When Maryland and North Carolina State walked on the Greensboro Coliseum floor the night of March 9, 1974, to play for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship, no one realized it would turn out to be a classic game that would dramatically change the face of college basketball and leave a lasting impact on the careers of 10 future NBA draft picks and one coach, Lefty Driesell.
N.C. State outran Maryland, 103-100, in overtime that night and went on to win the national championship, ending UCLA's spectacular seven-year run. The Wolfpack's David Thompson, Tom Burleson, Monte Towe and Phil Spence were all drafted by the NBA and are still basking in the spotlight of that celebrated victory.
Maryland went home and has lived the past 25 years being labeled the greatest team that didn't go to the NCAA tournament.
At least the Terps won the battle for the most NBA draft picks, 6-4. John Lucas, Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, Mo Howard, Tom Roy and Owen Brown were selected in the NBA draft.
Maryland did finish No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll that season, prompting the NCAA to make a landmark decision in 1975. The NCAA tournament committee expanded the field from 32 to 48 teams, which opened the door for more than one team from a conference.
Twenty-fifth anniversary ceremonies commemorating that titanic 1974 overtime shootout began last Saturday at Cole Field House before Maryland's 88-72 victory over Virginia and will continue tomorrow night at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C., where Maryland meets N.C. State.
The Wolfpack and Terps are scheduled to wear "throwback" jerseys to 1974 tomorrow night.
"We played until the last drop of blood was left on the floor," said Roy, who was Maryland's top frontcourt reserve. "It was a fierce, combative game with a lot of super players. It seemed like N.C. State's David Thompson could score 30 points in two seconds."
Thompson did score 29 points in the game, but it was the 7-foot-4 Burleson who played the game of his life with 38 points and was the difference that night as he outplayed the more celebrated Elmore in a grudge match.
Chosen the tournament MVP, Burleson outscored Elmore 38-18 and both players had 13 rebounds.
Burleson was throwing in sky hooks, made a surprising reverse layup and bounced a pass through McMillen's legs for a layup.
"I was charged up," said Burleson, now a county commissioner in North Carolina. "It was put up or shut up. Bill Walton [UCLA center] had put Len on a pedestal above me that season and that made me mad. I scored 20 and had 14 rebounds against Walton in the NCAA semifinals that year and we won [80-77 in double overtime]. Also, I had made first-team All-ACC my sophomore and junior years and they gave it to Len my senior year. I wanted to win it three straight years."
Coach Norm Sloan used one of the oldest tricks in the book to add to Burleson's intensity.
Sloan had a newspaper article posted in Burleson's locker that quoted Elmore as saying, "Go tell Burleson I'm the best center in this league."
Burleson said Elmore made that statement after he was selected over Burleson to the first-team All-ACC that season. Elmore denies that scenario, saying he made the comment in response to a question about Burleson being one of the dominant centers in college basketball.
Whatever the reason for Elmore's fiery remarks, they would come back to haunt him and Maryland.
Driesell was so impressed by Burleson's performance that he went to the N.C. State bus, shook the big center's hand and told him, "That was the greatest game a center has ever played in the ACC. I've never seen a center dominate a game like that."
Burleson said he still remembers every word Driesell told him.
Many believe one of the keys to N.C. State's victory was the fact the Wolfpack was much fresher late in regulation and in overtime because it was only its second game in two nights.
N.C. State had received a bye in the opening round because it finished first in the regular season in the then seven-team league.
Maryland was playing its third game in three nights and was coming off an emotional blowout over North Carolina in the semifinals.
"I remember beating the Maryland players down the floor every time late in the game," said Burleson. "They were dragging."
"If I could have one game back, it would be that N.C. State game," said Driesell, who defended his decision to keep his starters in the game late in the semifinal rout of North Carolina. "But it was 25 years ago and if we had won that game, nobody would probably remember it now. What happens to me is what the Lord wants."
The often-chronicled overtime loss to N.C. State that night after Maryland had dominated in the first half, leading by as many as 13 points, proved to be the beginning of an unwanted stigma for Driesell.
His critics have said he always seems to come close but loses the big games.
Driesell, who at Georgia State is one of 12 collegiate coaches to win 700 or more games, said of the N.C. State loss that might have cost him a national championship, "We got beat by a great team that went on to win a national championship. It's a shame anybody had to lose. We shot 60 percent and they did. It was a great fast-paced basketball game with very few turnovers."
"You can't blame any one person for that loss. No one lost that game," said N.C. State's Towe, who today is an assistant coach at UNC-Asheville. "We won it and it's become the postage stamp for our team."
Current Maryland assistant coach Billy Hahn played the last two minutes of regulation and all five minutes of overtime in a three-guard offense after Brown fouled out.
"I was flying around but it didn't work out for us," said Hahn, who made some key defensive plays. "I just remember thinking how many great players were on the floor."
Maryland's McMillen scored 22 points that night and went on to become a Rhodes Scholar, a U.S. congressman and he played 11 seasons in the NBA with four teams.
But he said people come up to him and mostly want to "talk about two games. The N.C. State game and the 1972 Olympic game."
Maryland's Howard said, "I'll never forget how tired I was when I got on the bus that night. I have only seen a replay of the game once and that was last year when I woke my 18-year-old son up at 1 a.m. to watch it on the Classic Sports channel. My son said, 'Dad, you could play.' "
It is Howard who sometimes has been second-guessed for passing up a 16-foot shot from the left baseline with the score tied at 97 and three seconds left in regulation.
Howard opted to pass the ball out to Lucas, who was near the left sideline in front of the Maryland bench. Lucas got off a desperation last-second shot that didn't come close and the game went into overtime.
Maryland didn't score a field goal in overtime and Spence hit what proved to be the deciding basket with 1: 59 left, dropping in a layup over Elmore for a 101-100 lead.
Towe's two free throws with six seconds remaining iced the victory for N.C. State.
"I didn't take the shot at the end of regulation, because I was afraid Burleson would block it," said Howard, now a banking executive in Delaware. "He had blocked my shot with four minutes left in regulation when I drove the lane. It wasn't a tough angle and I have second-guessed myself for not taking it."
Elmore, an attorney and basketball television analyst, said he remembers telling Howard "to shoot but he was so focused he didn't hear me."
Many considered it the greatest college basketball game of all-time until Christian Laettner and Duke pulled off a miracle last-second overtime finish in the 1992 NCAA East Regional final for a 104-103 win over Kentucky.
Laettner soared over everybody at the foul line to grab a length-of-the-court pass from Grant Hill and in one motion turned and hit a buzzer-beating jumper to win the game.
"I know they call the Duke-Kentucky game the greatest now," said Burleson. "But we're still the greatest ACC game ever."
Pub Date: 2/09/99