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Most of the action occurred in tournaments, including the Choo Choo Classic in Chattanooga, the Cannonball Classic in Crawfordsville, Ind. and, most important, the Maryland Invitational where host Maryland defeated Georgia Tech 105-67 and UCLA knocked off St. Bonaventure 78-62 in the first round. During the final between the Terps and Bruins, Maryland failed to take advantage of the absence of UCLA's 7'1" Center Ralph Drollinger, who had fouled out. Maryland, which had trailed 36-20 in the first half, was only one point behind when Drollinger exited with 3:39 to play. Replacing him was Marques Johnson, who zipped in seven straight points to carry UCLA to an 81-75 victory.
On the eve of a Holiday Festival game in New York against Rutgers, USC Coach Bob Boyd nervously recalled a meeting between the two teams last year. Southern Cal won that one 82-81 despite 43 points by Phil Sellers, who made Boyd even more uneasy by scoring 32 points in an opening-round 89-81 win over Seton Hall in the Festival. To try to stop the Scarlet Knight forward the next night, Boyd's Trojans became Sellers dwellers, but the Rutgers ace got 32 points nonetheless. Once again it was not enough as USC prevailed 81-66. That moved the Trojans into the title match against Fordham, which beat Manhattan 82-70 and St. Joseph's 94-66.
At the ECAC Ocean State Holiday Classic, St. John's and co-host Providence reached the finals. St. John's defeated Rhode Island 78-56, then stunned South Carolina 78-77. A basket by freshman Bruce Campbell with 12 seconds left gave Providence a 76-75 win over Holy Cross. The next night the Friars cracked Drake and its zone 83-73.
Following a 112-101 loss to Real Madrid in the finale of the International Christmas Tournament in Madrid, Spain, North Carolina flew home to face Utah. Instead of suffering jet lag, the Tar Heels matched second-half spurts with the visitors. Carolina made 12 of its first 14 field-goal attempts and the Utes 11 of their first 16. Despite Utah's Ticky Burden, who made 20 of 29 shots and had 44 points, the Tar Heels won 94-91.
Playing furiously at the start of the second half is North Carolina State Coach Norm Sloan's favorite way of having his team unnerve an opponent. The Wolfpack worked that strategy perfectly against Kent State. David Thompson hit nine of his first 10 shots after the intermission on his way to a 39-point performance, and the Wolfpack ended up with a 99-61 triumph. In its next game, State trailed Pitt 36-33 at the half, but put on another blitz for an 86-70 win.