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    '83 Pack Cardiac Pack Captured Nation Like '80 USA Gold Medal Hockey Team
    Lorenzo Charles
    Lorenzo Charles

    March 13, 2013

    Raleigh, N.C. -

    For those who vividly remember NC State's post-season ride to the 1983 ACC basketball  tournament title and  the NCAA  championship, that Cinderella season is anything but a 30-year-old distant memory.
    Some of the details of State's incredible journey seem easy to recall, yet the outcome still seems to be a fairy tale much like the 1980 USA Winter Olympic ice hockey team's miracle ride to winning the Gold Medal.
    How in the world could such an underdog capture the coveted NCAA title?
    How could a young, 37-year-old, third-year coach named Jimmy Valvano guide NC State to its second national title in nine years? Fresh in Pack Nation's memory was the 57-1  run in 1972-74 under coach Norm Sloan when the Pack broke dynastic UCLA's string of seven consecutive national titles in 1974.
    How could  Valvano's '82-83 edition - nicknamed  "The Cardiac Pack"  by the media during its title run - become the first team to  lose 10 regular-season games and win nine tournament road games in succession to capture the title?     
    The Pack, sporting the best backcourt in the country in guards Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg,  started the season ranked 16th  -- playing in the shadow of defending national champion North Carolina. The Tar Heels started ranked number one and the University of Virginia was number three - anchored by 7-foot-4 center Ralph Sampson.
    At 6-foot, 197 pounds, Lowe was born to be a playmaker and honed his skills when he was young by dribbling the basketball while doing errands for his mother. By the time he left State, he had accumulated more assists than any previous ACC performer.
    Whittenburg was a prolific shooter with great tenacity and work ethic.  A distant relative of Pack great David Thompson, he and Lowe decided collectively to attend NC State because of its basketball heritage.
    Anchoring the middle was center Thurl Bailey at 6-foot-11, 214.  The Pack senior averaged 16.7 points per game. He was deceptively quick, perhaps the most-underrated player in the ACC, and a future NBA performer.



    Pack Plays in Nation's Best Conference
    Besides North Carolina, Virginia and State, Maryland also had an excellent NCAA tournament-bound team under veteran coach Lefty Driesell.  Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were also formidable opponents.  And a young Mike Krzyzewski of Duke was still constructing the building blocks of a future elite program.
    The ACC had the best players and coaches in America. The road to its title was filled with many obstacles and pitfalls for any of its eight member schools.
    As the season progressed, North Carolina and Virginia were prohibitive league favorites - with each team finishing with 12-2 conference records. Maryland and NC State finished with 8-6 marks for third and fourth places.
    Whittenburg broke his foot on January 12 in a home encounter against Virginia after scoring 27 points in the first half. From that point, it wasn't certain whether he would be able to return later in the season. In the meantime, the Pack kept its head above water, but lost 10 regular-season games, finishing at 17-10 prior to the ACC Tournament in Atlanta.
    Prior to Whittenburg's return to the court on February 27th,  the  Wolfpack played poorly at times, but developed some much-needed depth from the bench in guard Terry Gannon, center Cosell McQueen and forward Ernie Myers.
    The ACC experimented with a three-point field goal and 30-second shot clock during the regular-season and tournament play. Gannon's jumpers from outside the three-point line progressed nicely - a part of the game which would bail out Valvano's charges when the going got tough at critical times.  
     Myers, a heavily-recruited 6-foot-4 freshman, averaged 17 points in 14 games when he became a fixture in the lineup as a result of the injury to Whittenburg. Teammate Lorenzo  Charles also improved his game after a coming-out party against North Carolina Feb. 19th. From that point he averaged 11.5 points and 8.4 rebounds down the stretch.

