The Wolfpacker

March-April 2020 issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 45 of 51

46 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIME PEELER T he stars — well, at least the one closest to the Earth — aligned perfectly for one of the biggest upsets in ACC Tournament history. Fifty years ago, on March 7, 1970, NC State took on No. 3 South Carolina in the title game at the Charlotte Coli- seum, with the Gamecocks hoping to stay on their season- long roll. And the surprising outcome of that title game overshadowed the solar eclipse that covered 95 percent of North Carolina earlier that day. Led by junior All-American and returning ACC Player of the Year John Roche, point guard Bobby Cremins and three towering inside players — 6-10 sophomore Tom Riker, 6-8 forward John Ribock and 6-10 center Tom Owens — the Gamecocks lived up to their preseason hype, sweeping through the ACC season undefeated while winning their 14 league games by an average of 16.2 points. The only regular-season blemishes the Gamecocks, who were the consensus No. 1 team going into the sea- son, suffered were home losses to unranked Tennessee in December and No. 13 Davidson in February. Head coach Frank McGuire's team headed into the ACC Tournament with five consecutive wins over its Big Four neighbors. It beat Duke at home, went on the road to defeat NC State, North Carolina and Wake Forest, then finished out the season with an 85-69 victory over the Wolfpack to become just the third team in ACC history to go through a season without a league loss. And, the Gamecocks had a little extra motivation: the NCAA East Regional was going to be played on South Carolina's home court, the Carolina Coliseum, in front of an adoring crowd. McGuire and his charges were all but certain they had a clear path to the NCAA semi- final weekend (now known as the Final Four) in College Park, Md. For NC State head coach Norm Sloan, it had been an important season in establishing a program that dominated the early 1970s. After a non-competitive first season in 1966-67, an unlikely ACC Tourna- ment final run in 1968, and a fourth-place regular-season finish and first-round tournament elimination in 1969, Sloan needed a season of success to counter his neighborhood competition. Wake Forest (1962), Duke (1964, '66) and North Carolina (1967-69) had gone to a com- bined seven Final Fours in the 1960s, while the Wolfpack's only ACC title was a surprise upset as the team made the transition from Everett Case to Press Maravich. McGuire, however, got all the attention that season. Just as he had done at North Carolina 13 years earlier, the ACC's godfather relied on his New York pipeline to build a basketball power. Maybe one good enough to challenge UCLA's dynasty, something that Wake, Duke and Carolina had not been able to do. On paper, the Wolfpack had a small roster of just 10 players, none of whom were exactly recruiting stars. Sloan called it his "bargain- basement team." "For what we had, we were way overachievers," noted Vann Wil- liford, a senior forward who averaged a double-double. "We were not exactly a bunch of five-star recruits, but we were well coached and well disciplined." Williford, a native of Fayetteville, was Sloan's first-ever recruit, a last-minute replacement when superstar Pete Maravich finally ex- hausted all of his options to make the ACC's rigorous 800 SAT score and decided to go to LSU, taking his father with him as head coach. It left two seemingly unfillable holes in a Wolfpack program that had dominated the first two decades of the ACC under Case. Williford, a three-year starter, developed into an All-ACC player who averaged 23.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in his final year. Sophomore center Paul Coder stood just 6-9, but he came within six rebounds of also averaging a double-double (16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game) for the season, despite playing against bigger competition. He was joined inside by 6-6 senior forward Rick An- heuser, a transfer from Bradley two years earlier who also averaged in double figures, and junior muscleman Dan Wells, known for his intense play inside. NC State had a historic backcourt comprised of New Jersey-born sophomore Ed Leftwich, the program's first scholarship African- American player. Leftwich was a talented, but streaky, player ca- pable of putting up big numbers. Point guard Al Heartley of Clayton, the Pack's first varsity African-American basketball player, was a walk-on who earned his way onto the team via a tryout the season before. Heartley split time at the point with junior Joe Dunning. "That was such a dream season for me," Heartley recalled. "I had watched the ACC Tournament all those years in Reynolds Coliseum and I had watched the CIAA Tournament. To play for a champion- ship was a dream come true." PACK PAST The 'Bargain-Basement' Wolfpack Won An ACC Title In 1970 Head coach Norm Sloan called his 1970 squad a "bargain-basement team," but it went 23-7 overall, tied for second in the ACC with a 9-5 mark and defeated South Carolina 42-39 in double overtime to win the ACC Tournament. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolfpacker - March-April 2020 issue