- Sunday, March 21 1976 -
NIT Championship (at New York, NY)
Kentucky - 71 (Head Coach: Joe B. Hall) - [Final Unranked by AP]
UNC-Charlotte - 67 (Head Coach: Lee Rose) - [Unranked]
|Melvin Watkins (*)||4||7||0||1||5||3||4||8|
Halftime Score: UNC-Charlotte 37, Kentucky 34
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Providence 79 - 78|||||Wisconsin 72 - 64|
Game Writeup - by Sam Goldaper, New York Times
Kentucky five Takes N.I.T. Title, 71-67
NEW YORK, March 21, 1976 -- You can find a Reggie Warford on most any college basketball team in the country. He is the high school hotshot who gets lost in a wealth of other high school hotshots, all recruited for the same position.
But if he is lucky, there comes a day when a Reggie Warford can have his day. Like yesterday, when Reggie Warford, Kentucky's lone senior, led the Wildcats to a 71-67 victory over North Carolina at Charlotte (U.N.C.C.) in the final of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The consolation for the upstart U.N.C.C. team, which came to New York seeking national basketball fame, was the Cedric Maxwell, its skinny 6-foot-8-inch forward, was named the most valuable player.
North Carolina State defeated Providence, 74-69, for third-place honors in the preliminary game. Despite the crowd of 12,415, the largest of the tournament, the total attendance of 56,673 for the six sessions was the smallest since 1940, when six teams played over three days.
The stage for Warford, who scored only 3 points in the previous three games -- all on free throws -- was set when Kentucky got into serious second-half foul trouble. Jack Givens, the team's leading scorer all season long, picked up his fourth foul after 9 seconds of the second half. Mike Phillips, the 6-foot-10 center, was charged with his fourth foul 44 seconds later and James Lee, who had sparked the Wildcats to victory in the first two tourney games, was slapped with his fourth violation with 10:37 left.
Warford, a 6-foot-1 backcourt man with 6.8-point season average, picked up the scoring lag with 10 of his 14 points. His driving left-side lay-up put Kentucky ahead, 60-59, and his 15-foot right side jump shot gave the Wildcats a 64-63 advantage, a lead they never relinquished. On that play Maxwell also fouled Phillips and he made both free throws.
Melvin Watkins cut the Kentucky lead to 66-65 with 39 seconds left, but two free throws by Larry Johnson restored the 3-point edge 17 seconds later. When Maxwell's second basket again cut the Wildcat edge to a point with 9 seconds remaining, Phillips' 3-point play 2 seconds later ended all hope for the Forty-Niners.
"It's my win," said Warford after the game, "and no one can take this one away. I'm the only one leaving from this team. It's all over for me. It's back to Drakesboro and the dirt courts when I can do all the shooting I want and there are no 13,000 people watching when you miss."
Drakesboro, Ky., is a town of 1,300 in the western part of the state in where Warford, a sociology major, collected 1,940 career points in leading his high school team to the regional final.
When someone asked Warford if he had any pro aspirations, he said, "I'm too smart for that. At 6-1 you don't think of things like that unless you are a Jo Jo White, a Nate Archibald or a Calvin Murphy and can do the things they can do. I'm realistic. I'd like to coach. I've seen both sides now. I have learned what discipline is all about."
Warford made his first start in three varsity seasons against Alabama in the final Southeastern Conference game. He started in three of the four N.I.T. game, missing against Kansas State when he tore a muscle in the warmup drill.
Warford said he considered leaving Kentucky during his sophomore season, but held out "because all the jokers told me I couldn't make it. I don't have to listen to anybody anymore."
"I took only six shots in the last three games. I don't shoot a lot unless I have to. U.N.C.C. was sagging a lot on Phillips and when that happens the guards must shoot. I made the first shot today. I think if I had missed I would have asked the coach to sit me down. I don't think I have taken a bad shot all season.
Even with Kentucky in foul trouble U.N.C.C. was unable to break the game open. When Givens and Phillips returned with 9:48 left, the Forty-Niners failed to drive on them in an effort to get them to foul out of the game, stalling at times, and that hampered their playing style.
In the U.N.C.C. dressing room, Maxwell, the high scorer in the tournament with 109 points in four games, including 24 yesterday, sat with tears streaming down his face.
"We brought the defeat on ourselves," said Maxwell, a junior. "We missed shots and made bad passes at the end. I think in a way we played scared in the final minutes. We didn't do the things we normally do. Everybody was just hoping the clock would run out with us ahead."
"Kentucky went into a 1-3-1 zone in the final minutes and that has been giving us trouble all season. We slowed our game down. It wasn't us out there anymore. We were doing the things Kentucky wanted us to do."
Kentucky finished with a 20-10 record, including the last 10 victories in a row, and U.N.C.C. and Maxwell received the fame they sought.
Action from the game
Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell wins the MVP trophy
Jack Givens (#21) holds the ball and the UKIT trophy as teammates crowd around to admire