EDITOR’S NOTE: A panel of Associated Press sports writers voted in March 2020 on the top 10 men’s basketball games in the history of the NCAA Tournament. They are being republished because the sport has been shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The following game story, from 1993, was voted No. 10 and was sent April 5, 1993.
By Jim O’Connell
NEW ORLEANS – Same building. Same result. Different blunder.
Dean Smith won his second national championship Monday night when North Carolina beat Michigan 77-71. And like the first title he won at the Superdome, this one wasn’t sealed until somebody made a costly, almost unbelieveable, error.
The Tar Heels won in 1982 on a closing jumper by Michael Jordan and a botched pass by Georgetown’s Fred Brown. Monday night’s game wasn’t settled until Michigan’s Chris Webber called a timeout the Wolverines didn’t have with 11 seconds to go.
“You can call it lucky, you can call it fortunate, but it still says NCAA championship,” Smith said.
Make no mistake, the Tar Heels were not handed this title. Eric Montross and George Lynch banged inside and Donald Williams stroked 3-pointers in putting Smith, the second-winningest coach of all time, into some high NCAA tournament company.
The loss sent Michigan, a team so fabulous for two seasons, home again as a runner-up. The Wolverines were beaten 71-51 by Duke last season when they started five freshmen. No one is certain how many will be back for their junior season.
The Tar Heels led 73-71 when Pat Sullivan missed the second of two free throws with 20 seconds left. Webber, who had been so big for the Wolverines all season as well as in the title game, grabbed the rebound, brought the ball upcourt almost out of control and called for a timeout in front of his bench. Michigan, however, was out of timeouts and a technical foul was called.
“I just called a timeout and we didn’t have one and it probably cost us the game,” a disconsolate Webber said. “If I’d have known we didn’t have any timeouts left, I wouldn’t have called a timeout.”
Williams made both free throws, added two more on the ensuing possession, and then it was over. Smith left the Superdome court a champion – again.
“I think Coach Smith might move here,” Montross said. “Crazy things happen and some of it is just luck.”
Smith is the fourth active coach to win two titles, joining Bob Knight of Indiana, Denny Crum of Louisville and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. On the all-time list the only ones ahead of him are John Wooden of UCLA with 10 titles, Adolph Rupp of Kentucky with four and Knight with three.
But Smith has been to nine Final Fours and the rap against him was that his team couldn’t go home with the title. Asked if the victory over Michigan will end the criticism, he said: ?They said that the last time. I didn’t win the game, the team did.
“I wanted it for this team and this staff. We set out every year to win the national championship. I’m pleased we’ve been a national contender for a number of years. It is exciting to say ‘It’s over; we won it.’ We might not be the best, but we’re the champions.”
Michigan coach Steve Fisher, who was also trying for his second national championship, said the players had been told there were no timeouts in their last huddle with 46 seconds to play.
“In the heat of the moment strange things happen,” he said. “We talked in the huddle that we had no timeouts. Chris said he heard someone holler or call for a timeout. It’s an awful way for the season to end. No one feels worse than Chris, but we’re not here except for Chris.”
Williams finished with 25 points, matching his semifinal output from 3- point range with five in 11 attempts. Montross had 16 points and Lynch had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Williams, who got the Tar Heels to the Final Four with two huge 3-pointers in overtime against Cincinnati, was the Final Four’s most outstanding player.
“His run in these last four games has been outstanding,” Smith said. “When he’s on a streak, we screen for him and look for him. I’m impressed with him. He was in a different zone. I thought he was going to make it every time he went up.”
Webber led Michigan with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Jimmy King and Jalen Rose added 15 and 12 points.
North Carolina led 53-46 with 15:42 to play and then things tightened – as expected – in the second championship game matchup of No. 1 seeds. The first time it happened was 1982.
Michigan scored four straight points and, until Montross’ dunk with one minute to play, neither team led by more than four.
“We all make mistakes,” Michigan’s Ray Jackson said. “I think there was a lot of confusion. Everybody was saying, ‘No timeout.’ The locker room was quiet and everybody was hurting. We lost the national championship.”
Last year they lost in a blowout to Duke, which was defending its title. This year, Michigan could have won it.
“It feels the same, the exact same,” Webber said. “This was totally different. We had a chance to win tonight and we didn’t get it done. A year ago we didn’t have a chance to win in the final seconds.”
Smith received the loudest cheers from Carolina fans when he climbed a ladder to cut the nets. The cheers might have been a thank you for a 774-223 record, including 55-23 in the NCAA Tournament.
“It isn’t any particular place that accounts for winning,” Smith said, “but I’ll always have great memories of New Orleans.”
Fisher still has a 17-3 NCAA tournament record. He won the 1989 title as an interim coach and then recruited the fabled class of freshmen who brought him to the title game two straight years.
“What I want to do is put a bear hug on all of them and let them know how proud we are of all of them,” he said. “North Carolina played a terrific game. They’re a great team. Our Michigan ball club, I also thought, fought gallantly. We also have a terrific team. I could not be more proud of a team than I am of this group. We’ll move on. We’ll be better people because of it.”
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