1983 | The last shot: Mayhem, then magic

When the play broke down for Dereck Whittenburg, thankfully for the Wolfpack, Lorenzo Charles was there.

ctudor@newsobserver.comNovember 21, 2012 

With 44 seconds and N.C. State in possession, Jim Valvano called the final timeout of the 1982-83 season.

Wolfpack marksman Dereck Whittenburg had tied the score of the 1983 championship game against Houston at 52-52 by sinking a 23-foot jump shot with 1:59 left. It was one of several long jumpers the Wolfpack hit from behind the 3-point line, though the rule wasn’t in place for the NCAA tournament.

With 1:05 remaining, State fouled Houston guard Benny Anders, who missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

Cozell McQueen rebounded and Valvano called timeout 11 seconds later.

“V did all the talking, of course,” reserve guard Ernie Myers recalled. “That timeout was no different from all the rest. The only player who might ever have a chance to talk in timeouts was Sidney Lowe. The play V wanted was 32 (32-red), which we ran a lot late in close games. There were a lot of options we could use – Whit at the top, Thurl (Bailey), Sid driving.”

But as soon as the ref put the ball in play, everyone on the Wolfpack bench couldn’t believe what they saw – Houston in a zone defense for what Guy Lewis later said was the only time all season.

It was probably the best of coaching strategy Lewis could have used, but Valvano didn’t want to call another timeout.

“It was up to us to adjust,” Valvano said after the game. “Plus, the score was tied. If we took the last shot and missed, we were going to overtime. If we’d call another TO, they’d change defenses again.”

Myers said that with such a veteran, versatile backcourt, the odds favored State even though Lowe and Whittenburg were obviously surprised by the zone.

Bailey ended up with the ball in the corner. As the clocked slipped inside 6 seconds, he passed the ball back out to Whittenburg, who was closer to midcourt than the free throw line. Anders nearly stole it. Whittenburg collected the deflected pass and launched with 3 seconds left. It never reached the basket. Lorenzo Charles grabbed it short of the rim and stuffed it through with 1 second remaining.

“We got lucky because they almost got that steal,” Myers said. “On the bench, everything was hectic there at the very end. Nothing was going right until Lo grabbed that shot of Whit’s out of mid air.”

During the celebration later that night at a Ramada Inn in Albuquerque, Valvano was so sick he could barely walk but still was able to recall the magic journey.

As he hugged his father Rocco in the Ramada lobby, Valvano said it really was destiny.

“You know, I thought we were going to win it somehow, someway, even with all the trouble we had on that last possession,” he said. “Too much had gone our way for it to end with in a loss. Somebody up there was smiling on us.”

Amen.

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