Wolfpack Flashback: Thrive and Advance

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, Coach Jim Valvano's Cardiac Pack got a rare breather on its way to the 1983 national title.

They were called the "Cardiac Pack" because of their penchant for playing close games and finding new ways to survive and advance through the 1983 NCAA tournament. But on this date in NC State basketball history, coach Jim Valvano's team got a rare opportunity to take deep breath on its way to its improbable national championship.

Playing a virtual road game in the NCAA's West Region semifinals in Ogen, Utah, State rolled to a 75-56 victory against Utah. 

It was one of only two games State played during that postseason that wasn't either decided by three points or less or in overtime.

The Wolfpack led by only four at halftime, but thanks to its superior size up front and the scoring of star guard Dereck Whittenburg -- who finished with 27 points on 10 of 13 shooting -- broke the game open in the second half.

State outscored the Utes 40-35 in the second half to earn a date with Ralph Sampson and top-seeded Virginia in the region championship game two days later.

"We were just caught up in all the excitement that we'd won the ACC tournament and had beaten Pepperdine and UNLV," team member Thurl Bailey told the Dereret News of Salt Lake City in 2010. "We were eating it up and wanted it to continue for as long as we could.

"We had one of the greatest coaches and motivators who ever lived, Jim Valvano, and we felt like we had prepared for what ended up happening."

The 1983 national championship was one of the high points in State basketball history, a history that got its beginning on this date.

On March 24, 1950, the Wolfpack played its first ever NCAA tournament game, beating Holy Cross 87-74 at New York's Madison Square Garden. It's a game best remembered for State star Sam Ranzino outplaying the Crusaders' Hall of Fame point guard Bob Cousy.

Ranzino, whose No. 77 hangs from the rafters of PNC Arena, scored what was then an NCAA tournament record 32 points to lead the way while teammate Dick Dickey added 25 and while playing solid defense against Cousy.

Like that game in 1983, the Wolfpack jumped out to a big early lead to advance easily to a region final (there were only eight teams in the bracket back then).

State has played three other games on March 24, all of which resulted in losses.

In 1951, the Wolfpack lost a consolation round game to St. John's, 71-59, at Reynolds Coliseum. The other two setbacks came to No. 1 regional seeds -- 69-60 to St. John's in a West Region final in Denver in 1985 and 69-61 to Georgetown in a 1989 East Region semifinal at the New Jersey Meadowlands.

State did win an NIT game on this date, in true Cardiac Pack form at Reynolds Coliseum, by rallying to beat Harvard 78-77 in a second round game last season.

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