1989: ‘Worst Call in NCAA Tournament History’

NC State takes the floor a few minutes after noon today for a huge NCAA Tournament match-up against the Georgetown Hoyas today. Before you go any further, we ask that you check out today’s Gameday Headlines (linked here) and SFN’s unique game preview (linked here).

For a set of bloggers that pride themselves on a having broad perspective and set of experiences that extend much longer than many in the ‘new media’ that dominate most sports coverage today, there was no way for a Wolfpack-Hoyas match-up to unfold without mention and discussion of one of the more painful experiences in NC State Basketball history. (So, you KNOW that it HAD to be bad!!)

With that said, we are reprising an entry from more than five years ago focused on Rick Hartzell’s gut wrenching mistake that cost the Wolfpack a chance to match-up with a Duke Blue Devils squard (that we had already beaten) for a shot to advance to the Final Four in 1989.

JP Giglio of the News & Observer added a little modern day spin to this painful chapter in this article yesterday.

With 1:47 left, and the Wolfpack down three, Corchiani drove down the left side of the lane and dropped in a shot over Mourning, Georgetown’s dominant center. Instead of a potential three-point play, and a fifth foul on Mourning, Hartzell called a travel on Corchiani.

“There it is!” CBS analyst Billy Packer said during the broadcast of the game, in reference to Mourning’s fifth foul.

After Hartzell’s call becomes clear, Packer was incredulous.

“Nowhere near a walk,” Packer said.

Corchiani made peace with the call before the start of the 1989-90 season. Hartzell worked a preseason game at Reynolds Coliseum and, according to Corchiani, apologized to him and former coach Jim Valvano for getting the call wrong.

The memory is painful for us all. But, when you want to know why NC State fans may have a history of complaining about officiating…well…watch it for yourself.

— The following entry originally ran on SFN on February 27, 2007 —
This one is very painful. It has been discussed numerous times in various entries on SFN in the past. This is the 1989 NCAA Sweet 16 game in the Meadowlands, NJ vs Georgetown where NC State had battled back from a 16 point halftime deficit to sit on the verge of a breakthrough. Georgetown was shell-shocked and Alonzo Mourning had four fouls. So, what does one of the smartest point guards in NCAA history do? He attacks the foul-prone big man, of course!!

For everyone that ‘hates’ on Billy Packer (we are trying to get hip here at SFN)…you have to give Packer credit for calling this play before it even happened. Additionally, he never hesitated to criticize the horrible call at the very moment that it happened. A little later, Packer referred to the call as “the worst call in NCAA Tournament history”. (A little more on Packer here)

“Nowhere near a walk. Should have been a good basket and a foul. No steps at all. Not even close! “

It was my senior year in high school and I was watching this game from Emerald Isle with a bunch of friends, including my closest friend who earlier that week had rebuffed admission into both Duke and Davidson to attend NC State (for engineering). I was pumped!! Just a week or two earlier, I had learned that I had fallen short in the final round of the Morehead Scholarship and therefore was choosing to follow my fathers’ footsteps to NC State over UNC, Duke and Wake Forest. This was supposed to be our big weekend of what it would be like in college pulling for our new school through to a Final Four appearance!! We were so pumped about experiencing some “college success” even before we got to college!

But, Atlantic Coast Conference Official, Rick Hartzell had other ideas. Hartzell’s call was SO OBVIOUSLY BAD…and SO PISS POOR that he later apologized to Coach Valvano and the Wolfpack . (Hartzell is the Athletics Director at the University of Northern Iowa and still officiates college basketball.) The apology obviously rang hollow…and speculation around HOW someone could make such a call wasn’t helped by the odd circumstances surrounding the call.

Eighteen years later, many fans remember. On an entry on StateFans last month, Hartzell’s name was discussed and a member of our community shared:

I don’t hate many people but to this day, I hate Rick Hartzell because I didn’t believe then and I don’t believe now that a ref can make a call that bad without there being some ulterior motive. I think he made the call on purpose to control the outcome of that game.

You see, Hartzell’s officiating was mired with fan criticism of his bias towards Coach K and Duke. (This was BEFORE Duke became what you know them as today). Hartzell seemed to pop-up at every major Blue Devil game in Cameron Indoor. In an annual preseason magazine that was THE BEST around, Barry Jacobs’ used to detail the records of ACC teams in games officiated by every official in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It was awesome stuff. And, the stats indicated that Duke’s winning percentage in games officiated by Rick Hartzell was significantly higher than Duke’s winning percentage in games not officiated by Hartzell.

Why is this relevant to Hartzell’s obvious travesty in NC State’s game vs Georgetown? Because, State’s next opponent after defeating the Hoyas on that Friday night was to be…you guessed it…Duke; whom State had already defeated earlier in the season and would have to face a Jim Valvano squad that clearly had its ‘March Motor’ running. Nobody wanted to face that; and everybody in the country knew it.

