In the final match, 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. In the second half, the Cougars came out with another wind and based control of the match, finally taking a seven-point lead.
But, things weren’t all good for Houston. Considering that the game was played in Albuquerque, players needed to take care of the city’s mile-high elevation. The Cougars’ star center, Akeem Olajuwon, had difficulties 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 recover. Together with Olajuwon on the seat, Houston head coach Guy Lewis decided that so as to protect the lead and the health of his huge man in the same period, the Cougars had to start slowing the game down.
Once again, this allowed the Wolfpack to go back to their standby strategy of extending the match. Houston’s free throw shooting was very suspect entering the game, which worked heavily in NC State’s favour as they could rally back and even the score at 52 in the final two minutes. On what is the last Houston ownership, Valvano known for his players to back away and let freshman guard Alvin Franklin bring the ball up the court. The Wolfpack defenders would allow the Cougars employ their lag strategy of passing it around. When the ball got back to Franklin he was to be fouled immediately. With 1:05 left, the freshman was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one. The thought to filthy Franklin sprung in the enormity of the moment; NC State thought that the comparatively inexperienced Franklin could not resist the pressure of going to the line together with the tournament at stake and understanding that fifty million viewers were tuned in to watch the match. The theory was right as Franklin failed to convert and the Wolfpack grabbed the rebound. Valvano called timeout with 44 seconds left and drew up a play for senior guard Dereck Whittenburg through the timeout, which required the team to pass him the ball ten seconds left on the clock so that he could take the last shot.
Houston had a defensive stop in order that they could find another chance to close out the game. Lewis made a decision to move from the man-to-man shield his team was running the whole game to a half court trap defense. The Wolfpack, who were not anticipating the defensive modification, were made to deviate and started passing the ball around simply to maintain the Cougars from stealing it. Houston nearly obtained the turnover it was searching for if Whittenburg made an errant pass to Gannon that 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 lent it to forward and fellow mature Thurl Bailey at the corner.
Attempting to keep the ball moving, as he had been double teamed as soon as he received the pass, Bailey looked back toward Whittenburg, who was roughly thirty feet away from the hoop near midcourt. Bailey threw what Whittenburg would call a”poor basic” overhanded pass that Houston’s Benny Anders, guarding Whittenburg on the play, was able to steal. Now, Whittenburg hearkened back to his high school days with Morgan Wootten in DeMatha Catholic High School, where he had been taught to always grab the basketball with both handson. If Whittenburg had not tried to do so in this case, Anders may have gotten the steal and a game-winning breakaway layup. In college basketball in the moment, the match clock continued to operate after a made field goal, and the Wolfpack probably would not 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 seconds and Whittenburg was standing a significant distance from the objective. Once he regained command, Whittenburg turned and started a desperation shot, later claimed by Whittenburg for a pass, to try and win the match for NC State. The shot’s trajectory took it to the front of the basket at which Olajuwon was covering Wolfpack center Lorenzo Charles. As he noticed the shot, Olajuwon said he knew the shot was likely to come up short but he did not wish to select the ball too early due to the prospect of goaltending. Charles took advantage of the indecision from Olajuwon and proceeded up for the atmosphere balland, in 1 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 with that, the game ended, and the Wolfpack were the national champions.
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