In the week of the wipe-out, it was scarcely astonishing that there in the middle was national champion, No. 1, David Thompson-led, 36-game-winning-streak North Carolina State scrambling in a panic with a lineup that included a gimpy-legged second-stringer and a backcourt the size of which has not been seen since the days of Snow White. And there, too, was the Wolfpack getting its tail hustled off 83-78 by none other than Wake Forest.
Wake Forest is a Baptist stronghold and a golf school, the place that invented Arnold Palmer. It is located in a tobacco warehouse in Winston-Salem or Liggett & Myers or someplace, yet each season it knocks the pride out of somebody. Last week when everybody but Kenneth Parkinson was losing, the Deacons pulled off the biggest caper of all. It was a marvelously executed conspiracy against the Wolfpack that they cooked up, and it was no fluke.
Other flopsy-wopsy developments resulted in six Top 10 teams going down. Maryland lost at home to UCLA, and three Eastern teams—St. John's, LaSalle and Fordham—knocked off unbeaten Providence, Alabama and Southern Cal respectively in holiday tournament finals.
Though the holidays were over in North Carolina, except for celebrating the end of the Catfish Huntering season, the folks in Greensboro dished up their annual Big Four feast, involving their beloved Tobacco Road schools, and the upsets continued. Not only was State defeated, but Duke, under new Coach Bill Foster, stunned North Carolina 99-96 in overtime.
The next evening the two dazed finalists battled until Wake Forest defeated the Blue Devils 75-71, with marvelous Skip Brown scoring 28 points.
Even before their Big Four victory Coach Carl Tacy's youthful Deacons had shown signs of precocity while copping pleas in their three losses. Wake succumbed at William and Mary after Brown fouled out. The Deacons led Maryland by seven points before losing Brown to an injury. And they were five up on Washington State with five minutes to play, but failed to score thereafter.
At Greensboro, however, people were less inclined to attribute the upset to the Deacons' ability than to the Wolfpack's desultory play. State indeed seemed un-excited, yet it really was the Deacons' tight, unnerving l-2-2 zone and their jamming underneath to force the Pack shooters far outside that decided the game. Wake also took away the Alley-Oop passes to Thompson, which he uses to score many of his 33 points a game.
Barely two minutes had been played when Thompson went up for one of those high passes. Rod Griffin, a 6'7" freshman, went up with him and knocked the ball away. Alley Ooooops. It was the last such pass of the evening. Instead, Monte Towe, Phil Spence and Thompson were challenged to fire from outside.
Inasmuch as this trio had been averaging 58% from the floor, the strategy seemed implausible. It worked perfectly. Thompson missed 15 of 20 shots and Towe 15 of 22. Spence had to muscle inside for his eight baskets.
Meanwhile the soph backcourt combination of Brown and Jerry Schellenberg embarrassed State with smart ball control, cutbacks for open shots and long-bomb passes that led to hoops.
Brown looks enough like Michael of the Jackson Five that, says one Wake man, "Every time he opens his mouth, I expect Got To Be There to come out." Brown was there with 25 points and eight assists. Schellenberg, a converted 6'6" forward from Floyds Knob, Ind., played the game of his life, adding 17 points, and 6'8" Cal Stamp held the bigger Wolfpack off the boards.
The Deacons led by 10 at halftime and again by 10 (74-64) with 3:30 left in the game. Then the Wolfpack made its final move, with Spence scoring six straight points and that limping reserve forward, Mark Moeller, putting in a jump shot to cut the margin to 74-72. But the Pack could never get closer.
Thompson attempted to intercept a pass and fouled out with 31 seconds to go. He departed as he had played, with a shrug, leaving State with that strange lineup, including 5'6" Towe and 5'9" freshman Craig Davis.
"A man is entitled to a bad game," said Thompson in the subdued locker room. "My trajectory was right, but everything else went wrong. I hate zones."
Which was an understandable prejudice, except that State used exactly that defense the next night to run out North Carolina 82-67—with Thompson scoring 26 points—and looked like the champ all over again.
The Pack was back, of course. The question was for how long.