“If you get it, knock it in, Michael.”
With under a minute left to play in the 1982 national championship game, one of Georgetown’s most prolific scorers, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, made a shot that gave his team a one-point lead over North Carolina.
A timeout by UNC head coach Dean Smith with 32 seconds remaining led to one of the most famous quotes of his career, when he told first-year shooting guard Michael Jordan that UNC’s possession might fall into his hands.
As the score sat at 62-61 in the Hoyas’ favor, the established Tar Heel duo of Sam Perkins and James Worthy stayed under the basket as point guard Jimmy Black handled the ball.
Little did they know the legends that would surround the game's last moments — legends still told by Tar Heel fans today.
Second by second, the clock ticked to 15, and breaths stopped across the country as the ball left Black’s hands to find Jordan wide open on the left wing. In the blink of an eye, the ball soared through the air to meet the net as the Louisiana Superdome erupted with the cheers of thousands.
With that shot, Jordan made the score 63-62, and after a sloppy Georgetown turnover, Worthy snatched the ball — and with it, the Hoyas’ national championship dreams.
At the end of regulation, Worthy finished with a game high of 28 points, which soon would reflect his offensive dominance with the Los Angeles Lakers and throughout his NBA career.
Although the competition between the game's two dynamic first-years — Jordan and Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing — was highly anticipated in this game, the marquee matchup was between Gastonia natives Worthy and Floyd. In the near future, both of these duos would go on to compete professionally against each other and use what they learned from their college days to influence their personalities on and off the court.
And yet, even with such a star-studded North Carolina team, perhaps the Tar Heels' most significant figure was Smith himself.
As the preseason's No. 1 team that defended the rank for nine of 14 regular-season weeks, North Carolina displayed its strength and potential. But whispers of doubt still filled the air. Before this game, the UNC basketball program had only one national championship from 1957.
Smith, who had been the head coach for 20 years, appeared in a total of six Final Fours, but had never cut down the final net.
While Jordan’s game-winning shot and the team’s championship win were significant moments in 1982, the lore they have in Chapel Hill still exists. Not only did this title win bring home Smith’s first of two national championships, but it allowed UNC to gain the recognition it had been seeking for decades.
Forty years later, after a much different season that saw the Tar Heels crawl into the postseason as an eight seed, the team finds itself in a very similar place.
North Carolina was unranked coming into the 2022 NCAA Tournament, and few believed that the Tar Heels would reach their 21st Final Four and still be playing in April. But behind budding chemistry and the teachings of first-year head coach Hubert Davis — who became the second Division I coach reach the Final Four as a head coach and player at the same school — the team has defied all odds.
New Orleans has been the stage for two of North Carolina's six national championships to date. And on Saturday, the Tar Heels will return to shoot for a seventh.
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