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February 10, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Some Early Madness

Even though the March Madness of the NCAA Tournament remains a little more than a month away, college basketball offered some of the most exciting games of the season in the past few days.

The top two teams in the Hoopville poll met their most significant challenges of the season from two bitter rivals as No. 2 Duke survived No. 17 North Carolina in another classic edition of the nation’s best rival. Meanwhile, No. 1 Stanford remained perfect with the aid of a small miracle against No. 10 Arizona.

Because this notebook focuses on the ACC, I’ll only summarize the closing moments of the Stanford/Arizona game. If you can see complete highlights, you have to see it for yourself. Trailing most of the game, Arizona stormed ahead by four, 77-73, in the closing moments of the game, with the momentum favoring the Wildcats. Stanford superstar Josh Childress missed the first free throw with 43 seconds remaining. Desperate to cut the lead to one, Childress proved he is one of the best clutch performers by coming back to nail the second free throw.

Now down by three, Stanford trapped the Wildcats at half court, forcing a turnover. Childress found an open spot in the corner to drain a game-tying three. Arizona had the ball, looking to close the game with a final opportunity or go to overtime. No loss in regulation, though, unless the Wildcats messed up.

And then Salim Stoudamire found himself sandwiched between Stanford’s Matt Lotich and Nick Robinson. The ball popped a couple inches away from Stoudamire, but a couple inches close enough to Robinson for him to pick it up with two seconds remaining. An uncontested drive to the hoop would have taken a couple of seconds too long, so Robinson sprinted across half court, shifted the ball to one hand and glided through the air to guide the ball toward the goal at the buzzer.

Money. Nothing but the bottom of the net.

Stanford 80, Arizona 77, in one of the best game’s I’ve seen this entire year.

As good as that game was, the battle in Chapel Thrill between North Carolina and Duke may have been even better, mainly because the momentum swayed back and forth several times throughout the game.

Duke started the game by scoring on a dunk by sophomore forward Shelden Williams just moments after winning the opening tip. Duke built a big first-half lead, much to the chagrin of coach Roy Williams and the rest of the Tar Heel faithful. The Tar Heels appeared to be on the brink of a blowout before Williams reined in the helter skelter play of his team. Then North Carolina chipped away at the lead, cutting the deficit to five at halftime, 42-37. Sophomore guard J.J. Redick, who finished with 14 points, hit several big shots in the first half, forcing North Carolina to extend its defense, which allowed Shelden Williams to have a monster game in the paint.

But in the second half, North Carolina tightened the defense, which has been a liability for the Tar Heels all season. They also entered the second-half with tremendous energy to track down every loose ball. Sophomore forward Sean May resembled a Hoover vacuum cleaner, sucking up every rebound. He finished with 21 rebounds to add to his 15 points. As a team, North Carolina collected 46 rebounds to Duke’s 35.

The Tar Heels used the defensive energy to build a seven-point lead with about six minutes to go. Sophomore forward Rashad McCants led the offensive charge with 27 points in the game.

But Duke responded like all champions must do. The Blue Devils did not allow North Carolina to score for several minutes while gradually whittling away the lead. Freshman forward Luol Deng drained two free throws to give Duke a 72-69 lead with less than a minute to go. Running out of time and opportunities, junior forward Jawad Williams pumped fake to draw a fly by from the nearest Duke defender, giving Williams a good enough look to attempt the tying three.

Money. We go to overtime.

In overtime, Duke’s Williams was a force and helped the Blue Devils to a one-point game with a minute remaining. North Carolina had the ball but could not find any good looks, and Williams helped force a shot clock violation. Forced to foul, Duke executed perfectly to get the ball in the hands of Redick, who has missed only two free throws all season. He made two more to stretch the lead to 81-78.

Down to potentially their last opportunity, the Tar Heels worked the ball on offense, using screens and motion to get one of their shooters open for a clean look at the basket. McCants stepped out with 13 seconds left to receive a pass near the top of the key.

His shot – money.

Looking to avoid another overtime and seeing that the exhausted Tar Heels had not set up on defense, Duke’s senior genius Chris Duhon took the inbounds pass and flashed down the length of the court, passing McCants on defense and sailing past a desperate Jawad Williams to drain the game-winning layup. Junior guard Melvin Scott missed a last second three pointer from the corner for North Carolina, and Shelden Williams secured the last rebound – and the game – for Duke as time expired.

Duke 83, North Carolina 81.

Up In Smoke

One of North Carolina’s recruits for next season will have to perform well in court rather than on the court. JamesOn Curry, of Alamance County, N.C., was arrested with 49 other Eastern Alamance High School students in a broad drugs sweep by authorities. He will be charged with two counts of possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana.