    Struggles Without Whittenburg
    The Pack were 7-2 overall prior to Whittenburg's injury.  During that early-season stretch, Valvano's team beat Michigan State and West Virginia, but lost to a powerful Louisville team and Missouri.
    With Whittenburg out of the lineup and the team's chemistry disrupted, the Pack then went 3-4 as it adjusted to a new starting lineup and role players.
    In early February, the team probably hit its lowest point in Charlotte at the annual North-South Doubleheaders. Although winning against Furman (51-48) and The Citadel (57-47), the Pack struggled.
    One veteran ACC writer, R.J. Powell, noted the Pack's difficulty and in jest, his sidekick said State "would have trouble beating a good high school team."
    Whittenburg never gave up on the idea he could heal in time and play by season's end, especially after the Wolfpack hosted  rival North Carolina on an unusually warm February Saturday afternoon. He didn't play but was sitting courtside when the Wolfpack beat Carolina and coach Dean Smith for the first time during the Valvano era, 70-63, on Feb. 19th.
    Many observers believe the crowd that day was the loudest in the history of Reynolds Coliseum.  "It was the game that got us going," Bailey noted. "It proved to us that we could be a strong team again - a team that could go somewhere."
    Whittenburg's return to the court on Feb. 27th against Virginia, however, provided another critical turn for Valvano. Would the new chemistry the team developed during his absence be disrupted if he returned to the lineup?
    Valvano didn't care because he wanted Whittenburg to end his career in his usual spot, although he noted that it would be a difficult task for the team to re-invent itself for the third time prior to the ACC tournament.
    The Pack lost to Virginia again, 86-75, and to Maryland, 67-58, before an incredible regular-season finale against Wake Forest in a 130-89 triumph.

    The ACC Tournament
    From that point forward, most observers figured the best the Pack could do was to score an upset or two in the ACC Tourney and perhaps get an NIT bid. Even Pack loyalists had a hard time envisioning an ACC title and automatic NCAA bid against the likes of the powerful Cavaliers and Tar Heels.
    The Pack's first game in an eventual nine-game tournament winning streak began with one of many tourney nail-biters -- against Wake Forest - the team it had beaten by 41 points the week before. With the score, 70-70 and ten seconds remaining, Bailey tipped a Deacon pass and Lowe intercepted it. Charles was fouled and hit one of two charity tosses for a 71-70 Wolfpack victory.
    That set up an ACC tourney semi-final matchup against the Tar Heels. Another cardiac finish?  Of course, double overtime. Both teams had leads at various times in regulation and overtime. However, Michael Jordan fouled out for the second straight time against the Pack.  State had four players in double figures - led by Lowe's 26 -- as the Pack advanced to the ACC finals, 91-84.
    Pack Nation was elated to be back in the title game after a long absence. Getting an opportunity to participate in the Big Dance suddenly seemed so close, yet so far, against the powerful Wahoos.
    The 16,723 fans in Atlanta's Omni witnessed the Wolfpack's ninth ACC Tourney title with an 81-78 triumph over the Cavaliers. With State leading 79-78, Whittenburg's two free throws iced the game.  Lowe acknowledged that "no one thinks we are good enough to beat Carolina one day and Virginia the next."
    Pack Nation was on cloud nine - ACC Champions. Hillsborough Street rocked! Seeded in the West, most observers figured a win or two in the NCAA Tournament would put the icing on the cake of a great run.  Winning the NCAA title against the likes of Houston, Las Vegas, Virginia, Carolina, Louisville, Villanova, Kentucky, UCLA or St. John's seemed like a pipe dream.

