Why would Southern Methodist go into a stall while trailing 28-15 at Arkansas? Well, it was Mustang Coach Dave Bliss' way of avoiding another runaway by the Razorbacks, who in January had dealt SMU its worst loss ever, 92-50. When the latest matchup ended, Arkansas had its own bliss—a 47-33 win and its fourth Southwest Conference championship or co-championship in five years.
Two other teams were more successful than SMU in return matches. Missouri, a 19-point loser to Kansas State in early February, used a slowdown to get a 46-43 triumph over the Wildcats. After holding the ball for 7:22, the Tigers thawed things out with 22 seconds to go and the score 43-43. Ricky Frazier came through with a three-point play in the last seven seconds to give Mizzou the win and the Big Eight title. Indiana State also turned things around, avenging a 93-59 loss to Wichita State by shocking the Shockers 75-72 in a Missouri Valley game (page 20).
Wake Forest overcame Virginia's 10-point halftime lead because it was able, as Coach Carl Tacy put it, to "up-tempo the game, get in our rhythm and do a better job on Sampson." Indeed, the Deacons did speed things up, hold Ralph Sampson to one basket in the second half and hand the Cavaliers their second loss in a row, 73-66 in overtime.
Two other ACC upsets were by 66-65 scores. One upsettee was Wake Forest, which trailed by 22 early in the second half at North Carolina State. After cutting the deficit to one point, the Deacons spent most of the last minute working for the one shot they hoped would be a game-winner. That attempt fell short, and the Wolfpack, despite getting only one field goal in the final 11:39, hung on. North Carolina's James Worthy, who hurt his back during a 76-51 romp over Georgia Tech, sat out an overtime loss at Duke. Gene Banks of the Blue Devils, who scored 20 of his 25 points after the intermission, swished in a shot in the last second of regulation time and scored six points in the extra period. Virginia returned to form with a 74-63 triumph over Maryland in which Sampson had 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocked shots.
After being beaten 90-86 at Syracuse, Boston College clinched the Big East title with a 64-57 win over Seton Hall. St. John's ended a four-game losing streak, its longest in 18 years, by defeating Syracuse 82-73.
In the finale of the Big Five season in Philadelphia, St. Joseph's was unable to get its fast break going and lost to Villanova 72-62. Thus for the first time in the informal league's 26 years, the competition ended in a five-way tie. One of those five—Penn—was involved in another deadlock. The Quakers' 52-43 triumph over Princeton left those two tied for first in the Ivy League.
American University locked up the East Coast Conference's Eastern championship by beating St. Joseph's 84-83 in overtime and knocking off Temple 70-62. Mark Nickens, who took over at forward when Boo Bowers, the Eagles' alltime top scorer was sidelined with a knee injury in mid-January, poured in 27 of his 33 points against the Hawks after halftime. Even with Bowers out for the last 16 games, American has won 14 times and run its record to 22-4.
Rhode Island has also done well despite adversity, Coach Jack Kraft having suffered a heart attack after the season opener. Since then, almost all the coaching duties have been handled by Kraft's associate, Claude English. The Rams' 20-6 record and Eastern Eight title presents a novel problem for those who think Rhody has New England's coach of the year. Do they cast their ballots for Kraft, the coach of record? Or do they vote for English, who officially is 0-0?