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NR’s ACC Tournament coverage

SoVaNow.com / March 17, 2014
Virginia wins title

Yes, Virginia, your men’s basketball team has won the official Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

The Cavaliers capitalized on critical late game contributions from Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris. The suffocating Cavalier Pack line defense did its job, snuffing out Duke’s hope of a late comeback.

The Cavaliers, now 28-6 and possibly headed for a quality no. 2 NCAA tournament seed, repelled the Blue Devils yesterday, 72-63 to win the 61st ACC tournament in Greensboro. Noted Virginia coach Tony Bennett, “It was a heck of a game. ....My true joy is in how they played when the ball was tipped between the lines, how hard they played. Not perfect. How they defended, how they moved the ball and tried to outlast (Duke) through the game.”

The championship final capped one of the better ACC tournaments in recent memory, with a new infusion of talent after the arrival of three new schools. The tournament will return to Greensboro next season.

Virginia claimed its second ACC championship, getting a bookend to go with the remarkable 1976 title run with Wally Walker and Co in Landover, Md.

The Cavaliers also won the regular season crown and upheld their no. 1 seeding. Duke was the third seed and dropped to 19-12 in league title game appearances. Duke had won six straight against Virginia in ACC tournament action, but the two had never met in the title game until yesterday.

Virginia’s Akil Mitchell noted of the title celebration, “It felt amazing. It’s what you dream of. It’s what we wanted to do. Now, we’ve still got work to do That’s all I’m focused on now.”

Duke, which narrowly downed Virginia in the lone regular season meeting in Durham, NC, will head into the NCAA tournament with a 26-8 mark.

Brogdon sparked Virginia with a career-high 23 points, playing a key role late in sealing Duke’s fate. Harris drained an important late 3-pointer and had 15 points.

Jabari Parker, possibly playing his last game as a collegian in ACC action, led Duke with 23 points, eight boards, an assist, one block and two steals.

Ultimately, Virginia held the decisive momentum almost all of the way and simply put the hammer down on the Devils late. The Blue Devils struggled with offensive consistency, finishing 24-of-63 overall from the field (38.1 percent). The Blue Devils were eight of 14 from three-point land and four of seven there in the second half, but the Blue Devils could not answer Virginia’s overall depth, balance, chemistry and defensive prowess. Virginia shot 34.8 percent in the first half and 54.2 in the second 20 minutes.

“I want to congratulate Virginia,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “It was an amazingly physical game. Both teams wanted it so hard, so much. They were poised. They finished better than we did. Obviously, they got to the foul line a helluva lot better than we did. And they’re just a good team.”

Duke has often elected to ride along with Parker, and the freshman standout all but carried the Blue Devils. But he did not have enough help. Virginia had entered the tournament as the no. 1 seed, with effective team defense as its calling card. Duke was making adjustments on defense even in the win over NC State in the semifinals, and these inconsistent Blue Devils have some definite question marks heading into the national tournament.

Virginia clearly was the stronger defensive unit yesterday. The Cavs were particularly effective wearing down Duke in the second half, as Virginia shot 54.2 percent (1-for-24) in the second half. Virginia outshot Duke on the afternoon, finishing at 44.7 percent (21-of-47). The Cavaliers had a major edge at the foul line, finishing 25-for-38, while Duke, too reliant on jump shots, was just seven of 11 from the foul line.

And Virginia won the boards, too, 39-34. Akil Mitchell had to carry much of the defensive load on Parker, and he also led Virginia’s board work with 15 boards, 11 on the defensive side. Harris provided stellar senior leadership all season and has taken a step back in his individual statistics to help this team grow. Harris was named the tournament MVP. He was joined on the first team all-tourney team by Brogdon, Parker of Duke, T.J. Warren of NC State and Pitt’s Talib Zanna. Virginia’s Anthony Gill and Akil Mitchell were second team all-tourney picks, along with Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson of Duke and Lamar Patterson of Pitt.

Virginia led 28-25 at the half, and then slowly drained the basketball life out of the Blue Devils in the second half. Duke forced a 53-all tie for the final time at the 6:06 mark of the second half on a Hood field goal, but Brogdon and Mitchell followed with baskets and a 57-53 lead. Mitchell’s basket came on an offensive stickback with 5:07 left. Duke then misfired on several attempts, with Parker off-target on three attempts. Duke later cut the Cavalier margin to two, 59-57, with 2:54 on a Rasheed Sulaimon bucket off a Quinn Cook steal. Moments later, as Duke desperately sought to stop the Cavaliers’ momentum, Harris hit one of the most important shots of his career, a three-point dagger with two minutes later that propelled Virginia to a seven-point advantage, 64-57. Gill had pilfered Parker to set up the play. Brogdon later sprinted past the porous Duke defense on a drive to the lane and a 66-60 Cavalier lead with 1:05 to play. At that point, the crowd - with Virginia partisans getting the overall edge - started celebrating wildly. Virginia clearly hassled Duke with its defensive intensity.

