Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Home-and-home series on consecutive nights are a scheduling quirk not that uncommon in the NBA. It almost never happens in college basketball.
Even rarer in college hoops is back-to-back games against a bitter conference rival from 25 miles down the road. Yet that was the case on Feb. 6 and 7, 1991, when North Carolina and North Carolina State had the hoops version of a doubleheader.
The teams’ first meeting that season was scheduled for Jan. 16. On that day, however, the game was postponed because President Bush had issued orders to start bombing Baghdad. The only wiggle room for another game in the schedule was the day after the teams’ second meeting.
It was the first time in the 38 years of the Atlantic Coast Conference that teams would play each other on consecutive days. So on Feb. 6 at the rollicking Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C., the players came out with a sense of history.
They played a classic college battle, with both teams pushing the ball and a rabid crowd that urged the Wolfpack to a 97-91 victory. Chris Corchiani played almost as perfect a game as you would want from a point guard: 10 points, 12 assists, six steals and one turnover with fiery leadership for his N.C. State teammates. His backcourt mate in the historically underrated “Fire and Ice” tandem, Rodney Monroe, dropped in a cool 37 points, including 21 after halftime. Tom Gugliotta went inside and outside to finish with 28 points.
Gugliotta and Monroe combined to shoot 22 of 38, including 11 for 19 on three-pointers. Most of those three-pointers came in transition or when Corchiani knifed into the heart of the Tar Heels’ defense. Corchiani piled up 1,038 assists in his four years with the Wolfpack. He was briefly the all-time NCAA leader until Bobby Hurley eclipsed Corchiani a few seasons later (Corchiani is still second). The amazing thing is that Corchiani got those assists by mostly relying on jump shooters. There’s no telling how many more dimes he could have gotten with better big men than Bryant Feggins and Kevin Thompson (who did get a cup of coffee in the NBA).
The Tar Heels stayed in the game by also having a hot-shooting night (35 of 64). Dean Smith’s masterful use of timeouts and clutch three-pointers by Pete Chilcutt and Hubert Davis got UNC within one point in the final minute, but the Tar Heels couldn’t get over the top.
The Wolfpack left everything on the floor. Corchiani, playing his all-out style, was banged up after several hard hits. The problem for N.C. State was that the teams would meet less than 24 hours later at the Dean E. Smith Center.
The Tar Heels started the second game on a 10-0 run and never looked back in a 92-70 victory. The two games highlighted one of Smith’s many geniuses: substitutions. He made 98 subs over both games. His counterpart on the N.C. State bench, Les Robinson, used only six players in the first game. Fourteen players logged time for UNC in the first game, with eight getting more than nine minutes.
Smith kept those subs coming in the second game, especially against Corchiani. King Rice and Derrick Phelps, both physical defenders, were used in short bursts to wear down the Wolfpack’s sparkplug. Corchiani gamely had 13 points and nine assists, but the N.C. State offense had no flow. Monroe struggled to a 7-for-20 night and Gugliotta was a non-factor with seven points on 2-for-10 shooting. Feggins and Thompson barely made it up and down the court in the second half.
UNC shot 34 for 65 in the second game, almost matching its numbers from the first game. Depth is obviously important, but it has to be deployed the right way.
N.C. State shot only 37% in the second game, including only 28% in the second half with its bone-tired players. Back-to-back games are brutal on the players’ bodies, even those at the highest level, so it is probably a good thing that these home-and-home series are so rare.