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December 8, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

What’s so challenging?

For the fifth consecutive year of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the ACC won the series of games against the Big Ten. This year, however, the ACC schools entirely dominated their counterparts, winning seven of nine games.

The two marquis games of the challenge demonstrated the difference in strength between the ACC and Big Ten at this point in time. No. 7 Duke visited No. 8 Michigan State Dec. 3, while No. 6 North Carolina hosted No. 10 Illinois in Greensboro, N.C. Both ACC schools won the games, and Duke embarrassed Michigan State on its home court.

The Blue Devils came off of a stinging loss to Purdue in the Great Alaska Shootout and did not have long to prepare for a difficult visit to the talented Spartans. But coach Mike Krzyzewski had just enough time to devise a new game plan – forsake the dependence on perimeter shooting to work the ball inside.

Duke started sophomore forwards Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph side by side, and the adjustment paid off. Williams finished with 16 points and eight rebounds while Randolph added 11 points and seven rebounds. The two erased Michigan State’s start center Paul Davis, holding him to seven points and three rebounds. As a team, Duke held Michigan State to 40 percent shooting and allowed only one three-pointer.

Duke, on the other hand, shot nearly 60 percent from the field, largely in part because the Blue Devils focused on working the ball into the paint rather than looking for the outside shot first. Michigan State seemed ill-prepared to handle Duke’s defensive pressure or inside attack.

Meanwhile, one of the Big Ten’s other top teams, Illinois, battled North Carolina in one of the best games of the challenge. The two teams battled back and forth the entire game, and North Carolina managed to build a small lead in the latter stages of the second half. Despite an attempt to comeback, Illinois lost to North Carolina 88-81.

North Carolina won despite playing only seven players because of the injury to sophomore forward David Noel. In addition to Noel, sophomore forward Jawad Williams and sophomore guard Jackie Manuel were questionable for the game because of injuries. But both played, and Williams finished with a double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

Sophomore forward Sean May was the player of the game, however, also registering a double-double. He scored 23 points and had 14 rebounds. More importantly, May became the go-to player for the Tar Heels whenever North Carolina needed points to stop Illinois’ momentum. Every time the Illini seemed poise to overtake the Tar Heels, they worked it inside to May, who outworked the taller junior center Nick Smith. Despite being 7’2, Smith failed to score any points and was out-rebounded by May. Sophomore guard Deron Williams and junior forward Roger Powell led the Illini with 22 points and 20 points, respectively.

All but six of North Carolina’s 88 points were scored by the starting five. Although the victory is the biggest in coach Roy Willams’ short career at North Carolina, the Tar Heels need Noel to get healthy and must not suffer any injuries, because they do not appear able to overcome a significant injury or two.

Tempers flare

Apparently the Demon Deacons do not like teams dictating the game’s pace on Wake Forest’s home floor. Against Richmond Dec. 6, Wake Forest struggled to find open shots against the Spiders’ zone defense. Wake Forest needed a spark to put away the game, and Richmond’s freshman guard Daon Merritt provided that spark.

After taking exception to a travelling call, Merritt knocked Wake Forest freshman guard Chris Paul to the ground with an elbow. Junior forward Jamaal Levy retaliated with a hip check that sent Merritt to the ground. After officials reviewed the incident, they tossed sophomore guard Trent Strickland of Wake Forest and freshman forward Todd Hendley for leaving the bench.

Player of the Week:

Sean May, North Carolina

In victories over Illinois and George Mason, May averaged 24.5 points and 10 rebounds and blocked four shots. He had a career-high 26 points against George Mason Dec. 7.

Freshman of the Week:

Chris Paul, Wake Forest

In games against Indiana and Richmond, Paul showed why Wake Forest may have the deepest set of guards in the ACC. Paul averaged 18.5 points, eight assists and 3.5 rebounds in two games. In addition to Paul, sophomore Justin Gray and junior Taron Downey can score at will for Wake Forest.

Coach Watch:

Oliver Purnell, Clemson

As coach of the only team that failed to win last week, Oliver Purnell needs to find a way to get more out of his offensive attack, especially from the guards. Clemson will not be a threat to win the ACC this season, but Purnell needs the Tigers to get comfortable with his system to build hope for the future.