Curry declared his intention to go to North Carolina while former coach Matt Doherty still ran the program. Curry had not indicated he would back out with the change to new coach Roy Williams, but rumors had circulated Internet message boards that neither Curry nor Williams was thrilled about Curry’s commitment to Carolina.

ACC Bubble Watch

NC State has done everything necessary to get off the bubble and into the tournament, especially in the last week. The Wolfpack beat a ranked team in Raleigh, N.C, when they beat Wake Forest. Equally as important, NC State picked up a road win at Virginia.

Florida State and Maryland likewise supported their cases for a tournament bid by winning early last week. The Seminoles beat Georgia Tech at home while Maryland won a road game at Virginia. The match up between these two bubble teams went to the Terrapins. Florida State won the first meeting in Tallahassee, Fla., so now they are even. Florida State has not won a road game in the ACC this season and needs to steal one at NC State, Wake Forest, North Carolina or Georgia Tech to have a stronger case for the NCAA Tournament.

Right now, the ACC should get seven teams in: Duke, NC State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida State and Maryland. And they should receive seedings according to that order.

No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (20-1, 9-0) Last week: 2-0

As mentioned above, Duke started last week at North Carolina with the latest edition of the NCAA’s best rivalry. The game qualifies as one of the most thrilling games in the history of the Blue Devil/Tar Heel rivalry. Duke won in overtime 83-81 as senior guard Chris Duhon traversed the length of the court in the waning seconds to pass the flailing arms of North Carolina’s junior forward Jawad Williams, laying in the winning deuce. Sophomore forward Shelden Williams showed why he is one of the ACC’s post player, behind only Maryland senior forward Jamar Smith, as Williams scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

When you’re already on top, as Duke is in the ACC, it’s tough to complain. One area of improvement may be depth, however, as Duke played only seven players against North Carolina. Sophomores Sean Dockery and Shavlik Randolph logged 25 minutes in total and only managed two points. Both Dockery and Randolph could start on nearly any other ACC team, so they are solid back ups. And Duke’s players all seem well-conditioned to play long minutes. But will this team run out of gas in the grueling two-games-in-two-days format of the NCAA Tournament? I doubt that Duke is poised for a first or second round exit, but maybe the Blue Devils’ lack of depth will hurt them in the Elite Eight.

Duke’s depth did not factor in the Blue Devils’ 38th consecutive win at Cameron Indoors Stadium. Duke beat Clemson 81-55 after a relatively slow start. Sophomore guard J.J. Redick led the Blue Devils with 23 points and freshman forward Luol Deng scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and ripped three steals. Despite appearing to play in a fog, a possible remnant of the North Carolina game, the Blue Devils regained composure during a 14-0 run that helped put away the game. Duke has beaten Clemson 17 consecutive times now.

Duke looks to pick up consecutive home win No. 39 against Virginia Feb. 11 before heading to Raleigh, N.C., to play NC State Feb. 15 in a game to defend the Blue Devils’ stranglehold on first place.

NC State Wolfpack (13-5, 6-2) Last week: 2-0

The Wolfpack need to designate Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” as the team’s anthem because NC State wants just a little bit of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for tearing through the ACC in the first half of conference play. After each team had completed eight games, half the ACC schedule, NC State sat two games behind Duke for first place and two games ahead of the rest of the pack for second place. Yet no one seems to be talking about the Wolfpack as an NCAA Tournament threat or even a solid ACC contender.

Well, the game against Wake Forest last week proved NC State has the guts needed to qualify as contenders in both the ACC and the NCAA Tournament. Down by 16 to Wake Forest at halftime, the Wolfpack clamped down on defense, holding the Demon Deacons to just 22 second-half points en route to a 73-68 victory. Senior forward Marcus Melvin led NC State with 20 points and 11 rebounds, including a game-breaking three pointer with 30 seconds remaining in the game. The comeback was NC State’s best comeback in 11 years. Junior guard Julius Hodge added 18 points to help the cause. The Wolfpack shot 83 percent from the free-throw line to help seal the deal.

NC State followed up that game with a strong road win at Virginia, 79-73. Although the Cavaliers are struggling, a road win is still a good win. Hodge led the Wolfpack with 26 points and seven rebounds. As a team, the usually undersized Wolfpack slammed the Cavaliers in the rebounding department, 39-22. The Wolfpack also shot 51 percent collectively and 80 percent from the free-throw line.

The Wolfpack play Florida State Feb. 10 before playing a huge game against Duke Feb. 15 that could help NC State make a run for the conference title.

