In the final match, performed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, NC State led at halftime by a score of 33–25. Houston was hampered by foul trouble that plagued celebrity Clyde Drexler, who picked up four first half fouls. From the second halfof the Cougars came out with another wind and based control of the match, finally taking a seven-point lead.
But, things were not all great for Houston. Considering that the match was played Albuquerque, players needed to take care of the town’s mile-high elevation. The Cougars’ star centre, Akeem Olajuwon, had difficulties adjusting to the environment and tired quickly, needing to test out of this match multiple times so he could wear an oxygen mask and recover. Together with Olajuwon on the bench, Houston head coach Guy Lewis decided that so as to safeguard the lead and the health of his huge man at the exact same period, the Cougars had to begin slowing the game down.
Yet again, this enabled the Wolfpack to return to their own standby strategy of extending the game. Houston’s free throw shooting was very suspect entering the match, which functioned greatly in NC State’s favour as they could rally back and even the score at 52 in the last two minutes. On what would be the final Houston possession, Valvano called for his players to back away and allow guard Alvin Franklin bring the ball up the court. The Wolfpack defenders would let the Cougars employ their lag strategy of passing around. When 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 filthy Franklin sprung in the enormity of the moment; NC State thought that the relatively inexperienced Franklin could not resist the pressure of going to the line together with the championship at stake and knowing that fifty million viewers were tuned in to watch the game. The concept proved right as Franklin failed to convert the Wolfpack caught the rally. Valvano called timeout with 44 seconds left and drew up a play for senior guard Dereck Whittenburg during the timeout, which required the team to pass him the ball with ten minutes left on the clock so that he could take the last shot.
Houston had a defensive stop so they could get another chance to close out the game. Lewis decided to move from the man-to-man defense his team was running the whole match to a half court zone trap defense. The Wolfpack, who weren’t anticipating the defensive modification, were made to deviate and started passing the ball around simply to keep the Cougars from stealing it. Houston nearly obtained the turnover it had been looking for if Whittenburg made an errant pass to Gannon that Drexler almost came away with prior to the sophomore recovered control of the ball. The ball finally wound up at the palms of guard Sidney Lowe, who lent it to forwards and fellow mature Thurl Bailey in the corner.
Trying to keep the ball going, as he had been double teamed as soon as he received the pass, Bailey appeared back toward Whittenburg, who had been roughly thirty feet away from the hoop near midcourt. Bailey threw what Whittenburg would call a”poor basic” overhanded pass that Houston’s Benny Anders, guarding Whittenburg about the play, was in position 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 had not tried to do so in this case, Anders may have gotten the slip 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 likely wouldn’t have had time even to inbound the ball. As it was, Anders knocked the ball out of Whittenburg’s hands, but Whittenburg immediately regained control.
The clock, meanwhile, had ticked down to five seconds and Whittenburg was standing a significant distance from the objective. Once he regained control, Whittenburg turned and started a desperation shot, afterwards claimed by Whittenburg to be a pass, to attempt to win the match for NC State. The shot’s trajectory took it on the front of the basket at which Olajuwon was covering Wolfpack center Lorenzo Charles. As he watched the shot, Olajuwon said he understood the shooter was likely to come up short but he did not wish to go for the ball too early because of the prospect of goaltending. Charles took advantage of the indecision by Olajuwon and went up for the air ball, and, in 1 movement, he scored the go-ahead points with a two-handed dunk. The last second ticked off the clock prior to Houston could inbound the ball, and with that, the match ended, and the Wolfpack were the national champions.
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