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You can come out now. The coast is clear. The fraternity party is over. The Houston Phi Slamma Jammas, that Texas chain-saw gang with the tall pledge from Africa in the middle, have finally stopped stuffing college basketball's x's and o's through every hoop they could drape their magnificent bodies over. And curfew came so suddenly: Time running out in the NCAA championship game. A shot in the air. The ball short of the rim. Whooomp!
When the final astounding dunk of the even more astounding 1982-83 season was there for the taking in Albuquerque last Monday night, it was only fitting that an improbable sophomore named Lorenzo Charles from an even more improbable North Carolina State team was the one to get it. Charles started the season in the doghouse for stealing two pizzas. He ended it in the penthouse by stealing a national title. Or was it in a frat house? By the time the Wolfpack's stunning 54-52 upset of heavily favored Houston had filtered through the haze of several dozen pitchers of margaritas, the new champions had been turned into Theta N.C. State-a.
"One Slamma Jamma...One Slamma Jamma," the Pack, whose 10 losses were the most ever by a champion, shouted in the locker room afterward. The players were fully aware that they had held Houston's vaunted dunkarama to one solitary stuff while they had registered two: Thurl Bailey's rebound jam to begin the game and Charles's catch and jam to end it—a nice, clean iron(y) sandwich if there ever was one.
But as intelligent as N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano's game plan was—on offense, to get the lead and slow the tempo; on defense, to play behind the Cougar leapers and deny them their beloved tomahawk repertoire; in the crunch, to foul, foul and foul some more to force the hopeless Cougar free-throw shooters to beat State from the line—and as diligently as his brave, scrappy Wolfpack worked it to perfection, even the most rabid Cinderella lover had to recognize that Houston gave away this championship just as surely as the Wolfpack took it.
As long as there are rims to trash, which Houston did plenty of in its spectacular 94-81 pounding of Louisville in the semifinals, there will be questions about Coach Guy V. Lewis' strategy against North Carolina State. Why did he stay with All-America Forward Clyde Drexler so long in the first half that The Glide picked up his fourth foul with 2:47 left in the period? (Drexler was even in the game for more than a minute after that.) Why did Lewis not order his team to give a foul—Houston committed but five in the second half—somewhere over the last frantic seconds to disrupt the Wolfpack's brilliant guard tandem of Sidney Lowe (eight assists and five steals) and Dereck Whittenburg (14 points)? Obviously, they intended to pass and shoot the ball, respectively, for all the marbles.
Earlier, the Cougars had overcome a somnambulant first half, at the end of which they trailed 33-25. During those 20 minutes State's senior Forward Bailey thurly surprised them with 15 points, all the scoring he would do. Houston came back with 15 points of its own to open the second half, while the outclassed Wolf-pack could get only two in nearly 11 minutes of chilly shooting. But after Akeem Abdul Olajuwon, the Nigerian monolith-child who had already scored 18 of his 20 points and gathered most of his 18 rebounds, came out for a rest with Houston leading 42-35 and 10:04 to play, Lewis had his team waltz into a spread delay—if you can imagine disco dancers like Larry Micheaux, Benny Anders, Michael Young and Drexler waltzing.
Lewis' ploy not only turned the game around, it probably lost it for his club, because when the Phi Slams can't jam, they take it on the lam: They don't shoot particularly well from outside and are worse from the foul line, where they canned 60.9% of their shots on the season, 57.3% during the tournament and 10 for 19 in this game. "I have confidence in that offense," Lewis said later. "I wanted to pull State out and get some layups. We only got one." But then Lewis said, "Just as everybody knew it might, our foul shooting caught up with us."
Down the sideline, Valvano was scurrying about, twitching his ample nose—"biggest in Final Four history," he had surmised—and keeping "the dream," as he kept calling it, alive.
Following some deadly outward-bound heaves by Whittenburg, Lowe and still another tiny bomber, Terry Gannon, and aided by a passel of nervous Houston turnovers, the Wolfpack crept to within four points (52-48 at 3:04). State was unable to tally anything underneath, its main inside operators, Cozell McQueen and Charles (Co-Rilla and Lo-Rilla, respectively, to their teammates), having long since been snuffed by Olajuwon. But now Valvano was orchestrating fouls, shouting and pointing and machoing the game in his inimitable Fonzie fashion. Whittenburg—an enchanting clutch shooter in the Land of Enchantment—responded by hitting consecutive baskets to tie the score at 52-all with 1:59 to play.
State's Cardiac Pack had advanced through the tournament whipping Pepperdine, UNLV and Virginia, all in the final seconds after the losers failed at the line. They'd gone 5-4 with four other teams ranked No. 1 at some time during the crazy season. "We'd been there so often," Valvano said. "We didn't want anybody else determining the outcome." And so, at 1:05 Whittenburg made one last foul, hacking Houston's freshman point guard, Alvin Franklin, who missed one last foul shot. McQueen corralled the crucial rebound, and following a State time-out with 44 seconds to go, the Pack worked the clock. Bailey, trapped in the corner, threw a shaky pass to Whitten-burg at midcourt.