The Warriors pulled out a 67-59 win to capture what is to date the program’s only NCAA title.
It was the final game of McGuire’s coaching career and the last game UNC’s Walter Davis played as a Tar Heel.
ATLANTA — North Carolina almost became the No. 1 basketball team in the nation Monday night, but a group of yellow-and-blue-clad Marquette Warriors became the national champions instead, winning the NCAA basketball tournament 67-59 here in the Omni.
The tears in the eyes of the Tar Heel players, fans and cheerleaders as the game ended showed what a big word “almost” is. Carolina, after being down by 12 points at halftime, made a furious comeback to tie the game at 41-41, and went to the Four Corners stall offense.
Marquette responded with its own version of the delay game and kept the Tar Heels just an arm’s length away from hanging an NCAA championship banner in Carmichael Auditorium.
“I wanted to win for the seniors and all the guys on our team,” UNC guard Phil Ford said quietly after the loss. “Now we have to wait until Oct. 15 to start over again. That’s one of the great things about athletics. Life is gonna go on win or lose.”
The scene in the Carolina lockerroom after the game was one of sadness. The seniors — Walter Davis, Bruce Buckley, Woody Coley, John Kuester and Tom LaGarde — had had time to think over the game that brought an end to their careers at Carolina.
“I looked at my jersey as I went to the showers,” Davis said. “I looked at the number on it and thought to myself that this would be the last time I would take it off.”
For the freshmen on the Tar Heel squad, all of whom had made a tremendous contribution to the program, it was time to think of the past season and of the season to come. Among those were Mike O’Koren, voted to the all-tournament team after he scored 31 points against Nevada-Las Vegas in the semifinal game Saturday and 14 against Marquette.
UNC went to the Four Corners with more than 12 minutes left in the game.
Ford scored only six points in the game, but refused to blame his off-scoring night or a sore elbow for the loss. Ford injured his elbow in the semifinal game of the Eastern Regional tournament against Notre Dame, and he took a bad tumble out of bounds chasing a ball in the first half. After the fall, he returned to the floor slowly.
“I don’t want anybody to quote me as saying my elbow hurt my play tonight or cost us the game,” he said. “But I feel that I have been useless to the team for the past two games. Anytime you play for the national championship, that should be enough to get you up to win.”
Ford returned to the court for second-half warm-ups late because he was receiving ice treatment on the elbow.
Marquette played inspired basketball, UNC Coach Dean Smith said, and blamed the Warrior’s alternating zone defense for Carolina’s inability to score.
“I thought we were in charge when we went to the Four Corners to try to pull Marquette out of its zone defense.”
The championship game was Marquette coach Al McGuire’s last as a college coach. He put on a good show for fans in the Omni with his gestures to officials on questionable calls, and one time almost turned over his chair backwards after flinging himself into it in a fit of disgust. But after the game he was subdued and quiet, and he praised Smith for the UNC coach’s moves in the game.
“Smith made the right move to go to the Four Corners,” McGuire said. McGuire said he had to do something to stop Carolina’s comeback early in the second half.
“Once the avalanche came and we were tied, I tried to stop the avalanche by delays, and I called time out,” he said. “Usually we try to do it by contact-lens timeouts or something like that. You stop the momentum no matter what.”
McGuire said his team practiced Four Corner-type stall offense Sunday but just for 10 or 15 minutes.
“I think they fell apart in the second half,” McGuire said. “We hung in there.”
“We do what we do for ourselves first,” Marquette forward Bo Ellis said. “We have a unity on this team. We win together, we lose together. We live together and eat together. When we win everybody gets the glory. For coach, it’s his last time. He gets most of the glory. It’s a super way to go, for him and for us. I’m glad for the people of Milwaukee, and even for those who said we wouldn’t get this far.”
Carolina shot 41.1 per cent from the floor in the first half, while Marquette shot 53.3 per cent.
Carolina jumped to 54.5 per cent in the second half for a game average of 47.1 per cent, while Marquette dropped to 35.5 per cent for a game average of 46.8 per cent for the game.
Carolina ended the season with a 28-5 record.
Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.