Team reports

Clemson Tigers (3-2) Last week: 0-2

Despite out-rebounding Purdue and South Carolina by at least nine, Clemson lost both games this week. The Tigers have struggled to find a consistent offensive attack this week, failing to shoot 40 percent in either game. Senior forward Chris Hobbs and junior forward Sharrod Ford remain the best scoring options for Clemson. Ford led the Tigers with 12 points against Purdue while Hobbs led the Tigers in scoring against South Carolina with 13 points.

Clemson remains a shallow team, with only seven players averaging more than 10 minutes per game. And the Tigers’ guards have struggled to emerge as leaders. Junior guard Chey Christie is the only guard averaging 10 points or better per game. Clemson must work on getting the guards into the game to prevent teams from overloading against the Tigers’ interior strength in Hobbs and Ford.

The Tigers hope to rebound with a victory at Georgia Dec. 13.

Duke Blue Devils (5-1) Last week: 2-0

By beating St. John’s 79-58 Dec. 6 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils opened their first home game this season by extending the nation’s longest current win streak. Duke extended its streak to 30 consecutive games at Cameron Indoor Stadium without a loss. The streak is the third longest such streak in Duke’s history and tied for fifth longest in ACC history.

Duke continued the newfound interior game against St. John’s as Randolph led the Blue Devils to victory with 14 points and 12 rebounds. The victory over St. John’s added to a successful week that included the aforementioned win at Michigan State. Duke still needs to bolster its perimeter shooting because teams will figure out how to guard Randolph and Shelden Williams if Duke continues to rely on the inside game for points. Senior guard Chris Duhon, junior guard Daniel Ewing and sophomore guard J.J. Redick will carry this team so they must find the offensive groove sooner rather than later.

The Blue Devils’ lone game this week is home against Portland Dec. 14.

Florida State Seminoles (7-0) Last week: 3-0

Georgia Tech may be the darling of the ACC so far this season, but Florida State is beginning to turn some heads with a 7-0 record. The Seminoles played three more games this week, winning all three against Northwestern, Mississippi and Fairleigh Dickinson.

Senior guard Tim Pickett has been the most consistent player, which is what Florida State will need from its team leader for the Seminoles to have a chance at success in the ACC. As a team, the Seminoles play ferocious defense. They did not allow any opponent to score more than 60 points this week and held Fairleigh Dickinson to under 30 percent shooting from the field.

Freshman forward Alexander Johnson is emerging as a rising star for Florida State, averaging a shade over 10 points and five rebounds last week. Florida State’s freshman class is strong and has the luxury of not being depended on for the team to win. If the Seminoles receive significant production from one or two of their heralded freshmen, the team could leapfrog Georgia Tech as the surprise ACC team of the year.

Florida State plays at Miami Dec. 14, which will become an annual event next season when Miami officially joins the ACC in all sports.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-0) Last week: 2-0

Anyone looking for the Yellow Jackets to fall to earth last week would be disappointed that Georgia Tech did nothing but continue to dominate opponents. Georgia Tech traveled to Columbus, Ohio, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and slammed Ohio State 73-53.

The Buckeyes succeeded in slowing junior forward Isma’il Muhammad, who had been unstoppable in the Preseason NIT. But the focus on Muhammad freed guards B.J. Elder, Jarrett Jack and Marvin Lewis. Elder led all scores with 18 points, and Jack and Lewis were the only other Georgia Tech players in double figures

Georgia Tech continues to win with excellent defense. The Yellow Jackets held both opponents under 34 percent. Georgia Tech played a nearly perfect second half against Tennessee Tech, scoring 62 points. Six Yellow Jackets finished in double figures.

Georgia Tech has one game this week against St. Louis Dec. 13.

Maryland Terrapins (4-2) Last week: 1-2

In one week, Maryland defeated No. 14 Wisconsin but lost two games in the BB&T Classic last weekend, to No. 18 Gonzaga and unranked West Virginia. The Terrapins are a young team that will see several more weeks like this as the team is capable of beating anybody in the country but also capable of losing to anybody.

The Terrapins beat Wisconsin 73-67 in overtime in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Senior forward Jamar Smith had a career night with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Smith continues to play very well and posted 13 points and seven rebounds against Gonzaga and 23 points and 13 rebounds against West Virginia.

