Wolfpack Flashback: The Impossible Dream Come True

Brett Friedlander

The only Madness going on this March is taking place off the court, with the NCAA tournament cancelled in response to the growing coronavirus crisis. With no actual games to report on, SI All Wolfpack is looking back in time to remember some of NC State's best postseason games from the past. On this date in 1983, the Wolfpack pulled off one of the most iconic upsets in college basketball history.

No one gave NC State a chance at beating top-ranked Houston for college basketball's national championship on this date in 1983.

It's a narrative Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano worked hard to perpetuate by telling everyone who would listen how overmatched his team would be against an opponent that featured future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, and dunked so much it was given the nickname Phi Slamma Jamma.

Because there was no shot clock in those days, Valvano threatened to "hold the ball until Tuesday morning” if State won the opening tap. And columnists from all across the country took the bait.

Columnist Dave Kindred summed up the pregame attitude best when he wrote that "Trees will tap dance, elephants will ride in the Indianapolis 500, and (rotund celebrity) Orson Wells will skip breakfast, lunch, and dinner before State finds a way to beat Houston."

But Valvano and the Cardiac Pack had a surprise in store for everyone. Including the Cougars.

Before sending his team out to the court, Valvano told his players that "If you think we have come all this way, won all these close games, and made it to the national championship game just to hold the ball in front of 50 million people, you are out of your minds.”

The Wolfpack responded by jumping out to an early lead with an up-tempo style that surprised Houston. Cougars coach Guy Lewis also helped out by leaving Drexler in the game to pick up his fourth foul before halftime.

State led 33-25 at that point behind the perimeter shooting of Dereck Whittenburg and the inside strength of Thurl Bailey.

Nothing came easily to the Wolfpack that postseason, though, and this game would be no different.

After Houston opened the second half with a 17-2 point that appeared to finally put in charge, State used the outside shooting of Sidney Lowe and Terry Gannon to claw its way back into contention. With 44 seconds remaining and the score at tied at 52, the Wolfpack held for the last shot.

And the rest has become one of the most iconic sequences in college basketball history.

Houston's defense nearly getting a steal. State taking too long to execute its offense. Whittenburg firing up a desperation 35-foot airball. And finally, Lorenzo Charles dunking in the rebound at the buzzer to seal the Wolfpack's destiny and set off a wild celebration punctuated by Valvano frantically running around the court looking for somebody to hug.

It was an improbable ending to an incredible game that no one, let alone Wolfpack fans, will ever forget.