The Madness of March is off the court this year, with the final three days of the ACC tournament and the entire NCAA tournament cancelled in response to the growing coronavirus crisis. With no games to report on, SI All Wolfpack is looking back in time to remember some of NC State's best postseason games from the past. Today, on the day in which the 2020 ACC tournament final was supposed to be played, we relive the game generally acknowledged as the greatest in conference history -- a 103-100 overtime victory against Maryland that was the springboard to State's 1974 national championship ...
Regardless of which of the eight remaining teams would have advanced to Saturday's ACC tournament final, including NC State, both participants would have all but been assured a spot in the field for NCAA tournament next week.
That wasn't the case on March 9, 1974.
When coach Norm Sloan's Wolfpack, the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, met No. 4 Maryland at Greensboro Coliseum, it wasn't just for the ACC's championship trophy. It was also a game to decide the conference's one and only bid to the NCAA tournament.
The matchup featured teams that would eventually send eight players to the NBA and had lost only five games between them to that point in the season.
And they both brought their "A" game that memorable night 46 years ago.
Maryland shot 61 percent. State shot 55 percent. In an era long before the advent of shot clock and three-point line, the Wolfpack and Terrapins combined to score 203 points,
In the end, the game went to overtime with State winning 103-100 in what is generally acknowledged as the greatest game in ACC history.
It was a back-and-forth struggle, with Maryland jumping out to an early 25-12 lead after making 12 of its first 14 shots. State then answered back to go ahead 42-41 midway through the period before the Terps regained a 55-50 advantage at halftime.
The second half was just as frantic, only in reverse. With stars David Thompson and Tom Burleson leading the way, the Wolfpack set the early pace by taking a 66-61 lead before Maryland eventually caught back up.
With the score tied at 97, the Terps had a chance to win the game in regulation. But State's Moe Rivers did a good job of defending Maryland point guard John Lucas by forcing him to pass to a teammate. By the time he got the ball back for the final shot, it was little more than a desperation heave that fell well short, forcing overtime.
The pace of the game slowed considerably in the extra period, with most of the players on the court having played more than 40 minutes each. With State ahead 101-100 on a basket by Phil Spence with just over two minutes remaining, Maryland coach Lefty Driesell gambled by holding for the last shot.
But the Terps turned the ball over instead. With six seconds remaining, Monte Towe made a pair of free throws to finally salt away the victory.
“That was one of the greatest college games that has ever been played,” Sloan said after the game. “And I think we beat the second-best team in the nation tonight.”
Thompson, the ACC's Player of the Year, had 29 points for the Wolfpack. But the best player on the court that day was Burleson. The 7-foot-4 center went 18 of 25 from the floor to finish with 38 points. He also had 13 rebounds in a performance that was motivated by his losing out on first-team all-conference honors to Maryland big man Len Elmore
"I’d played three years of pretty much dominant basketball and I felt that I should’ve been, without any reserve or doubt that I was the best center in the league," Burleson told Fox Sports in 2014 on the 40th anniversary of the epic game. "Of course for some reason, the sportswriters didn’t see it that way or NC State didn’t promote me in the light that I needed to be promoted in, and I became second team. I would’ve been the first player ever to make first team All-ACC three years in a row. That was disappointing. So Len Elmore made the statement that he was finally getting the credit due to him, that he was a better center than I was or whatever he was saying.
"I love Len. He’s a great player. I think he’s more built as a power forward. At 6-9, he was a really good athlete, great jumping ability, great rebounder, fundamentally very strong. But at the center position, I felt that I was a better player. So that game sort of played into my hands."