‘The Tournament’ spotlights UNC’s memorable 1975 ACC title behind Ford

By R.L. Bynum

For many older Carolina fans who remember N.C. State’s dominance in the early 1970s, the Tar Heels’ run to the 1975 ACC Tournament title in Greensboro in Phil Ford’s freshman year was memorable.

UNC beat reigning NCAA champion N.C. State in the championship game 70–66 as Ford, the tournament MVP, deftly ran the Four Corners. It ended a run of back-to-back ACC titles for the Pack and started a stretch of five UNC titles in eight seasons.

The 1975 tournament is one of the main focuses of the ACC Network documentary “The Tournament” in Episode 5, which debuts at 9 p.m. Monday.

Episode 6, which debuts at 10 p.m. Monday, documents the Tar Heels’ 1982 ACC title with another freshman, Michael Jordan, on their way to Coach Dean Smith’s first national title. The episode examines the ACC title game against Virginia in which the Tar Heels went to the Four Corners in the second half. The game had a big impact on the decision to begin using a shot clock in college basketball.

The executive producer of the 10-part, 10-hour documentary series is UNC alum John Dahl.

That amazing 1975 tournament included overtime victories for UNC over Wake Forest 101–100 in the first round and 76–71 over Clemson in the semifinals.

The Wolfpack’s legendary David Thompson scored 84 points in the tournament but Ford (in top photo with Walter Davis after the victory in the championship game) scored 78.

Episode 5 will also examine the infamous “scoreboard play” against the Demon Deacons.

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Wake Forest’s Jerry Schellenberg threw a long inbounds pass to Skip Brown late in regulation. But referee Fred Hikel ruled that the ball hit the scoreboard and awarded possession to Carolina.

That helped UNC, which trailed by eight with 50 seconds left in regulation, rally for the overtime win. Deacons fans and players swear that it never hit the scoreboard and UNC fans will just as adamantly declare that it did. Dahl said that the documentary doesn’t settle the debate.

“There’s no replay where we can really see if it touched the scoreboard,” Dahl said. “It doesn’t look like it did, just the trajectory of the ball. But there are people who insist that it did nick the scoreboard. I wish we could have just ultimately settled that.”

In the semifinals, Clemson had a chance to win at the end of regulation but the shot by Tigers center Tree Rollins spun out in the final seconds.

Monday night’s new episodes promise to bring back a lot of fond memories for Tar Heels fans.

Episode schedule, summaries

(All episodes air on ACC Network; past episodes available on ESPN3)

Episode 1 (1954–57)

Debuted Feb. 7
When an Indiana native named Everett Case arrives in Raleigh in the mid-1940s to become the basketball coach at N.C. State, his vision spearheads not just the rise of the sport at his school and in the region, but the start of an athletic conference that will change college basketball forever.

Episode 2 (1958–68)

Debuted Feb. 7
While Case is the ACC’s original driving force, he’s not the only icon on Tobacco Road to establish a legacy for all time in the conference’s early years. From North Carolina’s Frank McGuire to Wake Forest’s Bones McKinney and Vic Bubas at Duke, new coaches emerge to challenge the early success of Case. It all precedes a final poignant moment of triumph for him in 1965 at Reynolds Coliseum, the only home the tournament ever knew up to then.

Episode 3 (1966–72)

Debuted Feb. 14
After a rough start, North Carolina’s Dean Smith comes to be known for both dominance and dignity, playing a central role in desegregating the ACC with the recruitment of Charlie Scott. Scott is UNC’s first Black scholarship player and the star on some of Smith’s greatest teams in the late 1960s.

Episode 4 (1973–74)

Debuted Feb. 14
While the conference tournament is captivating many by the early 1970s, it can be just as frustrating and even heartbreaking for great teams that don’t win it, and thus miss out on a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. An intense and high-impact rivalry develops between Maryland and N.C. State, capped by the finale of the 1974 ACC Tournament in arguably the greatest college basketball game ever — and a battle that helps shape the sport’s future.

Episode 5 (1975–80)

9 p.m. Monday
In the mid-to-late 1970s, the ACC continues to be the greatest showcase of talent and drama in all of college basketball. Smith’s UNC teams may be the class of the conference, but rivals also flourish, including a Virginia team in 1976 led by Wally Walker, and a Duke program that re-emerges with a championship run in 1978 followed by a controversial title two years later.

Episode 6 (1981–83)

10 p.m. Monday
As the ACC thrives thanks to its groundbreaking tournament and the power of television, 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson enters the conference as one of the most heralded recruits in college basketball history. The Virginia center earns national player-of-the-year honors three times, but never wins the ACC Tournament. Meanwhile, Smith earns two more conference titles, and a national championship in 1982 with freshman guard Michael Jordan. The next year, a colorful, charismatic coach named Jim Valvano rides the momentum of an unlikely ACC title to one of the most memorable NCAA runs ever.

Episode 7 (1984–89)

9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28
As the 1980s continue, familiar and new faces alike define the ACC. After previous ACC Tournament heartbreaks, Maryland’s Lefty Driesell and Georgia Tech’s Bobby Cremins both seek redemption. All the while, Mike Krzyzewski survives early calls for his job, turns up the heat on the Duke-North Carolina rivalry and resurrects Duke into a perennial title contender. 

Episode 8 (1990–97)

10 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28
At Duke, Coach K puts together one of the most iconic teams in ACC history with Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. Wake Forest seeks a return to glory led by Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan, and Smith’s extraordinary career ends in memorable fashion with a title in 1997.

Episode 9 (1998–2008)

9 p.m. Monday, March 7
As a new century dawns, Duke is more dominant than ever, winning an unprecedented five straight ACC Tournament titles and seven in eight years with a core of stars headlined by Shane Battier, Jay Williams and J.J. Redick. Meanwhile, Roy Williams rejuvenates the Carolina program that his mentor Smith once made standard, and Clemson’s pursuit of an elusive ACC championship continues.

Episode 10 (2009–20)

10 p.m. Monday, March 7
The changing college sports landscape brings the conference to 15 member institutions, with Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame each earning their first ACC championships. Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke phenom Zion Williamson each bring new excitement before the unimaginable happens.

Photo via @UNC_Basketball

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