Parker, asked to assess the Blue Devil defense, said, “I think we kind of just rushed. We were just so anxious to get on the offensive end once we tried to get down and get their momentum on my side. But I could have done a better job myself, gathering myself and getting to the free throw line, but it didn’t help me out.” Hood added, “I think they’re a really good defensive team. But at the same time, I think we got a lot of looks. Some is going to haunt me tonight, but I think we got the ball in the paint. We played, we shared the ball. They’re a great defensive team, but I think we got enough looks to change the game and just didn’t finish.”

Virginia had a balanced effort in rolling to the ACC title. Mitchell, for instance, had a season-high total in rebounding today and 29 boards in three games. High Point, NC native Anthony Gill was a crucial contributor in this tournament. Gill came off the bench in all three games and totaled 38 points and 17 boards. Even with this run, the Cavaliers are 34-59 all-time in the tournament, including a 16-24 mark in Greensboro. But Bennett, who has completely revitalized Virginia’s hoops program, has this team playing at a very high level. And the future in Charlottesville looks very bright under Bennett. The Cavaliers’ 28 wins are their most since winning 29 in 1982-83.

Defense remains Cavaliers’ calling card

Heading on to the court at the ACC men’s basketball tournament this past weekend, the clarion call for Virginia as the Cavaliers walked from their their locker room to the playing floor at the Greensboro Coliseum.

‘Defense, fellas.’ This is the dominant theme for a Virginia club that reached yesterday’s ACC tournament championship final against Duke. The Cavaliers, the top seed in the ACC heading to Greensboro, throughly frustrated a decent Florida State team Friday night. The Seminoles appeared to be floundering in quicksand, especially in the second half. The Cavaliers throttled FSU, 64-51, on Friday, leaving the Noles with a 19-13 mark and hoping for an NCAA bid.

Then, on Saturday, Pitt battled Virginia on nearly even terms. But the Cavaliers delivered the key plays at the end to clinch yesterday’s visit to the ACC tournament finals.

Anthony Gill drained two critical free throws with 8.5 seconds left, and then Justin Anderson tipped a potential game-tying three-point attempt by Pitt’s James Robinson with three seconds left in the game.

The Cavaliers prevailed in the first ACC tournament semifinal over the Panthers, 51-48.

Joe Harris led Virginia with 12 points, while Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill each had 10. Akil Mitchell scored eight points and added eight boards for Virginia. Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson had 15 points apiece for Pitt.

Virginia already has accomplished some significant goals heading into yesterday’s championship finale. It’s 27 wins heading into the ACC tournament final are the most since winning 29 in 1982-82. The Cavaliers advanced toi their seventh ACC tournament final and first since 1994, when Virginia lost to North Carolina.

Virginia has built this rock-solid season on suffocating defense (the Cavaliers were the national leader in scoring defense at 55.1 ppg heading into the finals here. This is a close-knit team with excellent chemistry and the feeling that winning is all that matters. These Cavaliers are not caught up in the individual accolades, and their positive character has been a major factor in reaching the ACC tournament final.

Virginia has always developed into a balanced, mature team that doesn’t seem to be too bothered by adversity.

Pitt, meanwhile, is a solid lock to advance to the NCAA tournament at 25-9.

The Cavaliers adopted a theme of becoming “blue collar knuckle busters” on defense.

Akil Mitchell, explaining the idea, said, “We’re winning. It’s fun to impose your will and get after it, especially against a Pitt team that’s so tough. In four years, we’ve been bred to enjoy those games and really enjoy playing the knuckle busting style of defense. I enjoy it, and know the rest of my guys, too.”

“I think this team has versatility, but we have things we hang our hat on.

The soundness and toughness and getting good shots. We do it collectively.

The right guys want to play that way and it’s fun to win,” said Mitchell.

In their last two games, Virginia limited Pitt to 36.7 percent field goal shooting, and three-of-14 accuracy from beyond the arc. Pitt went nine-for-25 from the field in the second half and just two of nine from three-point range. Pitt barely won the rebound battle, but Virginia had five blocks to only two for the Panthers.

Virginia also had a terrific defensive effort against FSU, especially in the second half.

