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ACC Notebook

December 23, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Could You Ask for More?

The ACC started its conference schedule this past week when No. 15 Wake Forest visited No. 2 North Carolina. With half a dozen teams looking to compete for the ACC championship, every conference game has the potential to make a significant difference in the standings. Wake Forest and North Carolina apparently were well aware of the game’s magnitude and battled through three overtimes to determine a winner.

The Demon Deacons outlasted the Tar Heels 119-114, which set all sorts of records. North Carolina, for example, had never allowed more than 112 points and had never lost when scoring more than 100 points. The two teams combined for the second most combined points in an ACC game in conference history. Their 233 points fell one short of the record 234 points set by Maryland and NC State in 1978.

As for the game, two of the most potent offensive teams in the ACC set fire to the nets. Both teams shot nearly 50 percent from the field and better than 36 percent from beyond the arc. The difference in the game was sophomore center Eric Williams’ jumper and two free throws that pushed the game out of reach for Wake Forest. Williams finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

North Carolina sophomore guard Rashad McCants led all scores with 25 points, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. But sophomore forward Sean May was the critical piece of the puzzle, scoring 15 points and 11 rebounds but also fouling out in the third overtime allowing Williams to take advantage of his superior size.

Wake Forest sophomore guard Justin Gray was Williams’ best supporting cast member with 20 points and six rebounds. North Carolina’s sophomore point guard Raymond Felton outplayed Gray with 22 points and 11 assists. Both Gray and Felton fouled out of the game before all was said and done. Foul trouble limited Gray to just 33 minutes out of the total 55 minutes in the game.

Between the two teams, 13 players reached double-figures in scoring. The remarkable factor is that both North Carolina and Wake Forest essentially used a seven-player rotation. One of those players for North Carolina was sophomore forward David Noel, who returned from a hand injury by playing 18 minutes and scoring seven points. Noel was cleared to play last week. Noel gives North Carolina some much-needed depth in the frontcourt.

Given their rankings, North Carolina and Wake Forest may be expected to play a fast-paced, tight game. But this game does more than prove that the Tar Heels and Demon Deacons are legitimate ACC and NCAA title contenders – it shows that the ACC is vastly improved and probably stronger than it has been since the late 1990s. Look for similar games to occur weekly throughout conference play, which will pickup after the holidays.

Mejia Leaves the Pack

Looking for more playing time, sophomore guard Domanick Mejia will leave NC State to attend another school. Mejia has played only 11 minutes in four games this season, averaging a half point per game. The emergence of freshmen Mike O’Donnell and Engin Atsur reduced Mejia’s opportunities to get into the game. Mejia had few opportunities to play last season, averaging under seven minute per game last year and two points per game.

Wake to Honor Howard

Wake Forest will retire Josh Howard’s jersey during halftime of the Demon Deacons’ game against Maryland Jan. 29. Howard is the premier example of a collegiate athlete. He played four years for Wake Forest, becoming the most dominating player in the ACC by his senior year. Howard finished his career at Wake Forest by leading the Demon Deacons to their first outright ACC title in more than 40 years. He is only one of five Demon Deacons to register 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 steals and 100 blocks. Howard will be the first Wake Forest player to have his jersey retired since another dominating Demon Deacon by the name of Tim Duncan.

Player of the Week:

Eric Williams, Wake Forest

The sophomore center had two huge games against Southern Methodist and North Carolina, which helped push Wake Forest to 7-0. Williams averaged 23 points and nine rebounds in the two victories.

Rookie of the Week:

Chris Paul, Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons sweep the awards this week as guard Chris Paul continues to impress by averaging 15 points, 4.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists in two games, including a game against North Carolina and point guard Raymond Felton, who is one of the nation’s best.

ACC Coach Watch:

Leonard Hamilton, Florida State

Although the Seminoles keep winning, Florida State has not been impressive on the offensive end. Their stifling defense has created wins against weaker opponents, but when Florida State plays Pittsburgh and Maryland this week, the Seminoles will need a more potent offensive game to remain unbeaten.

Team Reports:

Clemson Tigers (5-4) Last week: 2-1

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell entered the week facing a potential disaster against No. 16 Cincinnati and tough mid-major program East Tennessee State. And to conclude the week, the Tigers played South Carolina State, which won the MEAC to reach the NCAA Tournament last season. So a 2-1 record for the week is about all that could be expected from a Clemson squad that has struggled recently. But losses to either East Tennessee State or South Carolina State would have been viewed as unacceptable to many Tiger fans.

Clemson needed overtime to beat East Tennessee State 100-86. Senior forward Chris Hobbs and junior forward Sharrod Ford had double-doubles to lead Clemson to victory. Hobbs had 13 points and rebounds while Ford led the Clemson with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Collectively, Clemson obliterated East Tennessee State on the boards, outrebounding the Bucs 52-22. But Clemson committed 24 turnovers, which carried over into the 79-56 beatdown against Cincinnati. The Bearcats also forced 24 turnovers and held Clemson to under 35 percent shooting, allowing only junior forward Olu Babalola to reach double-figures. Hobbs helped Clemson recover in a hard-fought 77-74 victory over South Carolina State, scoring 18 points and adding eight rebounds. Clemson took better care of the ball, committing only 14 turnovers, or else the Tigers could easily be in the midst of a two-game losing streak.

Clemson has a light week with a single game at home against Radford Dec. 22.

No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (8-1) Last week: 2-0

Duke proved last week why the Blue Devils must be considered one of the top two or three teams in the country right now. Duke played a resilient Princeton team that trailed by only four at halftime, but the Blue Devils blew the game open in the second half to win 69-51. Freshman forward Luol Deng continues to be one of the most important players for Duke, leading all scores with 18 points and contributing eight rebounds. Deng is difficult to defend because he shoots well from long distance but will force defenders to prepare for a rough game inside, too.

