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Today in Sports History: 4/4 – North Carolina State Beats Houston in Championship

Today in sports history (1983), the North Carolina State Wolfpack took down the Houston Cougars in the College Basketball Championship Game in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history. Houston was led by Hakeem Olajuwon and was favored by 7.5 points. NBA Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler was also a prominent star for Houston. On the Wolfpack’s side, they were led by Thurl Bailey and Dereck Whittenburg. NC State came into this game as a six seed.

On their path to the championship, they defeated #3 UNLV by one point and #1 Virginia by one point. Houston had a little bit of an easier time, as their closest game was against four seeded Memphis, a game they won by seven. This game produced one of the greatest images in college basketball, NC State coach Jim Valvano running around looking for someone to hug.

Jim Valvano North Carolina State Championship
Credit: Associated Press

NC State Upsets Houston in College Basketball Championship Game

After a back and forth first half, North Carolina State entered the break up 33-25. The major story of the first half was Drexler picking up three early fouls. He picked up a fourth foul late in the first half after a controversial charge was called. When the second half began, Houston came out hot. They gained the lead and eventually built the score to 52-45. Due to the game being played in Albuquerque, NM, many players needed constant breaks with the high altitude. One player who suffered from this was Olajuwon. With Olajuwon taking these breaks, Houston went to a stalling offense. This allowed NC State to start fouling. With Houston’s 60% free throw shooting on the year, this worked in favor of the Wolfpack, as they evened the score at 52.

Valvano then employed a strategy where North Carolina State fouled Houston freshman Alvin Franklin. This was a psychological move, as Valvano believed that due to Franklin’s age, the pressure would be too much to convert the free throws. Franklin missed and NC State grabbed the rebound. With 44 seconds left, the Wolfpack held the ball. Whittenburg was instructed to get the ball with 10 seconds left, so he could take the final shot.

Houston switched to a half-court zone, which stifled the Wolfpack. NC State was forced to pass the ball around to avoid a trap or a turnover. Whittenburg eventually gained control of the ball with five seconds left. He turned and took a desperation shot. It was short and was heading right to Olajuwon. NC State’s Lorenzo Charles grabbed the airball and dunk the ball as the clock ran out, giving NC State a championship win.

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