Mitchell, addressing Virginia’s defense against the ‘Noles, who wanted to go inside. “That’s what we pride ourselves on ... keeping teams out of the lane. That’s what they wanted to do. If they can get to the lane with their size and their length, they’d be dangerous. We really had to do a good job of sliding today. The guards up top did a great job on ball screens,” said Mitchell.

Gill, asked to define the Cavaliers, said, “We’re a unit. We play defense as hard as we can, and are out here playing together.”

Virginia, meanwhile, has grown into a versatile, dangerous lineup heading into the ACC finals. Rock-solid and ice-cool point guard London Perrantes has sharpened his 3-point shooting (he’s 17 for 26 (65.4 percent) from 3-point range the last seven games. Malcolm Brogdon has scored in double figures in 19 of the last 20 contests. Mike Tobey had 11 points and eight boards against Syracuse.

Gill had hit double figure scoring in seven of the last 11 games.

Gill had to sit out last year after his transfer, and he’s had to work diligently to understand the Virginia defensive scheme.

“The beginning of the year, I wasn’t playing as much because of my defense. I didn’t really understand the Pack-line too much. Still learning, even now,” said Gill.

Gill elaborated the defensive scheme is complicated to learn. “It’s difficult for anybody in their first year, just trying to understand the anticipation, where to be at what time and what position you should be at the court when the ball’s at a certain place,” said Gill.

Gill also has seen his game evolve. He also had more confidence at the foul line and that paid off Saturday. “It felt good. ... I was thinking about it (free throw shooting) too much. I know I’ve been working hard at it. When I go up there, I trust what I’ve been working on,” said Gill.

Tobey, part of this versatile, deep Cavalier lineup, said the depth of the team is a major plus. “Last year, the team was not as deep, and I think at the end of the year, a lot of people had tired legs.”

The team is fresher at this point of the season, Tobey said.

Mitchell added, “Our depth is our strength. With Anthony (Gill) and Justin (Anderson) and Darion (Atkins) coming off the bench, if one guy’s having an off-night, the (reserves) ... bring so much energy. It’s so valuable to our team. Credit to them for sticking with it and buying into the team aspect.”

“We have so much depth on this team, it’s great,” added Gill. “If one guy’s off, the next guy can pick up the slack for him.”

Tenacious Blue Devils wear down opposition

Duke and Mike Krzyzewski care deeply about winning the ACC men’s basketball tournament, and the Blue Devils advanced to yesterday’s finals with a defensive-minded win over NC State late Saturday afternoon in Greensboro.

The Blue Devils prevailed for the 26th time in 33 games, keeping the very hungry Wolfpack at bay, 75-67, in the late ACC tournament semifinal. Duke advanced to meet Virginia for the first time ever in an ACC championship final yesterday.

Duke wore down a fatigued State team in the second half, limiting the Wolfpack to 35.5 percent field goal shooting. State went two-for-14 from three-point range after halftime, and the key offensive numbers broke in Duke’s favor. The Blue Devils consistently hit shots in the second half, finishing 13-for-19 from the field in the final 20 minutes, and two-of-five from the bonusphere.

For the game, Duke shot 57.1 percent (28-for-49), seven of 17 from three-point range (41.2 percent) and 12-of-23 from the foul line. State, desperately seeking an NCAA bid, battled the Blue Devils on even terms in the first half, but faded in the second half.

Duke connected on five of 12 three-pointers in the second half.

State’s Mark Gottfried said, “I thought maybe we got tired in the second half. We didn’t seem as fresh as we have been. The three-point shooting, I thought, was a difference. They stepped up and made a number of them and we couldn’t seem to make any (the Pack went one-for-four from bonusland in the last 20 minutes.

Still, basketball fans should admire the spirited effort by the Wolfpack, who took out former no. 1 Syracuse in this tournament and certainly made a statement about their worthiness for the national tournament.

The NCAA tournament field was announced last night, well past the newspaper’s deadline. Several ACC teams were haggling for inclusion in the field, although it appeared that only five teams — Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Pitt and Syracuse — were locks for the national tournament.

Two ACC teams — probably the Blue Devils and Virginia — were seen to be headed to nearby NCAA tournament action in Raleigh this weekend, although nothing was official until the field was set.

State (21-13) gave Duke all it wanted in the first half, but the Blue Devils imposed their will on the gritty Wolfpack in the second half.

Duke is generally tough enough to handle in many postseason situations, but they’re even more of a challenge when they play strong defense and showcase the kind of balance the Blue Devils enjoyed against State.

Jabari Parker, widely expected to leave for the NBA this spring, led the Duke parade with 20 points. Rasheed Sulaimon contributed 16 points, while Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook provided offensive support with 14 points apiece.

