 19 feet and beyond. A few of them were close to out of sight. As no one player can check the 7-foot-4 Sampson inside, so it is close to impossible to stop the 6-1 Whittenburg from afar.
"You try and deny him the ball," Carlisle had said, "and all he does is go out to midcourt for it."
Whittenburg dribbles the ball nearly shoulder high and sort of rocks his body, as if getting springs coiled. Then he leaps up and lets fly. His shots have hang times NFL punters would envy. Upon return to the earth's atmosphere today, they cut through the nets--and Virginia's collective heart.
Sampson was as good, missing just two of 10 field-goal tries and four of 11 foul shots. He also had 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and two dandy assists. With a finger-roll, a one-handed jam-stuff of a miss that he controlled under the rim and two free throws, Sampson gave Virginia a 56-49 lead wilth 7:39 left.
Whittenburg and the other Washington-area standouts, Sidney Lowe and Thurl Bailey, brought State to 57-59 slightly less than four minutes later.
Because Whittenburg was so effective outside early, Bailey was able to get free for his favorite shots. Instead of going to its big men to control games, as all the texts preach, State uses 20-footers.
With 3:44 left, the ultimate hero, Charles, spun around Craig Robinson for the layup that tied matters at 59. Carlisle missed a bonus free-throw try and State started stalling. It turned the ball over to Robinson.
And Carlisle fed Virginia's Mr. Inside, Sampson, for a lob-stuff with 100 seconds left.
So State's Mr. Outside, Whittenburg, mailed a 20-footer over Wilson's flailing hand.
Whether intentionally or not, Whittenburg committed a smart foul with 54 seconds left. Wilson has been erratic under pressure lately, and after Whittenburg smacked him near the Cavalier bench and State called time, he made the first shot and missed the second.
For State, the game then was in Whittenburg's hands. From the free-throw line extended, he blew past Carlisle. Frightened he might charge somebody, he passed to Charles.
"I was looking to take a nice short shot there, but the other guys came off on me and I saw Lorenzo open," said Whittenburg, voted the regional's most valuable player. "I just passed as quickly as I could because Lorenzo had a lot better shot than I had. I didn't want to be taking a shot if I was going to be forcing it, so I hit him."
"Probably, Charles is the only player we have who actually could have caught that pass," Coach Jim Valvano said.
Charles went up strong against Sampson, missed the shot but was fouled. Virginia called time.
Lowe verified that the following happened on the bench: Valvano gave sophomore Charles a positive pep talk, preaching that destiny was his and failure impossible. When Charles returned to the court, Valvano pulled Lowe aside and ordered what to do in case of a miss.
"He (Charles) said, 'I'm gonna hit these, I'm gonna hit these,' " Whittenburg said. That was what Whittenburg was whispering to Ricky Stokes as Charles prepared to shoot.
In the first round of the ACC tournament, Charles beat Wake Forest from the foul line; he swished both today.
"When he (Whittenburg) got hurt (against Virginia Jan. 12)," Valvano said, "I told some North Carolina writers I had a dream that he'd come back and knock in a jumper to win the ACC championship. That's as far as my movie went. Had I known . . ."
His voice trailed off, toward Albuquerque.