In the last game, performed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, NC State led at halftime by a score of 33–25. Houston was hampered by foul trouble that plagued star Clyde Drexler, who picked up four first half fouls. In the second halfof the Cougars came out with another wind and established control of the match, finally taking a seven-point lead.
However, things weren’t all good for Houston. Since the match was played Albuquerque, players needed to deal with the city’s mile-high elevation. The Cougars’ star center, Akeem Olajuwon, had difficulties adjusting to the surroundings and drained quickly, having to check out of the game multiple times so that he could put on an oxygen mask and then recover. Together with Olajuwon on the bench, Houston head coach Guy Lewis determined that so as to safeguard the lead and the health of his big man in the exact same period, the Cougars had to start slowing down the game.
Once more, this allowed the Wolfpack to return to their own standby strategy of extending the game. Houston’s free throw shooting was quite suspicious entering the game, which worked heavily in NC State’s favour since they were able to rally back and even the score at 52 in the final two minutes. On what would be the last Houston possession, Valvano known for his players to back away and allow freshman guard Alvin Franklin bring the ball up the court. The Wolfpack defenders would let the Cougars employ their slowdown strategy of passing it around. Once the ball got back to Franklin he was to be fouled immediately. With 1:05 left, the freshman was fouled and sent into the line to get a one-and-one. The thought to foul Franklin sprung in the enormity of this moment; NC State thought that the comparatively inexperienced Franklin couldn’t resist the strain of going to the line with the championship at stake and understanding fifty million viewers were tuned into watch the game. The theory proved correct as Franklin failed to convert and the Wolfpack grabbed the rebound. Valvano called timeout with 44 seconds left and drew up a play for mature guard Dereck Whittenburg during the timeout, which called for the team to pass him the ball with ten seconds left on the clock so that he could take the final shot.
Houston needed a defensive stop so they could get another opportunity to close out the match. Lewis made a decision to move in the man-to-man shield his team was running the entire match to a half court trap defense. The Wolfpack, who weren’t anticipating the defensive adjustment, were forced to deviate and started passing the ball around just to keep the Cougars from slipping it. Houston almost got the turnover it was searching for when Whittenburg made an errant pass to Gannon that Drexler nearly came away with prior to the sophomore regained control of the ball. The ball finally wound up in the hands of guard Sidney Lowe, who lent it to forwards and fellow mature Thurl Bailey in the corner.
Attempting to keep the ball moving, as he had been double teamed as soon as he received the move, Bailey appeared back toward Whittenburg, who had been approximately thirty feet from the hoop near midcourt. Bailey threw what Whittenburg would call a”poor basic” overhanded pass which Houston’s Benny Anders, guarding Whittenburg on the play, was able to steal. At this point, Whittenburg hearkened back to his high school days with Morgan Wootten in DeMatha Catholic High School, where he had been taught to always catch the basketball with both hands. If Whittenburg hadn’t attempted to do this in this circumstance, Anders may have gotten the steal and a game-winning breakaway layup. In college basketball at the time, the match clock continued to operate following a made field goal, and the Wolfpack probably would not have had time even to inbound the ball. Since it was, Anders knocked the ball from Whittenburg’s hands, but Whittenburg quickly regained control.
The clock, meanwhile, had ticked down to five minutes and Whittenburg was still standing a significant distance from the goal. After he regained command, Whittenburg turned and launched a desperation shot, later claimed by Whittenburg to be a pass, to try and win the match for NC State. The shot’s trajectory took it to the front of the basket at which Olajuwon was covering Wolfpack centre Lorenzo Charles. As he noticed the shot, Olajuwon said he understood the shot was going to come up short but he also did not wish to go for the ball too early because of the prospect of goaltending. Charles took advantage of this indecision from Olajuwon and went up for the atmosphere ball, and, in 1 motion, he scored the go-ahead points with a two-handed dip. The last second ticked off the clock prior to Houston could inbound the ball, and that, the game ended, and the Wolfpack were the national champions.
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