Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 13:25:58 -0400
Staring down the biggest game of their season, the 1957 North Carolina Tar Heels trotted out their smallest starter to tip the ball.
When faced with a Goliath such as Wilt Chamberlain — who was five inches taller than UNC’s starting big man Lennie Rosenbluth — head coach Frank McGuire wanted to have a little fun.
McGuire told 5-foot-11 guard Tommy Kearns to jump against the seven-footer Chamberlain, instead of fighting a losing battle trying to win the tap.
His players were too tired to protest. After all, they had played three overtimes two nights beforehand against Michigan State, eking out a 74-70 win.
What’s more, the Jayhawks were playing a virtual home game, with the national championship being held in Kansas City, Mo., that year.
But that wasn’t the Tar Heels’ first scare. They were fighting for their lives as early as the ACC Tournament.
In those days, only the tournament winner received a bid to the NCAA Tournament, regardless of their achievements during the regular season.
The ACC semifinal pitted UNC against Wake Forest, who had the Tar Heels on the ropes, but misses on crucial free throws and a few timely UNC scores doomed the Demon Deacons to the National Invitational Tournament, 61-59.
UNC ran the table through the ACC with a 14-0 conference record, beat South Carolina in the ACC final, and went 32-0 for the season. UNC survived scares like a double-overtime 65-61 squeaker at Maryland on Feb. 5 and a 75-73 win against Duke at Woollen Gymnasium on Feb. 9.
The 1957 team was the last team in UNC history to go undefeated, and featured Rosenbluth and Pete Brennan, two jerseys that can be found hanging in the Dean Dome rafters today.
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