There’s a case to be argued that Pete Brennan made the most important shot in ACC basketball history.
The former North Carolina star died from cancer in Chapel Hill Friday at the age of 75, but his legacy may last as long as ACC teams contend for national basketball championships.
A street-tough but affable 6-foot-5 forward from Brooklyn, it was Brennan and not teammate Lennie Rosenbluth, who hit the first crucial shot in the 1957 Final Four in Kansas City.
Against Michigan State in the national semifinals, Carolina’s undefeated season seemed certain to end at 30-0.
The Spartans led 58-56 with eight seconds left and had all-American “Jumpin’” Johnny Green at the free-throw with a one-and-one free-throw opportunity.
When Green missed his first attempt, Brennan grabbed the rebound, dribbled past half-court and hit a long jump shot that sent the game into the first of three overtime periods.
The Tar Heels eventually escaped 74-70.
Before fouling out, Brennan finished with 14 points and 17 rebounds. Rosenbluth had 29 points and wing guard Bobby Cunningham had one of his best games ever with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
The following night, UNC defeated Kansas with Wilt Chamberlain 54-53 in three more overtimes.
The 32-0 finish, the NCAA title and the drama sent basketball enthusiasm in the state zooming. What already had become a regional fancy _ ignited by Everett Case’s early N.C. State teams _ almost instantly became an addiction.
In quick order, Wake Forest and Duke built national contenders that eventually made the state ground zero for college hoops.
That clutch shot by Brennan against Michigan State became a foundational brick in ACC success.
A few years ago, Brennan reflected on that night and that season.
“God, it was fun,” he said. “What memories we’ve had. But when it was all happening, I don’t think any of us on that team had any idea of what would follow in the ACC.”
With the death of Brennan, there are only three remaining starters of that ’57 team _ Rosenbluth, center Joe Quigg and playmaker Tommy Kearns.