GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina State's heart didn't give out in yesterday's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final against North Carolina here at the Greensboro Coliseum. The only thing the Wolfpack ran out of was magic.
After becoming the first eighth seed in the history of the tournament to reach the championship game, N.C. State's string of upsets ended when the third-seeded, fifth-ranked Tar Heels rode the outside shooting of Shammond Williams to a 64-54 victory.
Williams, a junior guard who didn't receive a single scholarship offer coming out of high school, scored 23 points to lead North Carolina (24-6) to its 12th straight victory and to a No. 1 seed in the East Regional of the NCAA tournament.
"I don't want people to think I won the game for us," said Williams, who was a unanimous choice for tournament MVP, finishing with 60 points on 18 of 32 shooting from the field and 15 of 17 from the free-throw line, to go with 15 assists and 14 rebounds. "I don't want the headlines."
Until yesterday, the headlines over the weekend throughout the state had belonged to the Wolfpack. There were moments in the final when it seemed as if N.C. State (16-14) was on the verge of another miracle and perhaps the ACC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
But after cutting an early 20-10 deficit twice to four late in the first half and a 45-34 deficit with 12: 14 left to 47-45 on a three-point shot by freshman point guard Justin Gainey, N.C. State finally succumbed when it went cold from the outside.
Moreover, the Wolfpack was relegated to shooting from the perimeter because of its inability to get the ball inside against North Carolina's zone defense. N.C. State wound up shooting just 10 of 32 on threes, 20 of 61 overall, while North Carolina finished 23 of 39 (59 percent).
"It was kind of frustrating," said senior forward Jeremy Hyatt, who made only three of 11 from the field and missed two of his team's three threes when the Wolfpack had pulled within 45-42. "A lot of the shots were rimming out. I guess it wasn't meant to be."
Though they ultimately went inside, as well as to the free-throw line, to pull away from the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels used three straight threes by Williams to build their biggest lead of the game. Inexplicable as it seemed at the time, North Carolina coach Dean Smith pulled Williams.
Williams stayed on the bench for a little more than two minutes -- both he and Smith said that fatigue was the reason -- but it was enough time for N.C. State to trim its deficit to three on a three-point shot by senior Danny Strong.
But the Wolfpack could never draw even.
"We never felt any pressure," said North Carolina point guard Ed Cota, the freshman whose late-season play has been one of the big reasons for the team's turnaround after its 0-3 start in the ACC. "We felt that we were in control on the offensive end and we contained them on defense."
Now the Tar Heels will turn their attention to their next goal: winning a third NCAA championship for their legendary coach. They say that their only concern going into Thursday's first-round game in Winston-Salem will be beating Fairfield, not Dean Smith tying Adolph Rupp's all-time record of 876 victories.
"If we play hard and play together, we know the wins will come," said sophomore forward Antawn Jamison, who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds yesterday. "Coach is not making a big deal about it [breaking the record] and we aren't either."
Smith was simply thinking about celebrating his 13th ACC tournament championship in 36 years at North Carolina.
"I'm ecstatic," said Smith, 66. "This is really important for me to be associated with this group. I'm going to enjoy it when we get together in a couple of years hence and say, 'Remember when we did it in that day in Greensboro.' "
N.C. State coach Herb Sendek and his players might be saying the same thing. They had given the fans here more than a few memories and gave themselves a chance to make the NCAA tournament. But they will have to settle for an NIT bid instead.
"It was great for the older guys to enjoy something like this," said Hyatt, who had been part of three losing teams before the Wolfpack's late-season run to respectability. "And it was great for the young guys to go through something like this and get experience."
Said Gainey, who was named first-team all-tournament, "It's very disappointing. Every guy in this locker room thought we were going to win this game."
NOTE: Keith Booth of Maryland was named to the all-tournament second team.
No. 1 Kansas 87, Missouri 60: In Kansas City, Mo., Paul Pierce matched his career highs with 30 points and 11 rebounds, and Jacque Vaughn had a season-high 12 assists, as Kansas (32-1) defeated Missouri (16-7), the only team to beat the Jayhawks this season, to win the Big 12 tournament.
No. 6 Kentucky 95, No. 24 Georgia 68: In Nashville, Tenn., Anthony Epps scored a career-high 22 points and Ron Mercer had 20, as the Wildcats (30-4) won their fifth SEC tournament championship in six years. Ray Harrison had 13 points for the Bulldogs (24-8), who trailed 44-29 at halftime.
Pacific 63, Nevada 55: Tim Bowman scored 25 points and Pacific (24-5) advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years by becoming the first conference team to beat Nevada (20-9) at Lawlor Events Center this year.
Pub Date: 3/10/97