1974 National Champions
Front row (L-R): Mike Sloan (student manager), Steve Smoral, Craig Kuszmaul, Mark Moeller, Monte Towe, David Thompson, Greg Hawkins, Moe Rivers, Bruce Dayhuff.
Center row (L-R): Eddie Biedenbach (assistant coach), Art Musselman (assistant coach), Steve Nuce, Dwight Johnson, Jerry Hunt, Tim Stoddard, Steve Smith, Ken Gehring, Sam Esposito (assistant coach), Norm Sloan (head coach).
Back row (L-R): Bill Lake, Tommy Burleson, Phil Spence, Mike Buurma.
NC State's first national championship team, the 1973-74 Wolfpack, may have been the best basketball team ever to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. During the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons, the Wolfpack went 57-1 overall, 24-0 in regular-season ACC play, and won 32 straight games against ACC teams, all conference records that still stand today.
The 1973 and 1974 Wolfpack teams had winning streaks of 29 and 28 games (extended to 36 games the following year), and culminated their two-year domination of college basketball by dethroning perennial college kingpin UCLA and winning the 1974 national championship with a 12-point victory over Marquette in the title game.
The '74 Wolfpack was led by the peerless David Thompson, three-time ACC Player of the Year and the 1975 National Player of the Year. His supporting cast included two other All-Americans, 7-4 center Tommy Burleson and 5-7 point guard Monte Towe. Future major league pitcher Tim Stoddard played power forward and perfected the alley-oop pass to Thompson, and Moe Rivers was Towe's backcourt mate. Raleigh native Phil Spence was the sixth man.
Coach Norm Sloan, recognizing the excellent chemistry on his talented team, employed a free-lance passing game with few set plays, allowing his players the freedom to create scoring opportunities and freeing himself to concentrate on late-game situations.
The Buildup to '74
The 1972-73 Wolfpack went through the season undefeated at 27-0, but was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament because of probation. Prior to the '74 season, debate raged as to who was better, UCLA or NC State, and from the Wolfpack's perspective, it seemed that anything less than a national championship in 1974 would be a disappointment.
NC State opened the season with a pair of easy wins and was unprepared for a mid-December showdown with UCLA, losing to the Bruins, 84-66. The loss made the Pack a more determined team, and NC State went through the rest of the regular season without losing again, finishing with a 24-1 overall record.
The Greatest Game in ACC History
The ACC featured two other top 10 teams that year - No. 4 Maryland and No. 8 North Carolina - but the Wolfpack went through the conference season unbeaten for the second year in a row.
There were no at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament in those days. The ACC Tournament champion went to the big dance; everyone else went home. As the first-place finisher in the regular season, the Wolfpack had a bye in the opening round of the tournament, blew out Virginia in the semifinals, and then downed Maryland 103-100 in overtime in what has been called one of the greatest college basketball games ever played.
The game was one for the ages, a vintage ACC heart-stopper. Maryland hit 12 of its first 14 shots and jumped to a 25-12 lead after six minutes. NC State cut the lead to 55-50 at halftime. The momentum swung back and forth several times in the second half, but the pace never slowed and the tension got tighter and tighter.
Behind the spectacular play of Burleson, the Wolfpack held a 97-93 lead with 2:12 to play, but Maryland got two clutch baskets late to tie the game at 97-97 and send it into overtime. The lead changed hands three times in the overtime, and the outcome was not settled until the final minutes.
Champions at Last
As the State-UCLA game approached, the anticipation continued to climb. Thousands of fans jammed Reynolds Coliseum each day to watch the Wolfpack's practices the week leading up to the Final Four, and when the two teams finally met at the Greensboro Coliseum, they played a game that not only lived up to all expectations, but easily exceeded them.
Regulation ended in a 65-65 tie, then both teams scored just two points in the first overtime. UCLA took a seven-point lead in the second overtime and appeared well on their way to advancing to their eighth consecutive national championship game, but the Wolfpack battled back. David Thompson scored four straight points to give the Pack a 78-75 lead with 34 seconds to play and NC State went on to an 80-77 win.
Two nights later, the Wolfpack won the championship, dropping Marquette 76-64 in a game most people don't even remember. The first half was tight before two technical fouls on Marquette coach Al McGuire ignited a 10-0 Wolfpack run late in the period. NC State's lead grew to as many as 19 points in the second half, and the Wolfpack cruised to its first national championship.