Florida State Seminoles (16-7, 4-5) Last week: 1-1

Florida State opened the week with yet another major win at home against a ranked ACC opponent. The Seminoles beat Georgia Tech 81-65 behind senior guard Tim Pickett’s career-high 33 points. Pickett seems to play his best basketball when the Seminoles absolutely need him to. Trailing by two at halftime, Pickett exploded in the second half, making every field goal he attempted. He made six three-pointers, grabbed eight rebounds and swiped three steals. No other Seminole reached double-figures. As a team, Florida State made 19-of-20 free throws, which helped seal the deal.

Florida State stumbled at Maryland later in the week as the Terrapins won 73-62. Pickett led the team once again with 20 points and eight rebounds. But Pickett had to leave the game after flying into the Terrapin bench while chasing a loose ball with less than a minute in the game. Without Pickett, Florida State clearly lacked a reliable scorer in clutch time. Freshman guard Von Wafer stepped up at times, scoring 15 points in the game. Wafer needs to get the experience this year because he will become one of the most important pieces to the puzzle next season when Pickett graduates.

The Seminoles face a major road test this week at NC State Feb. 10. Florida State finished the week at home against Clemson Feb. 14.

No. 15 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (16-5, 4-4) Last week: 1-1

The Yellow Jackets visited Florida State to start last week’s action and fell victim to the Seminoles 81-65. Tallahassee has become one of the most difficult places to play in the ACC, so Georgia Tech should not be too upset by the loss. Coach Paul Hewitt cannot be happy, however, with the Yellow Jackets’ inability to contain the Seminoles’ superstar, Tim Pickett, who finished with 33 points. Georgia Tech struggled in the second half on offense, and only three Yellow Jackets reached double-figures, led by junior guard Isma’il Muhammad with 14 points.

Georgia Tech continued the road trip at Tennessee in the Yellow Jackets’ final non-conference game. The Yellow Jackets jumped out early against the Volunteers and then smothered Tennessee’s rally attempts with great defense, winning 77-62. The Yellow Jackets held Tennessee to 30 percent shooting in the game while shooting over 52 percent themselves. Senior guard Marvin Lewis led Georgia Tech with 24 points and junior guard B.J. Elder dropped 20 points as the Yellow Jackets were deadly from the outside, making 8-of-16 three pointers.

The Yellow Jackets return home to play North Carolina Feb. 10 before hitting the road again to Charlottesville, Va., to play Virginia Feb. 14.

No. 16 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (13-6, 4-5) Last week: 0-2

After such a hot start and a top five ranking in the Hoopville poll, the Demon Deacons are struggling in conference play. Wake Forest jumped out to a 16-point halftime lead against NC State but ran into a smothering defense in the second half. The Demon Deacons had less rhythm than a tone-deaf “American Idol” cast off and lost the game 73-68. Sophomore guard Justin Gray finished the game with 17 points and six rebounds, but 15 of those points came in the first half, before NC State decided that nobody can score in the Wolfpack’s house. Junior forward Jamaal Levy also had a strong game with 12 points and 10 rebounds, which helped in the absence of sophomore center Eric Williams. Williams played only 21 minutes because of foul trouble, a problem that he has, for the most part, kept in check this season. Wake Forest will continue to struggle if the team’s best big man cannot control his penchant for fouling.

Williams did a better job of staying on the court against North Carolina, but that didn’t stop the Demon Deacons from dropping a big home game to the Tar Heels. North Carolina avenged an earlier triple overtime home loss to Wake Forest. Levy played sensational, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds while generally wreaking havoc on the defensive end. Gray also had 19 points in the losing effort for Wake Forest.

Wake Forest will try to end the two-game losing streak at Clemson Feb. 12 before hosting No. 11 Cincinnati in a major non-conference showdown Feb. 15.

No. 17 North Carolina Tar Heels (14-6, 4-5) Last week: 1-1

The Tar Heels entered last week stuck in the middle of the ACC’s pack and needed a win against Duke and/or Wake Forest to cement their position near the top instead of near the bottom of the standings. The aforementioned 83-81 overtime loss to Duke did not help the cause. But it did establish a different attitude for this young team. The Tar Heels allowed Duke to push them around in the first half as the Blue Devils built a double-digit lead. Led by sophomore forward Sean May, the Tar Heels came out of halftime with the energy of a champion. May finished with 15 points and an amazing 21 rebounds. Sophomore guard Rashad McCants finished with 27 points and nine rebounds, routinely hitting clutch shot after clutch shot. If the Tar Heels can continue to play with this energy, rather than appearing on the brink of chaos, North Carolina could surge in the home stretch of ACC play.

