Here’s ANOTHER article I found today in the Wilmington, NC Star News:
[COLOR=black][B]UNCC remembers magic of 1977[/B][/COLOR]
49ers captured spotlight with Final Four run
[B]By Mike Cranston,[/B]
Charlotte | Cedric Maxwell is still convinced his school made the most unlikely run in the history of the Final Four.
Sorry, George Mason.
“Everybody was saying, 'George Mason is the greatest story of all-time in college,”’ Maxwell said of the Patriots’ surprising run to the Final Four last season. “Well, we did that 30 years before, and it was our first year we were even in a conference.”
It was 1977 when Charlotte, then in just its seventh Division I season, rode the eccentric Maxwell, nicknamed “Cornbread” for his rural eastern North Carolina roots, to an unlikely berth in the Final Four. It was a quick high point for a team that since then has never gone nearly that far in the NCAA tournament.
“It was a wonderful, fantastic fantasy,” coach Lee Rose said.
Charlotte, referred to then in college athletic circles as the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, played in a tiny gym and had just five full-time athletic employees when Rose was hired as coach and athletic director. They toppled No. 5 Syracuse and top-ranked Michigan, before a heartbreaking - and controversial - loss to Al McGuire’s Marquette squad in the Final Four.
“There were a lot of people in Charlotte who didn’t even know where UNCC was,” Maxwell said.
They did it behind Rose, who faced an immediate crisis when he replaced Bill Foster in 1975. Maxwell, a late bloomer who ended up at Charlotte only because his hometown school East Carolina didn’t offer him a scholarship, was prepared to follow Foster to Clemson.
“Lee Rose chewed me out,” Maxwell recalled. “Lee told me he was going to have me investigated. That intimidated a rising junior, so I decided to stay with this man.”
With Maxwell on board, Rose then set out to improve the 49ers’ schedule. Gone were the likes of Newberry and Hardin-Simmons, traditional opponents when the 49ers were playing in Division II. Rose scheduled games at Maryland, Texas Tech and N.C. State, and Charlotte went 21-5 in 1975-76.
The still largely unknown 49ers still missed out on the NCAA tournament, so Rose flew to New York to pitch the National Invitation Tournament committee.
The 49ers received the last bid, only to upset San Francisco, Oregon and N.C. State before losing to Kentucky in the NIT final.
“That got our name on the map,” Rose said. “And they loved Cedric in New York. Once they got Cornbread attached to his name, it just added more fuel.”
With Maxwell, point guard Melvin Watkins and forwards Kevin King and Lew Massey returning, the 49ers were confident going into the 1976-77 season, their first in the newly formed Sun Belt Conference. The emergence of freshman Chad Kinch helped Charlotte go 25-3 and beat New Orleans in the league championship to earn a bid to the 32-team NCAA tournament.
The 6-foot-9 Maxwell averaged more than 22 points a game, and was one of the first big men adept at handling the ball. Maxwell was also the class clown.
“No one was like Max,” King said. “I remember we were running down the court and he tripped me - during the game.”
Maxwell’s personality helped Charlotte stay loose. They beat Central Michigan in overtime in the first round, then knocked off Syracuse 81-59, setting up a matchup with top-ranked Michigan in the regional final.
The 49ers stunned Ricky Green and the Wolverines 75-68 in a game best remembered for Kinch’s high-flying dunk.
“He took off from so far away and dunked the ball on Phil Hubbard,” Maxwell said. “It made a statement that we were as good as any team in the nation.”
Charlotte, a town then mostly in tune with Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, was suddenly going crazy over its Final Four-bound 49ers.
“It was unbelievable how the community rallied around us,” Watkins said.
Numerous shops closed down early that Saturday as the 49ers headed to Atlanta to face Marquette, while North Carolina - which refused to play Charlotte in the regular season - faced UNLV.
With Watkins in foul trouble, Charlotte fell behind early, then rallied. Tied in the closing seconds, Marquette wanted to get the ball to star Jerome Whitehead.
Maxwell intercepted the long pass for a split second - then nearly made a monumental error. He didn’t know Charlotte was out of timeouts, but was getting ready to ask for one.
“As usual, my mind was spacey,” Maxwell said.
Just then, Whitehead reached over Maxwell, and without being called for a foul, took the ball away underneath the basket.
“I make this unbelievable recovery and got a piece of his shot,” Maxwell said. “The ball was hanging on the rim. He tapped the ball in while it was on the rim. It’s goaltending.”
Goaltending wasn’t called. The officials ruled the basket came before the buzzer, and Marquette won 51-49.