The Wolfpack got another top-shelf performance from ACC player of the year T.J. Warren, who had 21 points and eight boards. Lennard Freeman and Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber both had excellent shooting nights and finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively.

The Blue Devils essentially settled the issue with a blazing 13-3 run (16:47-12:29) early in the second half. Duke later extended the surge to 20-7 (16:47-9:14).

Duke exploited the Wolfpack offense with thunder dunks from Parker, and a strong supporting afternoon from Sulaimon, who finished seven of 12 from the field and one of three from beyond the arc.

State stayed competitive with torrid 66.7 percent field goal shooting in the first half. At game’s end, the Wolfpack had dropped off dramatically, to 49.1 percent, 27-for-55.

The Wolfpack never recovered from Duke’s strong second half start. State refused to completely wilt, cutting the margin to seven with 28 ticks left.

Krzyzewski explained Duke’s more effective second half defensive effort.

“In the second half, we played better defense. They shot about 70 percent from the floor in the first half and in the second half, about 35 percent.

And we made some big hustle plays,” said Krzyzewski.

“We talked more (in the second half),” said the Duke coach.

Hood drew the assignment to cover Warren, who had absolutely been on fire at the end of the ACC regular season.

Warren had some terrific moments in the first half, but Duke slowed him a bit in the second.

“I wanted to contest him,” said Hood. “In the first half, he beat me a little bit. I wanted to make him take tough shots. You can’t contain a player like that. Team wise, we did a great job in the second half of shrinking the floor and making him see multiple people.”

Krzyzewski added, “Rodney made a big adjustment. You can overcoach. We overcoached our preparation. He was doing what we asked him to do and it wasn’t working. He said, ‘Coach, let me play him my normal way. That was better.”

Warren came out pouring it on in the first 20 minutes, going six-for-nine from the field for 13 points. He slowed a bit in the second half.

Warren went 4-for-13 from the field in the second half.

Gottfried, discussing Duke’s second half strategy on Warren, said, “They tried to full front deny him, deny his catch, eliminate his touches. They made it hard for him to catch the ball, and it became hard for him to get it where he wanted to get it. They did a great job of switching when they needed to switch and denying him when they needed to deny. They made the game a little bit harder for him than some other teams have.”

Coach K also complimented Cook and Sulaimon for excellent second half play, noting Cook’s effectiveness at striking from 3-point range when State went zone. It was a futile second half for State, which had battled possession by possession to knock Syracuse out of the tournament Friday night.

But any Wolfpack dreams of a stirring run to an automatic NCAA bid (the reward for the ACC champion) evaporated, although State and other ACC observers certainly would argue for NC State’s worthiness in the field.

UNC experiences lackluster tourney with loss to Pitt

North Carolina’s lackluster overall showing in the ACC tournament left the Tar Heel entourage searching for solutions late Friday night.

One question was answered last night. The Tar Heels, now 23-9, learned their NCAA assignment, with the possibility of being shipped quite a ways from Raleigh, where NCAA tournament action is scheduled to continue this weekend.

Carolina fell to Pitt, 80-75, in Friday’s action at the tournament in Greensboro. Pitt was eliminated one day later by ascendant Virginia, which puts your average Tar Heel fan into a significant funk.

With the Cavaliers playing for the official ACC championship yesterday, UNC sought to regroup.

This has to be considered a turbulent winter in Chapel Hill, with the P.J.

Hairston mess and a wobbly late showing by the current Tar Heels.

UNC appeared to be missing in action against Pitt much of the night, trailing by 19 points with 11:40 remaining, until finally, the Heels hatched a recovery plan.

Crazy as it seemed, the Heels almost came all the way back, using intense pressure and vintage Tar Heel trapping to eventually throw a serious scare into the Panthers, who finished with 15 turnovers, eight in the second half.

At the end, Pitt moved on, despite another sparkling night from Carolina’s Marcus Paige (27 points) and terrific support off the bench from Brice Johnson, 16 points and six boards in 21 minutes, along with eight of nine field goal shooting.

UNC floundered from the 3-point line, finishing four of 16. Carolina has now been outrebounded in its most recent two games (Duke, away and Pitt in the ACC tournament) by an eye-opening 77-55 margin.

And the lethargic first 32 minutes or so against the Panthers left observers scratching their heads.

Talib Zanna proved almost a one-man wrecking crew, collecting 19 points, 21 boards and three assists against Carolina.

It’s certainly true that the Heels almost rallied to send Pitt packing with what have been a seismic collapse. But that did not happen.