Against No. 12 Texas, coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted the Blue Devils to play a simulation of an NCAA Tournament game. If the Blue Devils respond in March as well as they did against the Longhorns, the path to San Antonio and the Final Four may not be challenging for Duke. The Blue Devils annihilated the Longhorns 89-61, holding Texas under 32 percent shooting. Sophomore guard J.J. Redick found his shooting stroke and scored 20 points, which included four three-pointers. Texas had been dominating opponents by cleaning up the glass, but Duke out-rebounded Texas 36-30, which facilitated the blowout.

Duke has this week off to enjoy the holidays but will return to action against Davidson Dec. 29.

Florida State Seminoles (10-0) Last week: 2-0

The Seminoles continued to be one of the hottest teams in the conference by beating Wagner 83-62 and Chicago State 47-42 in the Pittsburgh Holiday Hoops Tournament. Florida State’s calling card has been smothering defense this season, and their defense paved the way for both victories. Against Wagner, the Seminoles limited Wagner to 32 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers. Meanwhile, senior guard Tim Pickett led the attack with 14 points.

Against Chicago State, Florida State could not establish any offensive consistency. Junior forward Anthony Richardson led the Seminoles despite scoring a paltry eight points. But Florida State held Chicago State to an even worse performance – only 29.8 percent from the field.

Florida State will receive its biggest test of the season in the final game of the tournament against No. 21 Pittsburgh. Test number two will come later in the week when the Seminoles play Maryland Dec. 28 to start conference play.

No. 7 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-0) Last week: 2-0

Like Florida State, Georgia Tech just keeps on winning. Last week, the Yellow Jackets too out Alabama A%#38;M, 74-41, and St. John’s, 79-66. Against Alabama A%#38;M, the Yellow Jackets sprinted to a 49-15 lead then coasted to victory. All 12 Yellow Jackets saw action, but junior center Luke Schenscher stole the show, scoring 22 points and grabbing five rebounds. Although Schenscher continues to rebound less than a 7-footer should, he has become a critical interior threat for the Yellow Jackets, which will free the perimeter shooters, such as junior guard B.J. Elder, sophomore guard Jarrett Jack and senior guard Marvin Lewis.

Georgia Tech continues to play strong in every aspect of the game in a tough game against the Red Storm. The Yellow Jackets held St. John’s to under 40 percent shooting and won the battle of the boards by six. Georgia Tech’s starting guards combined for 37 points and Elder led the team with 15 points. Schenscher worked harder than ever on the glass to collect 10 rebounds. He should learn a lesson from the bouncing ball of energy known as junior forward Isma’il Muhammad, who despite being a half foot shorter than Schescher, led the Yellow Jackets with 12 rebounds.

Georgia Tech plays one game this week against Marist Dec. 23.

No. 25 Maryland Terrapins (6-2) Last week: 0-0

The Terrapins worked hard to pass exams last week, and now the classroom challenges are on hold for winter break. But Maryland returns to basketball challenges this week with a warm-up against UNC-Greensboro Dec. 23 before travelling to Florida State Dec. 28.

North Carolina State Wolfpack (5-2) Last week: 0-1

The Wolfpack had a rough week, losing Domanick Mejia as a transfer then losing their only game of the week to South Carolina, 58-55. South Carolina’s defense befuddled NC State’s offense, forcing 15 turnovers and holding the sharp-shooting ‘Pack to under 30 percent shooting from three-point range. Superstar junior Julius Hodge led NC State with 13 points and added 12 points for his second double-double of the season.

The bright spot for NC State was the return of junior center Jordan Collins, who returned to action after being academically ineligible during the first semester. Collins gives coach Herb Sendek the option to establish a two-man game in the paint and on the perimeter. Collins played 11 minutes and only scored two points, but will likely become more important for the Wolfpack off of the bench as the season progresses.

The Wolfpack open their ACC schedule against Virginia Dec. 28.

No. 2 North Carolina Tar Heels (6-1) Last week: 0-1

Coach Roy Williams and North Carolina had all week to prepare for the Demon Deacons, but Wake Forest managed to walk away from Chapel Hill, N.C., with a 119-114 triple overtime victory, described in detail above. Williams will have another full week this week to prepare the Tar Heels for a tough game at UNC-Wilmington Dec. 28.

Virginia Cavaliers (7-0) Last week: 1-0

The Cavaliers traveled to the West Coast last week to play Loyola – Marymount. Perhaps the Cavaliers suffered from a touch of jet lag because they trailed at halftime by four before attacking in the second half to win 76-38. Junior forward Elton Brown and sophomore forward Derrick Byars each posted 21 points to lead Virginia. The Cavaliers remain one of four undefeated ACC teams and will play Coastal Carolina Dec. 22 before opening ACC play at NC State Dec. 28.

No. 15 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-0) Last week: 2-0

The Demon Deacons played a tough game at Southern Methodist and won 78-66 behind 22-point performances by Eric Williams and Justin Gray. Williams also had 10 rebounds as the Demon Deacons as a team out-rebounded SMU 39-30. Williams had a monster week with a second game scoring more than 20 points against North Carolina. Detailed earlier, the victory over North Carolina in Chapel Hill cements Wake Forest’s position as an ACC title contender. The Demon Deacons will need every minute of their 10-day break to catch their breath from the three-overtime marathon. Wake Forest will return to action Dec. 30 against North Carolina A%#38;T.


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