In the final game, played in Albuquerque, New Mexico, NC State led at halftime by a score of 33–25. Houston was hampered by foul trouble that plagued celebrity Clyde Drexler, who picked up four first half fouls. In the second halfof the Cougars came out with another wind and established control of the game, finally taking a seven-point lead.
But, things were not all great for Houston. Since the game was played in Albuquerque, players needed to deal with the town’s mile-high altitude. The Cougars’ star centre, Akeem Olajuwon, had difficulties adjusting to the environment and tired quickly, having to test out of this game multiple times so he could wear an oxygen mask and recover. With Olajuwon on the bench, Houston head coach Guy Lewis determined that in order to protect the lead and the health of his big man in precisely the exact same time, the Cougars needed to start slowing down the game.
Once more, this enabled the Wolfpack to go back to their standby strategy of extending the match. Houston’s free throw shooting was very suspicious entering the match, which functioned heavily in NC State’s favour as they were able to rally back and even the score at 52 in the final two minutes. On what would be the final Houston ownership, Valvano known for his players to back away and let guard Alvin Franklin bring the ball up the court. The Wolfpack defenders would allow the Cougars use their slowdown strategy of passing around. Once the ball got back to Franklin he was to be fouled immediately. With 1:05 left, the freshman was fouled and sent to the line to get a one-and-one. The idea to foul Franklin sprung in the enormity of this second; NC State thought that the comparatively inexperienced Franklin couldn’t withstand the strain of going to the line together with the championship at stake and knowing fifty million viewers were tuned into watch the game. The theory was correct as Franklin failed to convert the Wolfpack caught the rally. Valvano called timeout with 44 seconds left and drew up a play for senior defender Dereck Whittenburg during the timeout, which called for the group to pass him the ball with ten minutes left on the clock so he could take the final shot.
Houston needed a defensive stop in order that they could get another chance to close out the game. Lewis decided to move from the man-to-man shield his team was running the whole game to a half court zone trap defense. The Wolfpack, who weren’t anticipating the defensive adjustment, were forced to deviate and began passing the ball around simply to maintain the Cougars from stealing it. Houston nearly obtained the turnover it had been searching for if Whittenburg made an errant pass to Gannon that Drexler nearly came away with before the sophomore regained control of the ball. The ball finally wound up in the palms of guard Sidney Lowe, who lent it to forward and fellow mature Thurl Bailey in the corner.
Trying to keep the ball going, as he had been double teamed as soon as he received the move, Bailey looked back toward Whittenburg, who was approximately thirty feet from the hoop near midcourt. Bailey threw what Whittenburg would later call a”poor fundamental” overhanded pass that Houston’s Benny Anders, guarding Whittenburg about the play, was in position to steal. Now, Whittenburg hearkened back to his high school days with Morgan Wootten in DeMatha Catholic High School, where he was taught to always grab the basketball with both hands. If Whittenburg hadn’t tried to do so in this circumstance, Anders might have gotten the slip and a game-winning breakaway layup. In college basketball at the time, the match clock continued to run after a made field goal, and the Wolfpack probably would not have had time to inbound the ball. As it was, Anders knocked the ball out of Whittenburg’s hands, but Whittenburg immediately regained control.
The clock, meanwhile, had ticked down to five seconds and Whittenburg was still standing a substantial distance from the goal. After he regained control, Whittenburg turned and launched a desperation shot, later claimed by Whittenburg for a pass, to attempt to win the match for NC State. The shot’s trajectory took it on the front of the basket at which Olajuwon was covering Wolfpack centre Lorenzo Charles. As he noticed the shooter, Olajuwon said he understood the shooter was going to come up short but he also did not want to select the ball too early due to the prospect of goaltending. Charles took advantage of this indecision from Olajuwon and proceeded up for the atmosphere balland, in one motion, he scored the go-ahead points using a two-handed dip. The last second ticked off the clock prior to Houston could inbound the ball, and with that, the match ended, and the Wolfpack were the winners.
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