Now, the Heels have to find that team-first, unselfish, take no prisoners defensive approach that made them into a very respected product near the end of the ACC season. And it should still be pointed out that Carolina still has wins over then no. 1 Michigan State, no. 3 Louisville (now one of the hottest teams in the country), then no. 5 Duke, no. 11 Kentucky (a major disappointment now) and no. 25 Pitt this winter, in the regular season.

So, how does UNC find the reset button and find new momentum? Paige, always a stand-up guy, said after the Pitt loss, “I think we can learn from things we did well in the last eight minute stretch (against Pitt) .... We played really well. We forced a lot of turnovers and we were able to make happen with our traps, which will be helpful (moving forward in the NCAA tournament).”

Paige continued, “At the same time, we also have to learn that getting down 17 early against good teams, we’re only going to play good teams from here on out. That can’t happen and it’s going to be too big of a hole to dig out of.”

Paige elaborated, “I don’t think we played great against Virginia Tech (in Blacksburg). We didn’t play great against Notre Dame (at home) and obviously, the past two games, we didn’t play great. We’re still doing things well. I think our confidence isn’t all a loss. We just got to get back to work and fine tune some things and understand that you’ve got to come ready to play against anyone for 40 minutes, not for ten.”

UNC powered to 12 wins in a row before the last two breakdowns, and Paige explained, “I think in the wins we had, we really set the tone defensively. We were really active. We were all over the place on the defensive ends. That hasn’t happened recently.”

And Williams conceded the type of suffocating pressure used against Pitt is “very taxing on the kids.”

Of course, every team starts NCAA play 0-0, so the Pitt loss, technically, has been wiped from the slate. UNC’s players and coaches were left to assess the seeding, location and possible future opponents in their path to the Sweet 16, and perhaps, beyond that destination.

With five expected NCAA bids, conference lobbies for more

Most experts projected the ACC for five locks in the NCAA tournament field announced last night, but, as usual, there was politickin’ aplenty among the conference’s coaching brethren for more.

Everyone agrees Duke, Syracuse, Pitt, Virginia and North Carolina made the field, announced last night. Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton, Clemson’s Brad Brownell and, especially, Mark Gottfried of NC State were left arguing for inclusion into the field.

Beyond the NCAA field, there’s the NIT. The NCAA owns this tournament and makes an effort to properly seed the field. The wannabees left out of the NCAA tournament from the ACC will likely end up there. There’s even some printed speculation that Wake Forest would compete in the pay-for-play College Basketball Insider event, although nothing had been confirmed there.

The NCAA field was announced last night, followed later by the NIT selections.

As usual, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was leading the charge, after the Blue Devils bounced NC State out of the ACC tournament semifinals late Saturday afternoon.

“I said to Mark at the end of the game, ‘I hope you guys get in .... I don’t understand it (the argument for just five ACC bids).

“Like the Atlantic 10, they’re a really good conference. I hear people saying there are six teams in there. Come on. I mean, they’re good, but put them in our conference and go through the meat grinder that our conference has to go through.”

(A-10 partisans would likely disagree with the Duke coach.) “That’s the thing,” continued Coach K. “I don’t know if there’s a quantitative way of measuring degree of difficulty that there is in playing in this conference or the like a Big 12. You’ve got to be on, all the time.

“To me, Florida State’s there. (The Seminoles were perceived to be on the bubble at 19-13 after a 64-51 loss to Virginia Friday.) “Our league should get more respect,” said Krzyzewski, who rattles on this theme almost every year before Selection Sunday. The Duke coach said State “is really good... They’re a tough out ... I wouldn’t want to play them in the NCAA tournament.”

Gottfried contended that State toughened its non-conference slate, traveling to Cincinnati (losing) and winning at Tennessee.

“I think our league is a great league. I hope we don’t get penalized with our record in the league when you play in a great league like ours.

“To win at Pitt late in the year, beat Syracuse ... honestly, if you win at Pitt, beat Syracuse, beat Duke, hell, you’re about a Final Four team by then. It’s hard to ask of anybody,” said Gottfried after the Wolfpack came up short on that last part, anyway.

“We showed we certainly believe (we’re in) the field of 68,” said the State coach.

State certainly enhanced their case with a pulse-pounding, old-fashioned ACC tournament upset of Syracuse Friday night. Gottfried’s team has to get plaudits for a tough 66-63 win over the Orange, who came into the tournament with one of its best players, Jerami Grant, back in the fold.