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85 Responses to 1989: ‘Worst Call in NCAA Tournament History’

  1. WestCoast 02/27/2007 at 7:36 PM #

    One word….painful.

  2. TomCat 02/27/2007 at 8:02 PM #

    I had blocked ’89 out of my memory. That was a tough one. Corch was a heck of a savy player and dictated that corse of that game late. You can’t roll back the clock and change things but if I could- I would’ve loved to see how far that team would’ve progressed in the tournament.

  3. TNCSU 02/27/2007 at 8:05 PM #

    I’ve finally gotten it to play…That’s like a punch in the gut!

    Well, I have new found respect for Packer as he called it right away.

    Don’t know if he actually got paid to throw the game, but Hartzell should have been investigated after that call. He either did it on purpose, or was influenced by the G’town player. Either way, definitely a bad call at a bad time. Tough to say, what would’ve happened if we tie the game. 90% chance we win at that point IMO.

  4. CaptainCraptacular 02/27/2007 at 8:45 PM #





    Arrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhhhhhh.. Painful is right. This is the first time I have seen this play since that night. In fact, thats also the first time I’ve heard Billy Packer’s commentary. I was watching at Amedeos… having quit my part-time job 24 hours earlier because they wouldn’t grant my request for that night off. There was something in the air that night I haven’t felt since. After halftime there was a sense of destiny that made it seem as if the comeback and victory were inevitable. After those 2 painful losses to the Gators and Murray State in the first round the previous 2 years I knew we were going to take this game to set up the totally winnable game against Duke for the final 4. I was already looking forward to the celebration back on Hillsb. street and our date with Duke.

    When the play occured, the place erupted in celebration. You couldn’t hear Billy Packer at all (not that you could even before that), and for about 15 seconds I and others around me hugging and high-fiving believed that a 3 point play was getting ready to happen. As realization dawned, shock, then disbelief, then anger in a 30 second span, then later depression. I’m still not over it… after seeing it like a fresh wound all over again. Blah.

  5. beowolf 02/27/2007 at 9:50 PM #

    Ouch. Just PICK that scab. Damn.

  6. Jeff D 02/27/2007 at 11:49 PM #

    It gets me mad just seeing that again. The guy I was watching the game with fired his empty beer bottle into the wall behind the TV after that call. I’m glad to see it is just as bad as I remembered.

    IIRC, wouldn’t we have played Duke if we won that game…a team we’d whipped and who didn’t match up well against us?

  7. kbstokes09 02/28/2007 at 2:51 AM #

    I grew up with my dad telling me over and over again about that call… glad to finally see it for myself. Thanks for the video.

  8. noah 02/28/2007 at 9:18 AM #

    Yes, the 45 second clock existed then and yes, we would have played Dook.

    The Dook-Georgetown game was the one where Phil Henderson drove the lane and dunked right on Alonzo Mourning.

    This was also the year that Princeton DAMN near beat Georgetown in the first round. Had we beaten G-town and Dook, we would have played Seton Hall in the semi-finals. Dook ended up losing by about 20 points to them. Just got CRUSHED by them. I think Terry Dehere was the big player for Seton Hall.

  9. noah 02/28/2007 at 9:22 AM #

    BTW, we beat Dook in Raleigh on the day that Danny Ferry was injured and couldn’t play. They beat us by about 20 in Durham. Ferry scored about 30 points on us….

  10. GoldenChain 02/28/2007 at 9:30 AM #

    I would think a good game for an official is one where they were basically invisible. To that end looking to ‘create’ calls ought not to be their first inclination. The best games are the ones that the officials let the kids play.
    (How come State never had one of those friendly refs?!)

  11. choppack1 02/28/2007 at 10:08 AM #

    “This was also the year that Princeton DAMN near beat Georgetown in the first round.”

    Noah – If I remember correctly there was what ended up being a phantom whistle at the end of that game. Should have been a foul on Georgetown, but the refs and Georgetown just ran off the court.

  12. gsopackbacker 02/28/2007 at 10:14 AM #

    and then depression set in.

  13. noah 02/28/2007 at 10:22 AM #

    choppack — Princeton had been hanging around all game. They were down one (50-49, I think) and managed to get the ball at the very end of the game. Seems like a Hoya missed a free throw to set it up.

    They ran their offense and got a good look, but Mourning stepped out and blocked the potential game-winning shot. I don’t remember a foul at all. I rememeber Princeton rushing the play just a bit.

    A few years later against UCLA, they would knock off the Bruins after maintaining their composure.

  14. redfred2 02/28/2007 at 11:16 AM #

    That call is slightly burnt into the back of mind, and it still SSSUUUCCCKKKSSS OUT LOUD!!!

    Say what you will about Billy Packer, but he appeared to have a crystal ball in calling that particular series of events.

  15. noah 02/28/2007 at 11:44 AM #

    I can’t watch youtube at work, but did they show the follow-up play to that one?

    G-town ran the clock all the way down, we played fantastic defense and they had a guy hit a three pointer from the top of the key with a man in his face.

    An absolute dagger.

