Trees tap danced, an elephant will drive for A.J. Foyt at Indy and Orson Welles skipped breakfast, lunch and dinner. The wise-acre trembling at this typewriter (remember?) guaranteed those things would happen before North Carolina Dreaming State ever beat Houston. But on a Dereck Whittenburg air ball from 40 feet, State took a 54-52 last-second victory tonight over the suicidal favorites.
At the end, Akeem Abdul Olajuwon lay dead still on the floor. He had seen it. He saw Whittenburg's prayer float overhead. He saw Lorenzo Charles pluck it from the air just short of the rim and, how fitting, slama-jama it through. And then Olajuwon collapsed at the free throw line, his hands groping at his face.
Jubilation around him. You could see a saxophone glittering. A trumpet. An N.C. State banner. Inside the madding crowd, lost in celebration of a national college basketball championship earned against all reason, was Charles, whose smile stretched from here to Raleigh. And at his feet lay Olajuwon, now rocking from side to side against the hurt.
"The dream continues," said Jim Valvano, the young N.C. State coach, when his team beat Georgia in the semifinals here. Cinderella never had it this good. No better than a tie for third in the ACC this season, State won six NCAA games--four of them by two points or less.
And tonight Valvano said, "This team has so much heart."
N.C. State earned tonight's victory with a big first half from Thurl Bailey, whose 15 points came as State built a 33-25 halftime lead, and with a second-half rally from seven points down in which the Wolfpack scored nine of 10 baskets from at least 18 feet. And as Houston failed to score the last three minutes, State came from 52-46 down to tie it on Sidney Lowe's 23-footer and two from 25 feet by Whittenburg.
Surely, State earned as memorable a victory as this championship has seen in--who knows how long? Looking for an upset to match this, we need go back to 1966 when Adolph Rupp's Kentucky team lost to Texas Western. State earned it with an unflappable effort--almost cocky at times, so poised were Valvano's guys--against a Houston team whose semifinal avalanche against Louisville stamped it a favorite so prohibitive that some witnesses (blush) said Houston was out of this world.
What Houston was tonight, and it can be said without diminishing N.C. State's accomplishment, was out of its mind.
Phi Slama Pajama, you can call these guys, because Coach Guy Lewis must have been sleeping on the bench.
Cinderella never slipped one past her sisters any slicker than Valvano conned Lewis tonight. Most of the first half, Valvano used three teeny-tiny guards: the 6-1 Whittenburg, 6-foot Sidney Lowe and 6-foot Terry Gannon. These midgets were up against an outfit whose shortest fellow was 6-6 and weighed 220.
Yet State's 33-25 lead was surprising only in that it wasn't larger. Valvano used a 2-3 zone against Houston's brobdingnagians. The zone itself makes sense, because it puts three guys under the hoop. But it makes no sense when a 6-1 back liner plays 6-9 Larry Micheaux, a 59 percent shooter averaging 14 points.
But Houston had no zone offense to run.
They had nooooo idea. Not once in 10 minutes did Micheaux get the ball.
And while Houston guard Larry Franklin kept the ball away from Whittenburg, State took advantage of Houston's 2-3 zone by getting it to Bailey in the corner. Bailey was seven of 12 at halftime, and at game's end said, "Some say God is on our side. I believe He is."
With Guy Lewis napping, N.C. State needed little divine help. Further evidence came in the second half when Houston seemed on its way to expected victory, even expected romp.
Running, working the offensive boards, playing a new defense that shut down Bailey (zero for three the second half), Houston outscored State, 17-2, in the first 9:36. That gave Houston a 42-35 lead, and the die was cast. Now, as against Louisville, would come the avalanche, the moment when Houston's superior athletes would run poor little State into exhaustion.
Yes, here would come Phi Slama Jama.
Well, at game's end, someone held up a sign saying, "Slama Jama Ain't Worth a Dama."
But you can't really say that, because with that 42-35 lead Guy Lewis must have heard an alarm clock. Time to wake up, coach. Do some coaching. So what did he do? He sent his runnin'-gunnin'-slama-jammin' team into a delay offense. Unbelievable. The coach woke up and thought he was Dean Smith. Sending Houston into a delay is criminal. It was as if the Pentagon heard there were missiles on the way to the White House and retaliated by asking three ladies with whips to catch a train to Moscow.
After that 17-2 explosion, Houston, in its delay, scored only two baskets the next five minutes. State now trailed, 46-44. Give the national champions credit. They stole the ball twice, they fouled Houston's terrible free throwers at the right time, they forced Olajuwon into a bad shot that hurt and they scored the game's last eight points over 3:19.
But Houston had no business holding the ball. You might as well ask Orson Welles (there's that guy again) to tippy-toe across a high wire over the Grand Canyon. No way.
When Franklin missed a free throw at 52-all with 1:05 to play, you knew it was over. You knew State would wait a while, call time and set up Whittenburg for one shot. You also knew Houston wouldn't think to foul quickly, thereby keeping a chance to tie or, more likely under such pressure, having a last shot to win.
You knew these things because Jim Valvano was on one bench, Guy Lewis on the other.
They all happened.
"I just went up," Lorenzo Charles said, pronouncing Houston's die-by-the-sword epitaph, "and dunked it."