A Historic Game and a New Superstar: Bias named MVP of ’84 ACC Tournament

By Don Markus

Maryland’s 74-62 victory over Duke in the 1984 ACC tournament championship game at the Greensboro Coliseum was historic on many levels, highlighted at the time for being the first title for the Terps since 1958 and the first for their head coach, Lefty Driesell, in six appearances in the finals since coming to College Park in 1969.

Yet in the context of what transpired that March afternoon in North Carolina, and what happened afterwards, it also became known as the coronation of the ACC’s next star. With North Carolina’s Michael Jordan leaving Chapel Hill that spring for the NBA and the transcendent career that awaited him in Chicago, the crown had been passed to Maryland sophomore forward Len Bias.

Bias had certainly displayed flashes before of what was to happen in Greensboro. 

As a freshman, and not yet in Maryland’s starting lineup, Bias had helped the Terps overwhelm the Tar Heels, the reigning national champions and ranked No. 3 in the country, even famously posterizing North Carolina center Brad Daugherty on one dunk. In his first NCAA tournament game, his 17-foot jump shot with a second remaining helped unranked Maryland to beat No. 15 Tennessee-Chattanooga.

As a sophomore and finally entrenched in a starting lineup that featured senior forward Ben Coleman and junior guard Adrian Branch, Bias had outscored Jordan, 24-21, in their matchup at Cole Field House. But the Tar Heels pulled away and Jordan’s breakaway reverse dunk right before the final buzzer became the game’s enduring memory. It infuriated Jordan’s own coach, the legendary Dean Smith, and inspired Bias. 

While another Bias-Jordan matchup in the ACC tournament was ruined when Duke upset the then top-ranked Tar Heels, 77-75, in the 1984 tournament semifinals, Bias had his own motivation for the championship game. Coleman was the only Maryland player named all-conference for the second-place Terps that season, and Bias had shared honors as the team’s leading scorer with 15.3 points a game.

After the 1984 regular season ended, Bias had been snubbed by the largely North Carolina-based media who chose seven players from within the state among the 10 who were named.

“I didn’t get named to any of the all-ACC teams, first or second-team,” said Bias. “I wanted people to know I could play and that I could do it in big games.” He further told his friend Brian Waller, a teammate at Northwestern High School who later played at Providence, that he would win the Most Valuable Player award at the ACC tournament and that Maryland would win.

Those not that familiar with a player whose jump shot was as feathery as his dunks were ferocious had to take notice. After scoring 15 points in each of the first two tournament games, Bias overcame a shaky first half in which he committed six turnovers and dominated the Blue Devils. Bias finished with a career-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s MVP.

While he had many other memorable performances during his junior and senior seasons, both of which ended with Bias being named the ACC’s player of the year, it was what he did at the 1984 ACC tournament that might have been his greatest achievement as a Terp when the crown was passed and the coronation began.  

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