There was Akeem Olajuwon, eyes still red, running hard toward the bus that would take him away. It was his only fast break of the day.
Moments earlier, Olajuwon and three teammates had been crying, pounding the floor in agony, directly beneath the basket where Lorenzo Charles had given North Carolina State the NCAA championship, 54-52, by slamming in Dereck Whittenburg's missed shot with one second to play.
Not only were they frustrated from losing, but these Houston Cougars, one of the great transition teams in college basketball history, were slowed to a crawl Monday night, first by victorious North Carolina State, then by their own coach, Guy V. Lewis.
What should make North Carolina State's victory even more embarrassing to Houston is that Wolfpack Coach Jim Valvano outlined publicly just what his team would do against the Cougars in Monday night's title game.
Sunday afternoon Valvano told practically the whole world that his guards, Whittenburg and Sidney Lowe, would slow the pace of the action to keep the score in the 50s; any higher than that and State would have little chance against Houston's superior athletes.
Secondly, Valvano said, his team would not devise any special defense for 7-foot center Olajuwon, but use a 2-3 zone to contain each player a little and try to get at least one starter in early foul trouble.
And if that didn't work and the Wolfpack fell behind, Valvano said, his players would foul the Cougars and force Houston to rely on the most vulnerable part of its game--free throw shooting.
"And most important," said guard Terry Gannon, "we didn't want them to get a dunk. Not one."
Said Valvano: "We just want to put ourselves into a position to win the game."
North Carolina State led by as many as 11 points in the first half before settling into a 33-25 halftime lead. Houston scored only two transition baskets in the first 20 minutes.
Twice, when the Wolfpack got excited and let the pace get too fast, Valvano came flying off the bench to remind Lowe, "Slower, Sid. Slower." Objective No. 1 accomplished.
The Cougars had shown, during a first-round NCAA game against Maryland, that they get frustrated by a deliberate pace. Clyde Drexler, "The Glide" as he is called at Houston, glided into his fourth foul with 2:47 left in the first half. He would play the entire second half with four fouls stifling his cool, and score a total of four points, the same number as Larry Micheaux. Objective No. 2, accomplished.
And when Houston did get going, turning a 17-2 spurt into a seven-point lead late in the game, Valvano went to Objective No. 3--foul the Cougars, any Cougar. They all shoot poorly from the free throw line, only 61.1 percent as a team.
So well thought out was this foul-and-wait tactic, that Valvano twice stood at the bench and pointed to which Houston players he wanted fouled. Did anybody on the Houston bench realize that Reid Gettys, the team's best clutch foul shooter, wasn't in the lineup down the stretch?
N.C. State was helped immensely when with eight minutes left and his team leading by seven points, Lewis decided to pull the ball back out and slow the game down. Just what the Wolfpack needed, unsolicited help to accomplish Objective No. 1.
"I was surprised they did that," Valvano said.
"I don't know why we went to the locomotion," said Houston forward Micheaux, the team's leading field goal shooter, who also was on the bench down the stretch. "You'd have to ask Coach Lewis about that."
Lewis was asked. He said the locomotion had worked before, and he thought it would work again. Maybe.
But how many times in this tournament had Lewis seen teams run up big leads, then try unsuccessfully to slow the pace? He had never been guilty of that before. The Cougars knew one pace: fast. So Lewis' decision to pull back was startling.
Gannon hit one of his line-drive, garage-door jumpers. Lowe, after a steal during the Houston delay, hit a 24-footer. Whittenburg, after a missed Houston free throw, hit a 20-footer. Whittenburg, after a miss by Olajuwon, hit another 20-footer to tie the game at 52-all with 1:57 left.
And it was only a matter of seconds before Alvin Franklin would miss a free throw that allowed State to plan its final strategy; a play that failed and succeeded at the same time.
The play was 32-red, "designed to get the ball to Whitt at the top of the key, so he can drive and dish it off, or go one on one for the shot," said Gannon.
Valvano had told his players to let the clock run down to the final seconds. They almost blew 32-red by passing the ball in the left corner to Thurl Bailey, who isn't supposed to touch it unless to shoot.
Houston really couldn't have played better defense. Whittenburg, after the ball was nearly stolen, swirled and took a shot from 10 to 12 feet beyond the top of the key, which is 20 feet from the basket.
Valvano said he thought the game was going into overtime.
So did Houston.
But Charles caught the air ball and jammed it. The first basket of the second half not scored by one of the itty-bitty guards.
Every step in Valvano's outline had been accomplished. Olajuwon, who made fewer than half his short shots, was the only starter to score in double figures. Drexler played only 25 minutes because of foul trouble. Houston made just 10 of 19 foul shots.
And there was one more line of statistics that told just how much Lowe controlled this game; 40 minutes played, eight assists, no turnovers. Zero.