There’s little doubt this is the finest hour in recent weeks for the Wolfpack, with Gottfried showing emotion and old-fashioned, refreshing joy at the outcome. T.J. Warren torched the Orange for 28 points and SU (now 27-5) got a sub-par night of C.J. Fair (3-for-16 overall, 0-for-2 from three-point range) and nine points.

To the average fan, Warren is a prolific scorer and little else. But basketball experts know that Warren does a lot for the ‘Pack, which has endured ups and downs all season, partly as the result of growing together as a young team.

Gottfried pointed to one issue Friday in the SU win: Warren’s defense on Fair: “TJ gets a lot of praise for his offense, and he is a great offensive player,” said Gottfried. “But I thought T.J. locked in defensively and made every shot that C.J. took (look) tough. Every single one of them. I don’t know that he had an easy shot all night.”

BROOKLYN DREAMS: There are media reports citing an ACC tournament in Brooklyn, perhaps as early as 2017. (The ACC tournament returns to Greensboro next spring, and then it’s on to Washington, DC to cap the 2016 campaign.) Look, this is a win-win for the ACC, in the opinion of this writer, regardless of what ACC traditionalists think.

We had an interesting conversation Saturday morning with a pair of Syracuse fans, and they made valid points. Yes, the tournament would have a different feel, packed with Syracuse, Notre Dame, Boston College, and, yes, Duke alumni. Reportedly, the new Brooklyn facility has everything, except excellent parking). Keep in mind, nothing has been officially announced, but it’s interesting that all of this talk suddenly came out at the current ACC tournament, when the league knew it’d be getting maximum media exposure.

From this vantage point, moving the ACC tournament to New York on occasion is an excellent idea, and it gives the conference more media exposure.

It’s also only fair to the recent additions in the league (the Orange, the Irish, et. al).

TIGERS HOWLING: Clemson fans were openly screaming about the no-call late Friday night on a potential game-winning drive by the Tigers’ Rod Hall.

The Blue Devils prevailed, 63-62, and there was a look of obvious relief on the face of Blue Devil associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski afterwards on the way to the team bus.

One expert who can be trusted put it this way: Rasheed Sulaimon had no interest in fouling Hall, except to take a charge, and the Duke guard was in a protective position. Tyler Thornton knocked the ball away from Hall in the lane to help seal the Duke win. There was plenty of howling about that.

Duke’s Rodney Hood had knocked down a pair of free throws with 3.8 seconds left to propel the Blue Devils to the win.

Duke was extremely fortunate to get past the Tigers, who left Greensboro with a 20-12 mark.

Clemson ate Duke’s lunch defensively down the stretch, with an amazingly efficient offensive charge. The Tigers sustained that second half comeback effort with 66.7 percent field goal shooting (14-for-21) and demonstrated why this Duke team, even with standouts like Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood (both likely NBA bound), appears to be vulnerable moving deeper into the NCAA postseason.

Wake squanders early success

Wake Forest managed to squander all of the good feeling Thursday its men’s basketball team had created less than 24 hours earlier.

The Deacons, now 17-16 overall, managed their first winning season under embattled head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Wake Forest had a blistering shooting performance against Notre Dame at the ACC men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro, and the Deacons also owned the boards.

It all came unglued, however, in Thursday’s ennui-inspiring 84-55 loss to Pitt, which notched its 24th win and likely ended all speculation about the Panthers as a possible NCAA tournament bubble team.

Wake Forest got into deep trouble defensively against Pitt and never recovered, and the golden shooting touch that carried the Deacons past the Irish proved non-existent. Coron Williams led Wake with 16 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Pitt forced 14 Deacon turnovers and limited Wake Forest to 34 percent field goal shooting. The Deacons hit an ice patch from 3-point range, finishing 4-for-18 from the bonusphere.

And there were lingering questions about the Deacons’ toughness.

Lamar Patterson led the barrage for Pitt, scoring 24 points in 29 minutes.

Earlier, the Deacons had absolutely shredded Notre Dame on Wednesday.

The 12th seeded Wake Forest men’s basketball team held off no. 13 seed Notre Dame, 81-69, in first round action at the ACC tournament in Greensboro. Notre Dame slid to 15-17. The Irish have not been the same team since the loss of Jerian Grant, because of academic issues.

Bzdelik has drawn considerable criticism from the Wake Forest fan base this season, and some Deacon partisans had to be happy with Thursday’s blowout loss. Bzdelik is now 18-52 overall in ACC action at Wake, 51-76 overall, in four seasons. His record overall is 162-181 in 11 seasons of college head coaching.

