Lorenzo Charles

*Lorenzo Charles, the muscular forward whose last-second dunk gave underdog North Carolina State a stunning win in the 1983 national college championship game, was killed Monday when a bus he was driving crashed along a highway, a company official said.

Elite Coach general manager Brad Jackson said Charles, 47, worked for the company and was driving one of its buses on Interstate 40, reports the Associated Press. No passengers were aboard.

He grabbed Dereck Whittenburg’s 30-foot shot and dunked it at the buzzer to give the Wolfpack a 54-52 win over heavy favorite Houston and its second national title, sending coach Jim Valvano spilling onto the court, scrambling for someone to hug in what has become one of the lasting images of the NCAA tournament. [Scroll down to watch.]

Whittenburg was despondent when discussing his teammate and friend with The Associated Press.

“It’s just an awful day,” Whittenburg said. “An awful, awful day.”

Charles secured his spot in N.C. State lore in the final moments of that game in Albuquerque, N.M., to cap off an improbable run to the championship. N.C. State entered the NCAA tournament with a 17-10 record, having beaten Virginia to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and an automatic berth into the national field. No one expected much.

“It’s still kind of amazing to me that … people are still talking about it,” Charles said in an excerpt from his comments about the championship game on his N.C. State Web page. “I remember when (it) first happened, I figured I would have my 15 minutes of fame and that would be it. Here we are and it is still a conversational piece. I don’t really think that was the only great Final Four finish that has been played since then, but for some reason people just single out that game and talk about it. Maybe because it was such a David and Goliath thing.”

Police released little about the one-vehicle crash that took Charles’ life. Video shows the windshield broken out with tree limbs sticking through the window frame. The rear wheels of the bus were on an embankment, leaving the right front tire elevated from the road.

Charles finished his college career two years after the championship win with 1,535 total points — 15th on the school’s scoring list — and his .575 shooting percentage in 1985 remains a school record for seniors.

NC State retired Charles’ No. 43 jersey in 2008, the 25th anniversary of the championship. He played one season in the NBA, averaging 3.4 points in 36 games with the Atlanta Hawks in 1985-86, and played internationally and in the Continental Basketball Association until 1999.

Below: the Lorenzo Charles dunk happens at 2:34.