In the final game, played in Albuquerque, New Mexico, NC State led at halftime with a score of 33–25. Houston was hampered by foul trouble that plagued star Clyde Drexler, who picked up four first half fouls. From the second halfof the Cougars came out with a second wind and based control of the game, finally taking a seven-point lead.
However, things weren’t all good for Houston. Since the game was played in Albuquerque, players had to take care of the town’s mile-high elevation. The Cougars’ star center, Akeem Olajuwon, had problems adjusting to the surroundings and tired quickly, needing to check out of this match multiple times so he could put on an oxygen mask and recuperate. With Olajuwon on the seat, Houston head coach Guy Lewis decided that so as to protect the lead and the health of his big man at precisely the same time, the Cougars needed to begin slowing down the game.
Yet more, this enabled the Wolfpack to go back to their standby strategy of extending the game. Houston’s free throw shooting was quite suspect entering the match, which functioned greatly in NC State’s favor as they could rally back and even the score at 52 in the final two minutes. On what would be the final Houston possession, Valvano called for his players to back off and allow freshman guard Alvin Franklin bring the ball up the court. The Wolfpack defenders would let the Cougars use their slowdown strategy of passing it around. Once the ball got back to Franklin he was fouled immediately. With 1:05 left, the freshman was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one. The idea to filthy Franklin sprung from the enormity of the second; NC State believed that the comparatively inexperienced Franklin could not resist the strain of going to the line with the championship at stake and knowing that fifty million viewers were tuned into watch the game. The concept was right as Franklin failed to convert and the Wolfpack grabbed the rally. Valvano called timeout with 44 seconds left and drew up a play for mature defender Dereck Whittenburg during the timeout, which called for the team to pass him the ball with ten seconds left on the clock so that he could take the last shot.
Houston needed a defensive stop so they could find another chance to close out the match. Lewis made a decision to move from the man-to-man shield his team was running the entire match to a half court trap defense. The Wolfpack, who were not anticipating the defensive adjustment, were made to deviate and began passing the ball around just to keep the Cougars from slipping it. Houston almost obtained the turnover it had been looking for if Whittenburg made an errant pass to Gannon which Drexler almost came away with prior to the sophomore regained control of the ball. The ball eventually wound up at the palms of protector Sidney Lowe, who gave it to forward and fellow senior Thurl Bailey at the corner.
Attempting to keep the ball moving, as he was double teamed when he obtained the move, Bailey appeared back toward Whittenburg, who was roughly thirty feet away from the hoop near midcourt. Bailey threw what Whittenburg would later call a”poor fundamental” overhanded pass which Houston’s Benny Anders, guarding Whittenburg on the play, was in position to steal. At this point, Whittenburg hearkened back to his high school days with Morgan Wootten in DeMatha Catholic High School, where he was taught to always grab the basketball with both handson. If Whittenburg had not attempted to do so in this circumstance, Anders might have gotten the slip and a game-winning breakaway layup. In college basketball in the time, the match clock continued to run after a made field goal, and the Wolfpack probably wouldn’t have had time even to inbound the ball. Since it was, Anders knocked the ball out of Whittenburg’s hands, but Whittenburg quickly regained control.
The clock, meanwhile, had ticked down to five minutes and Whittenburg was standing a significant distance from the goal. Once he regained command, Whittenburg turned and started a desperation shot, afterwards claimed by Whittenburg to be a pass, to attempt to win the game for NC State. The shot’s trajectory took it to the front of the basket at which Olajuwon was covering Wolfpack centre Lorenzo Charles. As he watched the shooter, Olajuwon said he knew the shot was going to come up short but he also did not wish to select the ball too early due to the prospect of goaltending. Charles took advantage of the indecision by Olajuwon and proceeded up for the air balland, in one movement, he scored the go-ahead points using a two-handed dip. The final second ticked off the clock prior to Houston could inbound the ball, and that, the game ended, and the Wolfpack were the winners.
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