After the debacle against Pitt, Bzdelik said of the Panthers, “they hit us right between the eyes, and we were on our heels throughout the whole game. We had some shots early that fell for us (against Notre Dame) and didn’t fall for us today. And there was separation because of the fact that we couldn’t keep them off the boards, and tried a variety of defenses. We just couldn’t keep them from getting to the paint. I think they had 27 points on layups in the first half, and we never recovered,” said Bzdelik.

Pressed about his job status and standing with Wake AD Ron Wellman, Bzdelik essentially took the Fifth Amendment approach, noting, “I’m just going to answer questions about the game.”

Un-huh.

Wake conceivably could land a pay-for-play CBI bid. But there may be developments with Bzdelik’s job security at Wake Forest soon.

The Deacon coach clearly wants more time with this team.

“We certainly don’t want to go out like this,” said Bzdelik.

After Maryland’s distinguished run in the Atlantic Coast Conference, since 1953, it all ended Thursday in Greensboro. A 7-foot-3 shot-blocking specialist from the Slovak Republic sent the Terrapins packing in their final moments of men’s basketball.

The Terps had a heck of a run, with some of the most important moments in ACC hoops. The beat goes on: Gary Williams and the storied national title run in 2002; all those emotionally charged, highly entertaining years with Lefty Driesell, who brought us Midnight Madness; the UCLA of the East, remember? The best ACC game ever, 103-100, NC-State vs. Maryland to cap the 1974 season; David Thompson, Len Elmore and the sparkling supporting cast; and the tragedy of Len Bias.

And, remember, too, that Maryland became the first ACC basketball program to integrate and cross the color barrier.

Well, the run is history. Maryland is now headed to the richer financial pastures of the Big 10. The current Maryland run stands at 17-15 following an improbable ending in the 67-65 loss to Florida State.

Who would have imagined this script? The Seminoles’ Boris Bojanovsky, who had missed two free throws moments earlier, drained a pair of go-ahead free throws for Florida State with 29.8 seconds remaining. Then, after the Terps forced a tie at 65-all, Bojanovsky took a bounce pass from Okaro White and slammed the ball home with the winning points with 00.4 seconds left. The 7-foot-3 sophomore finished with 12 points and a game and career-high 12 boards.

Maryland’s Dez Wells told reporters afterwards, “It was a great ride. Me watching all the games growing up, the rivalries and the great games. I think this game will go down in history.

“We appreciate what the ACC has done for us, but I guess (it’s) new beginnings now for us,” said Wells.

Added Terp coach Mark Turgeon, who led Maryland to a stirring upset of ACC tourney no. 1 seed Virginia in the last ACC regular season game at College Park, “We knew what the ACC meant to our fans, and we just weren’t good enough to get the win (against FSU). But it wasn’t like we weren’t trying.

We competed. ... We’re going to miss Greensboro. It was a great tournament, well run. We’re going to miss that part of it. But the good thing is we’re going to another great league, great coaches, great tournament,” said Turgeon.

The Maryland program still has some business left with the ACC, battling in court over the exit fees.

Maryland was left hoping for an NIT bid last night, although with the NCAA seeding that tournament, nothing was guaranteed.

Boston College continues to search for an identity in a league that’s only going to get more difficult next season, when Louisville shows up. The Cards, now a consistent top ten level major college hoops power, officially join the ACC July 1.

The Eagles already have the burden of competing for attention in one of the top professional sports markets in the USA. The current hoops campaign ended Wednesday night at the ACC tournament with a 73-70 overtime loss to Georgia Tech, another program trying to gain traction.

The Eagles finished with some pretty dismal numbers in their short ACC tournament run, including 41.2 percent field goal shooting, 31.6 percent three-point shooting; and the short end of the rebounding numbers, 41-30, against Georgia Tech.

More troublesome, BC had lousy attendance. The Eagles seemed to have a developing talent base, and Olivier Hanlan certainly is the kind of player any program could build around. But Steve Donahue can’t seem to get it in gear in Chestnut Hill, with a current ledger of 8-24. BC will try to rebuild around Olivier Hanlan.

Nonetheless, the Eagle product continues to struggle. The program also had to deal with significant loss this season, the death of revered men’s basketball publicist Dick Kelley.

Miami exceeded expectations this season, finishing tenth in the regular season race. The ‘Canes battled gamely against NC State in the tournament, playing very competitive basketball until some late game mistakes — and the combination of T.J. Warren and Ralston Turner — became too much to overcome.

“We just turned the ball over way too much,” said Larranaga. “They (State) got 26 points off of our 15 turnovers ... We played a triangle and two the whole second half, and they still ended up with 24 (Warren’s points production) and 22 (Turner’s).”

