MARCH 14, 1981
Oregon State boasted a 26-1 record heading into the 1981 NCAA tournament that earned them the No. 1 overall seed in the run for the title.
The team that was led by a hall of fame coach, Ralph Miller, had been undefeated — and top-ranked — most of the season, with the lone loss coming against Arizona State in the regular season finale.
Their first turn in the tournament came at Pauley Pavilion in the regional semifinals against Kansas State. The Wildcats were coming off a 64-60 win — in which they dug themselves out of a 12-point hole — against San Francisco just two days earlier.
Both teams were looking for vengeance. The Beavers were also highly touted the previous season, but failed to defeat Lamar in the first round of the 1980 tournament. While Kansas State, was also looking for redemption following a 71-69 loss in overtime to Louisville in the second round in 1980.
Oregon State’s star center, Steve Johnson, had drawn his fifth foul with three minutes and 23 seconds left in the second half. The foul put Johnson out of the game and Kansas State’s center Ed Schaly at the line with the Wildcats down 48-46.
Schaly sank both free throws, capping off a 16-6 run for the Wildcats. It was also the last of the scoring for the next three minutes and 20 seconds.
(This is the part of the story where you look up at the shot clock and thank it for all its done for the game.)
Oregon State’s Charlie Sitton, an NABC All-Star, was fouled with 2:03 remaining. He missed the front end of the one-and-one and the two teams fought for the rebound. Kansas State eventually came up with the loose ball and was able to set up for the final — yes, final — shot with 1:51 remaining.
(Thank you, shot clock.)
The Wildcats had a star of their own: a 6-foot-6 senior from Grady High School in Brooklyn, New York named Rolando Blackman. Blackman was the team’s leading scorer in 1981, averaging 15.0 points per game to earn him a NABC All-Star nod.
Kansas State set up the play and they knew exactly whom they wanted to take the final shot. The ball came to Blackman at the top of the key and he began to square up to the basket.
When his shoulders found their proper alignment, his head didn’t stop moving, continuing to contort his neck Blackman looked to the sky and saw the scoreboard at Pauley Pavilion show that there were eight seconds remaining.
He began to back his man down toward the elbow, curled out to the wing and got some separation in the corner, about sixteen-feet off the hoop.
When the ball left his hands there were three seconds remaining. When it fell through the hoop the clock read :02. When it hit the ground, the mighty Beavers realized there was no time left on their season.
Blackman hit the dagger.
“I wanted the ball,” Blackman told the media following the game. “I got it with eight seconds left and I wanted to go one-on-one on the baseline. I knew it was going in. The rhythm felt good.”
Blackman finished the game with 14 points, leading the team for the evening, while Oregon State’s high scorer watched the final three minutes from the sidelines. Johnson had six rebounds to go with his 16 points.
The Wildcats had seemingly gotten the monkey off their back that dictated that they needed to lose close games in the tournament. They went on to beat Illinois in the next round by just five points.
“We were tired of losing in the NCAA by one or two points,” Blackman said after the Oregon State game. “Maybe the tide has turned. Now it’s someone else’s turn.”
The game was an exclamation point on the college career of a man who constantly embraced and excelled in the underdog role.
FEBRUARY 17, 2015
The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame announced that Blackman would join Ohio State’s John Havlicek, Quinn Buckner of Indiana, Long Beach State’s Ed Ratleff and Charlie Scott of North Carolina as members of the induction class of 2015.