Led by 35 points Len Bias, Maryland annoyed No. 1 North Carolina 77-72 in overtime at the Dean Dome on February 20, 1986, a match which will be aired again on ESPN, WatchESPN and the ESPN Application at 8 pm. ET Tuesday. It was the first time North Carolina had lost at the building, which had opened a month earlier.
Tar Heels hasn’t lost another game at the Dean E. Smith Student Activity Center for two years (loss 70-69 from Duke on January 21, 1988). But that night, Bias and his team-mates overcame a double-digit deficit on the road to secure one of the major disruptions in the history of campus basketball.
“You saw our schedule,” Maryland coach Lefty Driesell told reporters after the match. “We have played the toughest schedule in the country, and I think it paid off for us.”
Former Maryland main player Keith Gatlin, an assistant at High Point and a native of North Carolina, sank two free throws to seal the win for Maryland with seven seconds to play after Bias blocked Kenny Smith’s shot at the other end of the floor with 15 seconds left. Gatlin finished with a layup in the closing seconds – he threw inbounds over Smith’s back – to give Maryland a five-point lead in the final box score.
The memories of that time, the match and the team still made him smile.
ESPN: You have all lost six of the seven road matches you previously entered in the match at Chapel Hill. How confident is the team entering the match against North Carolina?
Gatlin: We, at that time, really turned and played better. We started that year 0-6 at ACC and we had just played poorly and couldn’t overcome the hump. But we started playing better. On the flight to North Carolina, we saw that oddsmakers made us lose at 15. We said to ourselves, “We just won’t be defeated by 15.” Ironically, I think we dropped 15 points in the match and returned to extra time.
ESPN: How does it feel to play in that environment, with all the rumors around the building?
Gatlin: This is great, as a competitor, because you know you have 20-something-a thousand fans who are against you. They are not defeated in that arena. With their tradition and I come from North Carolina, it’s always good to go home.
ESPN: After the match, Driesell said, “If Lenny Bias is not the best player in the world, then I don’t know who that is.” When Bias enters the zone, which he is in that night, how difficult is it to stop him?
Gatlin: You know the real confidence we have is that one day Lenny can catch fire and leave, and that’s what he does. He went to North Carolina. You will give it to her in sweet places and let her go to work. He is a willing passer and he will return it to you, but he raises so high on his jump shot that a hand to him is not really a contest for him. There is no defense for it.
Lenny was amazing that night. They just took a 3-point shot back, so he might have 50. He just cried. They tried to measure her. They try [6-foot-11] Warren Martin. Brad Daugherty. They became small with Steve Hale [6-foot-4]. They tried almost everyone they had. But he only focused that night.
ESPN: What do you think of when you approach the free throw line with seven seconds to play and the chance to close the game?
Gatlin: I thought to myself, “Just finish the match.” We have fought back. This is a chance to get a big win. At that time, to get a road victory at ACC never happened. You want to win a home game and maybe play .500 on the road. There are pros in each team, so winning on the road is a bonus. After a late time, everyone gave me something that looked like, “Let’s destroy this and let’s finish.”
ESPN: When you look back at the game and then, what are your lasting memories?
Gatlin: That moment stood out because we were the first team to beat them there. Beating a team like that at the Dean Dome with all the traditions and being the first team to defeat them is special.
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