But Maryland has struggled offensively. Against Gonzaga, the Terrapins shot under 36 percent. Sophomore guards Chris McCray and John Gilchrist will be crucial to guiding Maryland to victory this season. They must become leaders on a young team that will probably get stronger throughout the season. A great freshmen class will gradually earn more playing time as coach Gary Williams will find an explosive lineup by the end of the season.

Until the young Terps grow up though, expect up and down results like this past week’s. Maryland continues a tough stretch of the schedule with games at No. 3 Florida Dec. 10 and home against Pepperdine Dec. 14.

NC State Wolfpack (4-1) Last week: 1-1

The Wolfpack were one of two ACC teams to lose in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wolfpack played Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., and lost 68-61.

The Wolverines kept NC State from finding any consistent offensive rhythm. The Wolfpack forced up 27 three-pointers and made only seven. Junior guard Julius Hodge continued a sensational start to the season with 25 points and eight rebounds, but his performance was not enough to beat Michigan. The Wolverines used a more balanced attack with sophomore guard Daniel Horton, sophomore guard Sherrod Harrell and senior wingman Ben Robinson.

Against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, NC State had to come from behind in the first half after the Panthers torched the Wolfpack for an early 12-point lead. But senior forward Marcus Melvin had a huge game, scoring 27 points to support Hodge’s 16 points. NC State deserves credit for scheduling a team from a strong mid-major conference and coming up with a big 77-71 win.

NC State plays Hartford Dec. 13 with an opportunity to find a more consistent offensive groove.

North Carolina Tar Heels (4-0) Last week: 2-0

After an emotional victory over Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, North Carolina started sluggish in the first half against George Mason Dec. 14. But the Tar Heels bounced back after trailing by two at halftime to score 68 second-half points to win 115-81.

The 115 points were the most points scored by North Carolina in nearly 10 years and the most points in the Roy Williams era. Sean May scored a career-high 26 points to lift the Tar Heels to victory. Sophomore guard Rashad McCants and junior Jawad Williams also scored more than 20 points. Sophomore guard Raymond Felton dished out 18 assists as 11 Tar Heels scored in the game.

Both Williams and junior guard Jackie Manuel played this week against Illinois and George Mason despite injuries that forced coach Roy Williams to list them as questionable against Illinois. Manuel injured his knee in a collision with sophomore guard Raymond Felton against Cleveland State Nov. 29. Williams injured his hip in practice Nov. 30.

Virginia Cavaliers (5-0) Last week: 2-0

The Cavaliers beat Minnesota 86-78 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge behind career performances by junior forward Elton Brown and freshman guard Gary Forbes. Brown scored 26 points and Forbes added 22 points. Forbes also added nine rebounds and two blocks as he has quickly become the Cavaliers’ secret weapon and a key ingredient to Virginia’s hot start.

Brown followed the performance against Minnesota with another great game at VMI. Brown scored a team-high 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to help Virginia win 78-56. The Cavaliers held VMI to 33 percent shooting and used 40 percent shooting from three-point range to bury VMI.

The Cavaliers will focus on exams this week and return to action next week against James Madison Dec. 16.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-0) Last week: 2-0

Wake Forest obliterated Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge 100-67 as sophomore center Eric Williams dominated the Hoosiers weaker post players. Williams scored 25 points in 25 minutes and probably would have scored more if coach Skip Prosser had not chosen to sit Williams with six minutes left in the game.

Wake Forest also received a great game from freshman guard Chris Paul, who scored 20 points and still found time to distribute eight assists. Wake Forest held Indiana to under 40 percent shooting but shot nearly 60 percent on the offensive end. The Demon Deacons shot 47 percent from beyond the arc. Few teams would have had a chance against such a hot shooting Demon Deacon squad.

Wake Forest struggled to find as many open looks against Richmond Dec. 6, but the Demon Deacons won 81-66. All five of Wake Forest’s starters reached double figures in scoring.

Freshman Kyle Visser missed the Indiana game with a twisted ankle, but played against Richmond Dec. 6 and should be back to full strength after Wake Forest has a break for exams.

Wake Forest also will not play this week so that the Demon Deacons can perform as well on exams as they have on the court. The Demon Deacons will play at Southern Methodist Dec. 15 when they return to action.


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