The Wolfpacker

March-April 2020 issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 46 of 51

MARCH 2020 ■ 47 Jim Risinger, Rennie Lovisa and Doug Tilley all saw limited time for Sloan's team, but helped maintain what Williford and Heartley both praised as outstanding team chemistry for a unit that averaged 83.7 points per game. State won 17 of its first 18 games, falling only at Chapel Hill, through the first three months of the season, rising as high as No. 5 in the nation in the Associated Press Top 20. The Wolfpack knew it could run and score, putting up 244 points in its first two home games, a 105‑59 win over the Citadel and 139‑78 over Atlantic Christian. February, however, was not kind to the short‑benched team. The Pack lost five of its final seven regular‑season games, including a non‑ conference loss to Georgia Tech in the North‑South Doubleheader on the same Charlotte Coliseum court that was to host the ACC Tourna‑ ment. Three of those losses — to UNC, South Carolina and Duke — were by only two points, though, so despite the setbacks, the Wolfpack didn't believe the walls were crashing in on them. "We were in those games, but we just couldn't close them out," Heartley said. "So we didn't feel like we had to take a backseat to South Carolina or anybody else. We thought we could win the ACC." After taking its lumps late in the season, the Wolfpack had re‑ gained some confidence by the ACC Tournament. Sloan's squad breezed past Maryland in the first round and survived a scare in the second round against Virginia, when Anheuser tipped in a missed shot with 39 seconds to play. The Gamecocks also had a close call in the first round, as archrival Clemson played a slow‑down game. South Carolina prevailed when Roche hit a pair of free throws with eight seconds remaining. Wake Forest didn't present much of a challenge in the semifinals, but some‑ thing significant did happen: with 11 minutes remaining in the game, Roche suffered a severely sprained ankle in a collision with Deacon guard John Lewkowski. With Roche injured, the Gamecocks weren't quite the same team that had dominated the league in the regular season. The sun disap‑ peared for more than two minutes during the afternoon eclipse on championship Saturday, and Roche was in the dark most of the evening. Sloan had his team slow the tempo of the game, further leveling the playing field. The Gamecocks jumped out to an early 11‑point lead in the first half, despite Roche's ineffective play. For the game, the two‑time ACC Player of the Year made just 4 of 17 shots and scored only nine points. Despite trailing 24‑17 at intermission, Sloan opened the second half in the same slow‑down game he had used so effectively two years before in a 12‑10 semifinal upset of Duke. The Pack held the ball for nearly six minutes without forcing the action. McGuire eventually pulled his team out of its 2‑1‑2 zone, a fatal move that allowed the Wolfpack to tie the game by the end of regulation. "McGuire was too arrogant to stay in the zone," Williford said. "He just couldn't do it. He came out and forced us to play, and we were able to come back. It was pure coaching genius on Norm's part." At the end of regulation, the game was tied 35‑35 and Roche missed a potential game‑winning shot in the final minutes. He did the same at the end of the first overtime. Late in the second overtime, South Carolina's Cremins dribbled the ball past half court and was looking for an open teammate. As he took his eye off his defender, Leftwich slapped the ball out of Cremins' hands and drove down the court for the game‑winning layup, giving the Wolfpack a 42‑39 win and its sixth ACC basketball title. McGuire and the few South Carolina fans at the arena howled that Cremins had been fouled, something many believe a half century later. Cremins went into hiding in the North Carolina mountains for weeks after the game, because the Gamecocks weren't allowed to compete in the National Invitation Tournament. An arcane rule of the time prevented a team that was hosting an NCAA regional from playing in the NIT. The disappointment from that season was one of many factors that pushed South Carolina to leave the ACC in 1971. Williford, Sloan's first recruit, was named the tournament's MVP, becoming the second Wolfpack player to win it after it was renamed in 1965 to honor Case. The next week, the Wolfpack lost to a Bob Lanier‑led St. Bonaventure squad in the first round of the NCAA East Regional in Columbia, which was a highly hostile place for Sloan's team to play the week after its upset of the Gamecocks. Williford tried valiantly to lead his team to vic‑ tory, with a 35‑point, 12‑rebound effort in the 80‑68 loss. The next night, the Wolfpack beat Niagara 108‑88 in the regional consolation finals. Despite the short stay in the NCAA Tourna‑ ment, the "Bargain‑Basement Pack" still won the ACC championship. "We achieved much more that what people ex‑ pected," Williford said. "That all goes back to Coach Sloan, who never got the recognition he deserved for being a great coach." ■ Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at The Wolfpack were underdogs entering the championship game of the 1970 ACC Tournament against South Carolina, which was the consensus No. 1 team in the preseason, ranked third nationally at the time, had already beaten the Pack twice and won its 14 conference games by an average of 16.2 points for the league's third perfect ACC campaign. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolfpacker - March-April 2020 issue