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To recall what team North Carolina State beat in the finals to win its first NCAA basketball championship, it may soon be necessary to dig into the appropriate record book. The answer: Marquette, and by the score of 76-64, in Greensboro on the night of March 25, 1974. Big deal. What will surely be more memorable—unforgettable in the South—is the semifinal, played two days earlier, for it was then that the Wolfpack truly won the title, beating UCLA 80-77 in double overtime, the first time in eight years the Bruins had not continued on to win the championship.
Nor will the Wolfpack heroes soon be forgotten, from the gangling Tom Burleson, who held UCLA's Bill Walton to a draw and denied Marquette shooters access to their basket all night, to that gnat of a guard, Monte Towe with his adept ball control and sharp passes. But above all there was David Thompson, literally, constantly, above all, 6'4" in the N.C. State guidebook but 8'4" off the backboards. When everything else is forgotten, Thompson will still be up there, magically floating in to take a pass, and dropping it through for two. One of these days someone ought to tell him that it is all over. The UCLA whammy is dead. The Marquette defense has been broken. The NCAA championship is his, and Towe's, and Burleson's and the others'. And that on the way down, please, he should not fall on his head.
That is what had concerned State most before the weekend began, that and what to do about Walton, of course. Wearing 15 stitches as a result of his spectacular high dive in the regional finals the week before, Thompson might have been expected to be less than his usual reckless self. State need not have worried.
The championship game was virtually decided late in the first half with a play on which, ironically, Marquette took the lead. When Marcus Washington was whistled for charging into Thompson after his driving score put the Warriors ahead 28-27, Coach Al McGuire screeched loudly—too loudly—and was hit with a technical foul. Thompson drilled home three free throws and Burleson twisted for a layup to make the score 32-28 State. Less than a minute later, after Burleson had scored again, the Warriors' Bo Ellis was called for goal-tending another Wolfpack basket and McGuire was up and on the court again.
Zap, another T ("The technicals sure gave us a lift," Thompson was to say later) and Marquette went to the locker room down 39-30.
The game really got out of Marquette's reach five minutes into the second half when State built a 19-point lead. From then on State Coach Norman Sloan turned a rout into something of a sick joke by ordering the most explosive college basketball team in many years into his beloved "tease delay."
This is a tactic long favored by the Carolina coaching fraternity, although to an outsider its only recommendation is the tendency to turn a one-sided game back into a contest. Sloan almost succeeded in accomplishing that as Marquette cut the deficit to nine points with 10 minutes remaining. But while the Marquette players were staring up toward the rafters, wondering if Thompson was going to attack again, Towe and Moe Rivers slipped beneath their gaze to keep the Warriors from getting any closer.
If staging the NCAA finals for the first time in the heart of the South seemed the obvious plot for an ambush of royalty, it must be remembered that Greensboro was selected four long years ago, before Walton or Burleson had joined their varsities and before Thompson had a firsthand understanding of what a "cerebral concussion" was. In their separate ways both Sloan and John Wooden tossed off any cosmic meanings (or sinister motives) attached to the site. "We've had the finals in Los Angeles, too, you know," said the Wizard of Westwood.
N.C. State's boss was heard to remark, "We're just visitors" and complain that the area press "looks at basketball through pale blue eyes"—a snappy slap at State's sister institution, North Carolina, which has pale blue for a school color and which was the host university for the tournament.
Of the many local screamers, in fact, many had to be Tar Heel supporters, among whom feelings were divided. "I've never rooted for UCLA," said one of these nice people, "but I hope State gets beat by a thousand."