In the final match, performed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, NC State led at halftime by a score of 33–25. Houston was hampered by foul trouble that plagued celebrity Clyde Drexler, who picked up four first half fouls. In the second half, the Cougars came out with a second wind and based control of the game, finally taking a seven-point lead.
But, things weren’t all great for Houston. Since the match was played Albuquerque, players had to take care of the city’s mile-high altitude. The Cougars’ star centre, Akeem Olajuwon, had difficulties adjusting to the surroundings and drained quickly, needing to check out of the match multiple times so that he could put on an oxygen mask and then recuperate. With Olajuwon on the seat, Houston head coach Guy Lewis decided that so as to safeguard the lead and the health of his huge man at the exact same time, the Cougars needed to begin slowing down the game.
Yet more, this allowed the Wolfpack to return to their standby strategy of extending the match. Houston’s free throw shooting was very suspect entering the game, which functioned greatly 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 possession, Valvano known for his players to back away and let 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 fouled immediately. With 1:05 left, the freshman was fouled and sent into the line for a one-and-one. The thought to filthy Franklin sprung from the enormity of the second; NC State thought that the comparatively inexperienced Franklin could not withstand the strain of going to the line with the championship at stake and knowing fifty million viewers were tuned in to watch the game. The theory was correct as Franklin failed to convert the Wolfpack caught the rally. Valvano called timeout with 44 seconds left and drew up a play for senior defender Dereck Whittenburg through the timeout, which called for the group to pass him the ball with ten minutes 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 game. Lewis made a decision to move from the man-to-man defense his team had been running the whole match to a half court zone trap defense. The Wolfpack, who weren’t expecting the defensive modification, were forced to deviate and started passing the ball around just to maintain the Cougars from stealing it. Houston almost obtained the turnover it was looking for if Whittenburg made an errant pass to Gannon that Drexler nearly came away with prior to the sophomore regained control of the ball. The ball finally wound up in the palms of guard Sidney Lowe, who gave it to forwards and fellow senior Thurl Bailey in the corner.
Attempting to keep the ball going, as he was double teamed as soon as he obtained the move, Bailey appeared back toward Whittenburg, who had been approximately thirty feet from the hoop near midcourt. Bailey threw what Whittenburg would call a”poor fundamental” overhanded pass which Houston’s Benny Anders, guarding Whittenburg about the drama, was able to steal. Now, Whittenburg hearkened back to his high school days together with Morgan Wootten in DeMatha Catholic High School, where he had been taught to always catch the basketball with both hands. If Whittenburg had not attempted to do this in this case, Anders might have gotten the slip and a game-winning breakaway layup. In college basketball in the moment, the game clock continued to operate following a made field goal, and the Wolfpack likely wouldn’t have had time to inbound the ball. Since it was, Anders knocked the ball out of Whittenburg’s hands, but Whittenburg immediately regained control.
The clock, meanwhile, had ticked down to five minutes and Whittenburg was still standing a significant distance from the objective. Once he regained command, Whittenburg turned and launched a desperation shot, afterwards claimed by Whittenburg to be a pass, to attempt to win the match for NC State. The shot’s trajectory took it on the front of the basket where Olajuwon was covering Wolfpack center Lorenzo Charles. As he noticed the shot, Olajuwon said he knew the shooter was likely to come up short but he did not want to select the ball too early because of the prospect of goaltending. Charles took advantage of this indecision from Olajuwon and went up for the air balland, in one motion, he scored the go-ahead points using a two-handed dunk. The last second ticked off the clock before Houston could inbound the ball, and that, the game ended, and the Wolfpack were the national champions.
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