The day before a regional final is one usually reserved for platitudes and cliches. Coaches and players talk about how tough the opponent will be. Coaches go on about how proud they are of their players. Players talk about how much they love the coach.
Today, as Kansas and North Carolina State prepared for Sunday's Midwest regional final at Kemper Arena (WDVM-TV-9, 4 p.m.) one subject came up again and again.
Specifically, the clock that malfunctioned near the end of the Jayhawks' riveting 96-86 overtime victory over Michigan State Friday. That malfunction led to a wild scene, two wild coaches and an embarrassed NCAA tournament official trying very hard today to claim that no one made a mistake.
This is what happened prior to the fiasco: In the first semifinal, N.C. State (21-12) overpowered Iowa State (22-11) inside, 70-66, getting 22 points from 6-11 freshman Charles Shackleford and 20 from 6-10 Chris Washburn. The Wolfpack thus advanced to their third regional final in four seasons.
Happy times for Coach Jim Valvano and his young but remarkably talented team. In fact, Valvano said it was Washburn's "best offensive game of the year," as he was knocking in 15-footers, jump shots, turnarounds and you-name-it, you-got-it.
That brought on host and heavy favorite Kansas (now 34-3) taking on guard Scott Skiles and Michigan State (now 23-8). For 38 minutes, Skiles and company forgot that Kansas has Danny Manning, Ron Kellogg and Calvin Thompson, Coach Larry Brown's "special kids." Also great players.
With 2:21 left, Vernon Carr made a free throw to give the Spartans a 76-72 lead. Kansas' Cedric Hunter missed a jumper and Kellogg rebounded it and scored to make it 76-74. But the clock still said 2:21. As Michigan State brought the ball down court, Coach Jud Heathcote stormed towards timekeeper Larry Bates screaming that the clock wasn't moving.
"When Juddy went to the timekeeper, he realized that the clock hadn't started when he turned it on," tournament committee member Arnie Ferrin said today. "He Bates wiggled the clock and it started."
By then, though, about 15 seconds had been lost. Brown was screaming that Heathcote should be given a technical for being out of the coaching box. "It's a rule," he said. "I hate that damn box. But if you go out of it, it's a technical. I don't respect the officials saying they didn't see him. How could they not see him?"
Heathcote was screaming, pointing at the clock and pounding on the scorer's table. "I probably would have walked down there calmly," Valvano said, "and choked the timekeeper."
Play continued until a foul on Kellogg -- his fifth -- with 1:49 on the clock. Brown, screaming for a technical on Heathcote, got one himself when he accidentally swatted referee Bob Dibler's whistle with his rolled-up program.
In the meantime, no one made any attempt to fix the time lost on the clock.
"It was not a correctable error," Ferrin said today. "The timekeeper did not know exactly how much time had been lost. The rules say that the only correctable error is in scoring, not a clock malfunction."
But the officials can correct a clock malfunction. And they did when the clock ran too long in the last minute of the game. What's more, the official scoring sheet is hooked up to a computer that keeps track of the time. A check with that computer would have told how much time had been lost.
"But the timekeeper Bates never told the officials that time had been lost," Ferrin said. If the officials did not know about the problem, they were the only ones in the building who did not. "The timekeeper probably should have blown the horn when he realized the clock had malfunctioned and told the officials what had happened."
Valvano, who watched the fiasco on television, said: "I think it was a correctable error and no one corrected it. But it did not cost Michigan State the game. They ended up getting two points on the technical after Skiles missed the front end of the one-and-one and a bucket and had a six-point lead with a minute to go. They're the best foul shooting team in the country and they couldn't make their foul shots. If I was Jud with a four-point lead, 27 seconds left and Larry Polect 86 percent shooter on the line, I would have thought I had a lock."
Instead, Archie Marshall's tip-in with 10 seconds left tied the game at 80. Skiles missed an off-balance shot at the buzzer, Kansas dominated the overtime and earned a dramatic victory.
Ferrin did say today that a backup clock would be used in Sunday's game. Valvano threatened to wear a stopwatch around his neck. Ironically, the arena clock also malfunctioned during the NAIA tournament two weeks ago.
"All I know," Brown said, "is we're still playing. I'm thankful for that."
Kansas and N.C. State met in December in Greensboro, the Jayhawks winning, 71-56, after leading by 28-26 at the half. Kellogg had 23 points for Kansas. Washburn had 22 for N.C. State.
Valvano said that game, which dropped his team to 3-3, told him the Wolfpack could be a good team. "I really screamed at them that day," he said. "I told them it took six games for us to become mediocre and it would take all season for us to become good."