This year’s “Great Moments in North Carolina’s Sports History” series recognizes the arrival in Raleigh of legendary N.C. State basketball coach Everett Case, and the 1974 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament basketball championship game between Maryland and the Wolfpack.
Case, who was hired at N.C. State in 1946, has long been lauded as a visionary who brought big-time basketball to North Carolina and the South, creating a culture of unbridled fanfare that has permeated the state for decades. He brought in “Hoosier Hot Shot” recruits from Indiana, where he had been a legendary high school coach. He installed an exciting up-tempo band of basketball that dazzled opponents and captivated crowds.
In addition to guiding N.C. State to 10 conference tournament titles and one NCAA Final Four, the “Gray Fox” was a master of marketing the game. His vision led to the completion of Reynolds Coliseum (a showplace for the time), an added emphasis on conference tournaments, and the highly popular Dixie Classic, once the biggest holiday tournament in the country.
The dominance of Case, who retired in 1964, forced rival schools to elevate their programs or remain in the Wolfpack’s sprawling shadow. And without Case the ACC might not have become an elite conference or produced a game like the memorable 1974 tournament finals.
When N.C. State and Maryland met in that game at the Greensboro Coliseum, only the conference tournament champion advanced to the NCAA Tournament, which had a much smaller field in those days. Norm Sloan’s Wolfpack, led by the trio of David Thompson, Tommy Burleson and Monte Towe, was the nation’s top-ranked team entering the game, and Maryland, coached by Lefty Driesell and led by the trio of Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and John Lucas, was ranked fourth.
Both teams executed at the highest level, creating indescribable tension, suspense and drama. N.C. State, which at one point trailed by double digits, rallied to capture a 103-100 overtime thriller that left players, coaches and fans emotionally drained. In a game that featured more than a half-dozen NBA players, the Wolfpack’s 7-foot-4 Burleson towered above the rest. He scored 38 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and naturally won tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
A few weeks later, the Wolfpack captured the school’s first national championship (also, coincidentally, in Greensboro), ending mighty UCLA’s seven-year reign in the semifinals, then beating Marquette in the title game.
The Hall launched the Great Moments series in 2011. Honored that year was the 1957 North Carolina Tar Heels’ undefeated national championship team, which finished 32-0 and upset heralded Kansas – led by Wilt Chamberlain – in the title game. In 2012, we celebrated both Jim Beatty’s sub-four minute indoor mile run on February 10, 1962 (the fastest ever in the world at the time), and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup hockey championship in 2006.
The Great Moments series has become a part of the Hall’s display at the North Carolina Museum of History, which houses the Hall’s exhibitions. The series is the lynchpin of the organization’s effort to preserve and celebrate the rich sports heritage of North Carolina, arguably a history no other state can match in its scope and diversity.