    The Pipe Dream Continues
    Corvallis, Oregon was the site of the West NCAA first round at Gill Arena on the campus of Oregon State University. The opponent was a virtual unknown Pepperdine and afterwards Valvano said he'd never been in a tougher game to win, 69-67, again in double overtime.
    With the ACC experimental season over, and the three-point field goal and 30-second clock gone, State was back to playing the conventional college game throughout the Big Dance.
    Gannon had looked at the scoreboard clock which displayed 1:34 and Pepperdine leading, 59-53. He thought the journey was over and the team would be back in class the next day. State made a sensational run and trailed by two with 23 seconds left to play.
    State fouled Dane Suttle, an 84 percent free throw shooter. He missed his second consecutive one-and-one and the Pack got possession. Whittenburg, a 77 percent free throw shooter, was fouled and went to the line hoping to tie the score with nine ticks left on the clock.
    He missed, but McQueen, who Valvano inserted for additional rebounding strength, grabbed the basketball and sank a soft six-footer to tie the contest. Each team scored 12 points in the first overtime with the Pack surviving the second overtime, 10-8, to advance to the second round against powerful UNLV.
    Most experts expected the Running Rebs, 23-5, to win easily. And with a 12-point cushion midway through the second half, State fans were thinking the Cardiac Pack had finally used up all of its magic.
    State put together another uncanny run behind Bailey (25 points, nine rebounds), Charles (17 points, 11 rebounds), Whittenburg (13 points) and Lowe (10 assists).
    Once again, a cardiac finish ensued. State trailed 70-69, with UNLV missing a one-and-one with 32 seconds left to play. With State in possession, Valvano called for his team to run the clock down until Bailey launched the potential game winning shot with eight seconds left.
    The shot hit the back of the rim, bounded out and Bailey quickly grabbed the rebound and sank the shot which sent State to Ogden, Utah to the regional semi-finals with a 71-70 breath-taking finish.
    "These blowouts are getting on my nerves," Valvano chuckled. "I'm losing my voice."
    A week later Valvano got his wish - a real blowout 75-56 victory over Utah. The Pack was now only one victory away from reaching the Final Four. But Virginia was in its way and the Cavs were still smarting from their loss to the Pack in the ACC Tournament finale.
    Virginia's 7-foot-4 Sampson, whose team never won an ACC title, still had an NCAA title in his sights. And it looked attainable against the Cardiac Pack, especially at halftime with the Cavs leading, 33-28.
    But, Charles hit two free throws for State's final points and a 63-62 lead. State had trailed for 32 minutes and then survived a 20-foot missed jumper by Tim Mullen plus a follow-up miss by Orthell Wilson. McQueen grabbed the rebound away from Sampson as the game ended.
    The Pack Magic Continued
    With a seven-game tourney winning streak, the Cardiac Pack was going to the Final Four in Albuquerque, New Mexico, along with Georgia and powerful Houston and Louisville.
    NCAA Champions
    After Valvano's team waltzed by Georgia in the semi-final, 67-60, the Pack's national championship opponent was a Houston team which hadn't lost a game in the 1983 calendar year.
    Coach Guy Lewis' top-ranked Cougars entered the contest with a 26-game winning streak and 31-2 record after destroying a second-ranked Louisville team (32-4) in the semi-final by issuing 13 slam dunks-- 11 in a decisive second half.  His team indeed had earned the nickname Phi Slama Jama - led by tourney MVP center Akeem Olajuwon and his dunking brothers.
    Hardly any of the 500 sportswriters and broadcasters present gave State much of a chance. One publication stated that "trees would dance and elephants would drive in the Indianapolis 500 before NC State would beat Houston."
    All Valvano asked his team to do was to put itself in a position to win at the end of the contest - like it had in the majority of its ACC and NCAA tourney battles. The State coached had hinted his team might "take the air out of the ball" in a slowdown (remember, no shot clock).
    That was just coach talk in order to put Houston on edge. Actually, Valvano told his team to attack from the get-go. Bailey's dunk was the Pack's first bucket and set the tone.
    State took a surprising 33-25 lead into intermission. The Cougars caught fire, outscoring a cold-shooting Pack, 17-2, in the first nine and a half minutes of the final half, leading 42-35.
    Houston then slowed the game down as Valvano ordered is players to foul and send the Cougars to the charity stripe during the final minutes. The ploy worked again as it had during the entire tournament run. Houston missed golden opportunities to ice the game and with 1:05 left to play, Valvano ordered the Pack to foul Houston's James Franklin with the score tied at 52.
    Franklin missed and McQueen and Bailey fought each other for the rebound. Finally, McQueen saved it. State called timeout with 44 seconds left to play and Valvano wanted his team to run the clock down and take the potential winning shot.
    With Houston playing a surprising zone, the Pack had difficulty running time off the clock. With just seconds remaining, Bailey hurled a dangerous pass outside to Whittenburg, who launched a desperation 35-foot shot with three seconds remaining.
    It fell considerably short, but Charles, following the flight of the ball while under the basket, intercepted the missile and in one motion dunked it with one second left to play.
    Wolfpack play-by-play broadcaster Wally Ausley famously exclaimed "Lorenzo Charles dunks it in, the glass slipper fits, the Wolfpack wins the national championship."
    As the camera panned Valvano scampering onto the court to find his winning players, CBS announcer Billy Packer bellowed, "They won it on the dunk."
    Wolfpack Nation goes crazy - in the Brickyard and on Hillsborough Street.
    The Pipe Dream is a reality!

    By George Cox,

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