In the Tar Heels’ second game of the week, North Carolina visited Wake Forest less than 48 hours after the heartbreaking loss to Duke. But the Tar Heels showed little fatigue or depression, building a big first-half lead. In the first half, North Carolina reminded me of the Tar Heel teams from the mid to late 1990s when it seemed like the team was entirely controlling the game. It looked like the team always expected to stop one of the nation’s highest scoring teams on defense, and then always score on offense with a precise offensive scheme.

That poise disappeared in the second half, however, as Wake Forest climbed back into the game. The Tar Heels prevailed 79-73 as they came up with critical stops when the game was on the line. Junior guard Melvin Scott led the team with 20 points, including a flurry of three pointers early in the first half to help establish the lead. May had another double-double in the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Tar Heels outworked Wake Forest on the glass, 38-34, continuing the energy that started against Duke last Thursday night.

North Carolina will look to bring its road winning streak to two games at Georgia Feb. 10 before returning to the Dean Dome to play Maryland Feb. 15.

Maryland Terrapins (13-7, 4-5) Last week: 2-0

The Terrapins visited Virginia desperately needing a win after losing four of the last five. Maryland answered with a tough 71-67 road win, led by sophomore guard John Gilchrist’s 26 points. The only Terrapin with more than 10 points hit every clutch shot to ensure that the Terrapins would not fall into a tie for last place with Clemson in the ACC standings. Gilchrist hit 4-of-6 three-point attempts to stifle Virginia’s momentum several times. Freshman forward Hassan Fofana had a huge game in the paint for Maryland, grabbing 10 rebounds. Fofana made up for senior forward Jamar Smith who fouled out in only 17 minutes of action. With the team’s best rebounder on the bench, Maryland rallied to dominate the glass, 45-34.

Free throws continue to be the bane of coach Gary Williams’ existence as the Terps made only 18-of-36 free throws. That’s not good and will more often than not cause Maryland to come up on the wrong end of close scores. Poor free-throw shooting courts disaster, but Maryland’s strong defense defused the crisis against Virginia.

Maryland’s defense continued to excel against Florida State as the Terrapins won another big game, 73-62, to get right back into the thick of the ACC standings. Smith led the balanced attack with 16 points and 14 rebounds, and four other Terrapins reach double-figures in scoring. Maryland held the Seminoles under 33 percent shooting in the game. The game was close for much of the second half until the final minute when Maryland’s defense forced several Florida State turnovers, and the Terrapins made just enough free throws to put the game out of reach.

Maryland has all week to prepare for a trip to North Carolina Feb. 15. A win there would greatly support the Terps’ case for NCAA Tournament inclusion.

Virginia Cavaliers (12-7, 2-6) Last week: 0-2

The Cavaliers started last week at home against rival Maryland looking to pass the Terrapins in the ACC standings and to hold on to fading NCAA Tournament dreams. Alas, reality is cold as Virginia lost 71-67. The Cavaliers made crucial mistakes in crucial moments late in the second half. Virginia committed 20 turnovers for the game, including five by senior point guard Todd Billet. Billet has been thrust into the role of point guard by default, especially since former point guard Keith Jenifer was kicked off the team last season because of behavioral disturbances.

Junior forward Elton Brown tried to will the Cavaliers to victory with 24 points and nine rebounds. Billet and freshman swingman Gary Forbes struggled against Maryland’s defense, combining for three points, nine turnovers and only one field goal.

Looking for any success at point guard, coach Pete Gillen started senior point guard Majestic Mapp. But a great name alone could not provide the Cavaliers with the necessary spark to beat NC State, as the Wolfpack beat Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., 79-73. The Cavaliers took care of the ball better, committing only 10 turnovers in the game. But NC State dominated Virginia on the glass, outrebounding the Cavaliers 39-22. Junior forward Devin Smith led the Cavaliers with 14 points off the bench. Freshmen J.R. Reynolds and Forbes each had 10 points.

The Cavaliers will try to end a four-game losing streak at Duke Feb. 11. That is an unlikely feat, but fortunately Virginia returns home for Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, to play Georgia Tech.

Clemson Tigers (9-10, 2-6) Last week: 0-0

Clemson appeared to have a chance for an upset against Duke for a few minutes. But then reality set in as the Blue Devils broke out of their funk to go on a 14-0 run and cruise to an 81-55 victory. Junior forward Sharrod Ford led Clemson with 19 points and six rebounds. Normally an excellent rebounding team, Clemson struggled to keep Duke off the glass, losing the rebounding battle 32-35. Clemson struggled from the free-throw line, making only 13-of-26 attempts.

Clemson plays two games in three days as the Tigers host Wake Forest Feb. 12 then play at Florida State Feb. 14.

     

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