Miami managed a winning record (17-16) to this point, despite losing its top seven players in the preseason. Jim Larranaga again proved his worth.

The classly gentleman has now taken George Mason to the Final Four and won an ACC title at Miami. The ‘Canes had a very competitive year, all things considered. Next season, Miami welcomes back Rion Brown, along with two transfers who had to sit out this year: Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClennan (Texas).

Clemson reached the 20-win plateau with its 69-65 overtime win over Georgia Tech Thursday night at the tournament. Clemson’s Brad Brownell continues to do strong work with the Tigers. Clemson feasted on Georgia Tech, winning their third game against the Yellow Jackets. Clemson again capitalized on strong free-throw shooting, a strength all season. Clemson entered the game as the ACC’s second-best team at the line, converting 73.3 percent. Against Tech, the Tigers knocked down 25 of 29 (86.2 percent), according to the ACC notebook.

Virginia Tech exits tourney with heads high, and future up in the air

James Johnson departed Greensboro and the 61st ACC men’s basketball tournament with his head coaching future up in the air.

The energetic Virginia Tech coach has represented the Hokie men’s program with class, and the presence of four academic all-ACC performers on the squad indicates Johnson is doing it the right way in Blacksburg.

Here are other relevant numbers following Tech’s bitter 57-53 loss to Miami Wednesday.

The Hokies skidded to a 9-22 finish this season, with a 1-11 mark in their final 12 games. Tech’s RPI after the loss to the ‘Canes is 241. Tech had the 73rd highest strength of schedule. Their non-conference RPI was 159.

The non-conference strength of schedule was 137. Tech went 0-6 against teams ranked in the top 25 RPI. They were 0—2 against teams 26-50; 1-5 in the 51-100 category and the way Tech lost to Miami does not inspire confidence for Johnson.

Here’s the unkindest number of all: 4812.

That’s Tech’s average home attendance in the Cassell (capacity: 9847).

Everyone following college hoops knows big-time men’s college hoops is a business. There’s little patience for coaches developing long-term prospects for success.

Tech, which has had some close losses this season, floundered offensively against Miami. The Hokies shot 40 percent from the field, 18-for-45.

Three-point shooting proved a mess in the second half, three-for-12. Tech went eight-for-19 overall from beyond the arc.

Miami clobbered the Hokies on the boards, 36-24, although neither team shone in this defensively minded struggle.

Afterwards, Tech freshman Devin Wilson, part of a quality group of first-year players that give the Hokies hope for the future, enthusiastically endorsed Johnson’s return.

“It would mean everything. He’s the guy who brought me in here. I was a little under-recruited in high school, and he (Johnson) had faith in me that I was going to come in here and produce, so having him back next year is going to be everything for us and the recruiting class that he’s bringing in as well.”

The Virginia Tech-Miami tape does not provide a convincing argument for Johnson’s return. Whit Babcock now runs the Hokies’ athletic department.

Johnson was a Jim Weaver hire.

Virginia Tech ran out of gas offensively in the final minutes against Miami.

Certainly, the Hokies had multiple opportunities to pull this out in the end, but Miami made enough plays and squeezed out enough offense to hold on to the win. The tenth-seeded Hurricanes will meet NC State tonight in ACC tournament second round action.

Tech only scored 21 points in the second half, as the Hokies went 6-for-23 from the field in the last 20 minutes.

Rion Brown led the ‘Canes with 15 points, as three UM players got into double figures. Tech got 16 from Jarrell Eddie, but no one else in double figures.

The game featured considerable tension down the stretch, with both teams struggling to find points. Ultimately, the Hokies misfired on four field goal attempts in the final 2:17, as Miami sealed the game at the line.

Johnson argued his case in the post-game press conference after the Miami loss.

“My first thing, I want to sit down and talk to my team and just get those guys together and talk a little bit about where we’re headed from now.

We’ve got to take some time off as a team. We’re banged up, and this young man beside me (Wilson) played a lot of minutes and we’ve got a lot of injuries. We want to give these guys some time off.

“And then I’m sure Whit and I ... will talk and continue to evaluate the program,” said Johnson.

Johnson argued that brighter days are ahead. Wilson made the all-ACC rookie squad, and Johnson said Trevor Thompson “really came on. Joey van Zegeren is just a sophomore, Ben Emelogu, and then the incoming class we’ve got coming in. The future is bright for us here at Virginia Tech.”

Maybe.

The reality is that ACC men’s hoops takes a quantum leap forward next season with that Louisville-for-Maryland trade. Programs like Virginia Tech face a serious uphill climb back to genuine relevance in the ACC, although the Hokies have some young players in place to make improvements.



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