Even Cozell McQueen was good today. And with the usually invisible McQueen getting visibly involved, North Carolina State added inside to its outside.
In the strongest supporting performance of his career, McQueen made 13 rebounds and scored eight points to foul up Georgia's plans and help North Carolina State advance to Monday's national championship game against Houston with a 67-60 semifinal victory here in University Arena.
"My best game? Oh yeah, no question," said McQueen, the 6-foot-11 center who averages three points and five rebounds per game. "Especially on offense. Me score eight points, are you kidding? Never had a game this good."
McQueen also had the help of D.C.'s finest: Dereck Whittenburg, Thurl Bailey and Sidney Lowe.
Whittenburg scored 20 points on his usual assortment of high-in-the-sky jumpers. Bailey scored 20 points, too, and got 10 rebounds. And Lowe's 11 assists enabled him to pass North Carolina's Phil Ford as the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time assist leader.
Whittenburg, Bailey and Lowe usually play well. What surprised almost everyone was the performance of McQueen. N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano looked at McQueen's final statistics, including four-for-five shooting, and just laughed.
After successive offensive rebound baskets late in the first half, teammate Terry Gannon recalled saying to himself, "What's with Cozell today?
"When we get productivity out of him," Gannon said, "it takes so much pressure off of the seniors."
It also took some of the burden off forward Lorenzo Charles, who has been providing most of State's inside game. "With Cozell playing so well inside, it meant Georgia couldn't double-team me or Thurl," Charles said. "He's played like this in practice before, but it was great to have him do it in a game."
Much of Georgia's game plan was designed to exploit the Wolfpack's usually vulnerable inside game--on offense and defense. "But with McQueen playing so well on offense we couldn't double-team Bailey and Charles," said Bulldog forward Lamar Heard. "And on offense, we wanted to push the ball inside the second half, but . . . "
. . . McQueen blocked four shots.
"Dynamite," Valvano said.
Much of Georgia's undoing, however, can be attributed simply to bad shooting. The Bulldogs did well enough in the second half to finish the game shooting 35 percent.
Forward James Banks, a 54 percent shooter, made five of 19 shots. Center Terry Fair, a 54 percent shooter, made two of nine. Guard Vern Fleming scored a team-high 14 points, but his seven for 17 fell way short of his 54 percent average.
Banks' woes seemed to hurt Georgia (24-10) the most. He played his usual smart, inspired game, only to miss shots he'd probably had rarely missed all season.
"We certainly got the shots we wanted," Banks said. "But we missed a few, got tight, got timid and then you hit a cycle. It was so frustrating, missing shots we normally hit. Coach (Hugh) Durham told me to keep shooting, though."
Finally, with the help of State's blunderous spread offense, Durham's advice began to pay off.
How many times will teams run up seemingly insurmountable leads by playing full throttle, only to have the coach decide to sit on a lead that would otherwise steadily increase?
Valvano did just that today, ordering a spread with 5:41 left with his team leading, 59-41, and getting stronger.
Why? "Well, we should be able to milk a lead," Valvano said. "After all, we are an agricultural school."
It was not too funny, however, when the Bulldogs scored 11 straight points to pull within 59-52 with 1:49 left on an inside basket by Fleming.
McQueen had fouled out a few seconds earlier, and wasn't liking what he saw from the bench. "I looked up at the clock and thought we might be letting it slip away," he said.
"They were starting to trap a lot," Lowe said. "You have to be up close to realize how long their arms are, especially Fleming's."
Georgia got to 60-54 on a basket by Fleming with 1:32 left, after Bailey could make only one of two free throws--N.C. State's first point in four minutes.
But during a Georgia timeout, Valvano said he told his team, "We knew we couldn't stay 18 points ahead forever. They made their run, now it's over. Let's build the lead back up."
Enter Whittenburg. He made two free throws with 1:30 left to increase the lead to 62-54, and from there it was just a matter of time.
"A big breather," McQueen said.
It was a real breather the first 35 minutes, as McQueen helped the Wolfpack open a nine-point lead with consecutive follow-up baskets. "They were so worried about Whitt and Lowe, they forgot to block me out," McQueen said.
McQueen couldn't tip them all however, because Whittenburg hit six of six shots against Fleming. Whittenburg missed five shots when Gerald Crosby was the defender.
"Whittenburg didn't do anything he doesn't always do," said Crosby. "You figure he might have a bad game today, or at least you hope he does. But it never seems to happen."
There was a good chance it could have happened today, because Whittenburg was still suffering from flu and a 100-degree temperature. "Only two broken arms and two broken legs could have kept me out of this one," Whittenburg said.
And Valvano, as proud as ever, pronounced, "The dream continues."