Final 44 seconds etched into memory bank

It has been called the greatest 44 seconds in NCAA Tournament history. Even 20 years later, it's a seamless sequence of twists and turns, breaks and bends that culminated in a jaw-dropping result.

On one end, the University of Houston, the top-ranked team in the country, riding a 26-game winning streak and an impenetrable air of invincibility. On the other end, North Carolina State, a team few thought belonged on the same floor as Houston and even fewer thought could actually win.

Yet that's just what the Cardiac Pack did, in the most unorthodox of manners. These are the words of those that were there -- Dereck Whittenburg, Lorenzo Charles, Clyde Drexler and others. Man for man, they each say that even now, the memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday.

:44 remaining
Score: North Carolina State 52, Houston 52
Timeout: N.C. State

Thurl Bailey, N.C. State senior forward: "To this day, people point out that 44 was David Thompson's number when N.C. State won the championship in 1974. They say they sensed that something magical was about to happen."

Mike Warren, N.C. State sophomore forward: "Coach drew up the five play -- the same play we had run every other last-shot situation that I was involved in at State. As genius as coach Valvano was in terms of basketball, his genius was his simplicity. And this was as simple as it got."

Lorenzo Charles, N.C. State junior forward: "He wanted me and Thurl to camp out low. He told the perimeter guys, Dereck, Terry (Gannon) and Sidney (Lowe), to work time off the clock and with eight or nine seconds left, whoever was in the middle of the floor, make a move to the basket. If he had a lane, take it. If not, draw the defense and dish."

Terry Gannon, N.C. State sophomore guard: "Houston had played man-to-man all night long and we expected that again here. But give (Houston head coach) Guy Lewis credit -- they were in a 1-3-1 trap. It completely threw us off. We're all spread out, completely out of sync, and they keep getting closer and closer to stealing it."

Clyde Drexler, Houston senior guard: "We played great defense. Everything we wanted to do, we did. With about 10 seconds left, I almost intercepted a pass, but it was just out of reach."

Bailey: "Eventually, Sidney got started. He drove toward the basket and passed me the ball in the corner. He wanted me to shoot it."

:08 remaining
Score: N.C. State 52, Houston 52

Sidney Lowe, N.C. State senior guard: "That was his shot. And I felt we had to take our chance. But he didn't shoot. That really screwed me up."

Bailey: "I wasn't dumb. I knew I hadn't made a shot in the entire second half so there was no way I was going to shoot that. I didn't even look at the basket. I kicked it out, past Sidney, over the top of the defense, to Dereck. Next thing I know, Benny Anders comes from behind Dereck and pokes the ball away. I was thinking, 'Oh my goodness. He's going to steal the ball. We're going to lose. And it's going to be my fault.' "

Whittenburg: "The ball got knocked away, but I reached out and grab it."

Gannon: "I was wide open. I'm still wide open, by the way. In fact, I'd have a better voice if he would have passed to me. I was screaming so loudly for the ball I ruined my voice."

Whittenburg: "Everybody is yelling that Terry is open on the right. Hell, I ain't passing to him. He's a sophomore and he might miss it. I'm not passing to him. So I take the shot."

:04 remaining
Score: N.C. State 52, Houston 52

Gannon: "When Dereck shoots, I look under the basket and for some reason, (Houston center Akeem) Olajuwon has drifted away from the basket."

Guy Lewis, Houston head coach: "When Benny almost stole the ball, Akeem thought he was getting it and he broke for the other end of the floor. He didn't go very far, but his momentum carried him that way. It was one of those things."

Drexler: "I'm waving my hand, reminding Akeem to get back under there. He was the kind of defensive player who could cover the entire floor. He was phenomenal. But I'm telling him, 'Get back under the basket.' "

Charles: I see the ball leave Dereck's hands and for whatever reason, I'm standing under the basket. I could see it was going to fall short. People say I was in the right place at the right time? I was in the wrong place at the right time. A good offensive rebounder doesn't stand under the cylinder, but somehow I ended up there. And the ball was falling short and to the right."

Bailey: "I was on the opposite side as Lorenzo and everything seemed like slow motion. All I could see was it was going to be short. I was frozen. My feet were nailed to the floor. And I was praying that the ball didn't come to my side. I could barely move."

Warren: "From the bench, I could tell it was short. Definitely short. But under the basket, it was almost like the seas were parting."

Drexler: "You think it's an airball. You think perfect, the game is going into overtime. But low and behold, there's Lorenzo Charles."

Charles: "Of all the players camped out in the paint, I was the only one that reacted. Olajuwon was out of position and didn't have a clear view of where the ball was. Thurl didn't want offensive goaltending. I just reacted. I really wasn't sure if I was close enough to the rim to catch the ball and in one motion, put it in. But I just jumped anyway. I got it. And when I turned my body, I saw I was close to the rim. The surprising thing was that I was up there and nobody was up there with me."

Gannon: "It happened so fast and yet it was like it took a million years. Normally, you're looking for the ball to hit the rim and you get in position to grab the rebound and put it back. But Lorenzo was alert. He goes up, catches it and dunks it. And that's history."

:00 remaining
Score: N.C. State 54, Houston 52

Lowe: "My first reaction was to look at the officials to see if it was goaltending because from my angle, it looked like the ball was going in, actually. I saw the officials heading to the locker room. And that's when I realized, you know, we just won the national championship."

Warren: "I run out on the floor and grab Lorenzo. And then (North Carolina State guard) Alvin (Battle) grabs him. And we're like, 'You did it, Lo, you did it! We won!! We won!! We're the champs!!' And he sort of pushes us away and goes, 'C'mon, man. Ease up. Let go of my neck. I can't breathe.' "

Charles: "I was just glad it was over and we pulled it out. I was exhausted. And I really don't think any of us had anything left for an overtime. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had missed that shot, how different life would be."

Lowe: "I ran up in the stands because my mother was there. She was sort of afraid of flying. But she took that flight to see my final collegiate game. So I ran up in the stands, hugged my mom and thanked her for actually coming. For getting on the plane to see my final collegiate game."

Gannon: "I remember leaving the huddle of guys to go look for my dad and having to go up and tell the security men, it's OK, let him down, he's my dad. Let him out here. And he got out on the court and we were jumping around like little kids. And til the day I die, that will be a peak moment in my life that will be hard to surpass."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com