  16. BJD95 02/28/2007 at 11:51 AM #

    It makes me wonder how anyone can EVER see Packer is biased against us. He repeatedly says (and usually works into the Final Four broadcast) that:

    1) David Thompson was the best college BB player ever.

    2) The Corch travel against Georgetown was the worst NCAAT call ever.

    3) The 1974 NC State/MD ACCT final was the best college game ever.

  17. CaptainCraptacular 02/28/2007 at 1:27 PM #

    *BTW, we beat Dook in Raleigh on the day that Danny Ferry was injured and couldn’t play. They beat us by about 20 in Durham. Ferry scored about 30 points on us….*

    The Duke home game that year… and I may be thinking of ’88 or ’87 instead, but as I recall there was a free copy of USA Today in every seat upon arriving at Reynolds. At the end of the game when we had locked up the win, everyone in the student sections had ripped their USA Today’s up to turn them into a giant confetti storm. I don’t know, but that was the last such promotion I recall while I was still in school.

  18. CaptainCraptacular 02/28/2007 at 1:32 PM #

    *I think Terry Dehere was the big player for Seton Hall.*

    Andrew Gaze was their other key guy, the Australian guy who as I recall was already 23 or 24 or maybe even 25 as a Senior in eligibility.

  19. noah 02/28/2007 at 1:58 PM #

    SHU also had a center named Ramos who, I believe, was killed a couple of years later in a car accident.

  20. redfred2 02/28/2007 at 2:06 PM #


    If I’m not mistaken Billy Packer/Jim Thacker started out in this area calling mainly ACC games. When Packer moved on and up in the ranks, he seemed to overly shun the ACC schools in order to prove that he was unbiased in that way. He still has his moments, they all do, but Billy Packer is one of the few left out there who seems to almost take it upon himself to point out what a great basketball program NC State had back then. I’d much rather have him around than some 30 year who knows nothing, or the familiar ESPN soundtrack regurgitators.

  21. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 02/28/2007 at 3:12 PM #

    Billy Packer was also close friends with Mr. Cash.

  22. Glen Sudhop54 02/28/2007 at 11:49 PM #

    THE worst call of all time. Case closed. I am still fuming and I have been mad about it every day since. State would have been the ’89 National Champs–no doubt about it.

    That call, plus the Dudley Bradley steal against Clyde the Glide are 2 that we’ll never get over. That 70-69 loss was in January 1979. Except for funerals and weddings, I have NOT been to church since that day.

    Can anyone remember an important game that we’ve won by getting a horrible call against the opposition? I truly don’t believe it’s ever happened. We’ve gotten some lucky plays and breaks, but never has our opponent been screwed.

    Jeez, I gotta stop. I’m now remembering the Marcus Melvin “intentional foul” against Vandy that cost us an NCAA win. Speaking of, has there EVER been an intentional foul called in our favor? NEVER!!!

    What about the “delay of game” against Md in the 2004 Acc tourny?

    ….and they wonder why Pack fans are so paranoid…

  23. packfanstk 03/01/2007 at 12:05 AM #

    Thanks to StateFansNation for linking to the vid and for all the kind comments. I’m hoping Jeff will make a permanent link on SFN to my “Packfanstk’s Wolfpack Archive” channel on youtube. [hint hint ahem] There are several much happier clips uploaded there, and more to come. The Dook game at Reynolds that season is, in fact, the next one from which I will post some highlights. Lester and Howard had great games, Monroe scored only five I think, but this game belonged to Chris Corchiani…not because of his scoring but his control of the game and fantastic passing. It might be the best example EVAR of the difference a great point guard makes.


  24. noah 03/01/2007 at 9:49 AM #

    In football, I can recall several phantom calls that went our way during the Sheridan era. There was a non-existent pass interferenc call against Dook that drove Steve Spurrier absolutely bananas. And there was the “holding” call against Marshall in 1991.

  25. packfanstk 03/01/2007 at 10:54 AM #

    Noah, the Spurrier call was not phantom, and it wasn’t pass interference. It was defensive holding, and it was clearly committed. I was at the game and saw one of our receivers get mugged while running his pattern. Spurrier whined and bitched because the pass went to another receiver, and yes it was an incomplete pass, but the infraction was obvious IF your eyes were watching downfield and not glued to Shane Montgomery. That was the beginning of my utter dispising of everything Steve Spurrier. He whined after the game for twenty minutes that it was (in a precursor to Billy Packer) “the worst call in the history of Division 1 football.” Then he went on about it in the media for three more days…and their next game was their stupid bell game with the Holes. That Saturday before our game, tailgating with the family, I said to my SIL “It’s almost enough to make me root for Carolina today.” As surprised as she was to hear me say something so heretical, I was equally surprised to hear her say “I said the same thing the other day to John [my brother, her husband’. Spurrier really showed his whiney, spoiled brat arse that weekend. He’s a perfect fit for USC, the most obnoxious collection of lower llife forms ever assembled on this or any other world.

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