But the Heels battled gamely and ultimately missed a shot for the lead with seconds remaining, gracefully bowing to the Noles 85-82. Down one point, Kendall Marshall fired an open three-pointer that bounced off long — he’d made a far more difficult shot seconds earlier — and after FSU made two free throws, P.J. Hairston’s desperate three to tie missed the mark.
Florida State won its first ACC Tournament title. The Seminoles punctuated their dominance this season against the Tobacco Road powers — compiling a 2-0 record versus UNC and a 2-1 mark against Duke — and undoubtedly improved their NCAA seed substantially after dispatching both the Heels and Devils this weekend.
Carolina failed to slow FSU’s three-point shooting in both match-ups. The Noles buried 11-for-23 from long-range and shot an astonishing 58 percent overall. Meanwhile, the Heels connected on just 39 percent from the field and 5-for-20 on threes. They were able to remain competitive due to a 12-rebound advantage and by making 13 more free throws than the Noles.
John Henson’s absence rocked the club’s defense. Dressed out and available to play “in case of emergency,” the team clearly missed his ability to dominate the interior. Harrison Barnes stepped up with 23 points and seven rebounds, while Tyler Zeller added 19 and 12. Marshall finished with 15 points and nine assists.
While blessed with more than 15 years of head coaching experience, Mark Gottfried is in his first season as a coach in the ACC... and its referees. His arm-waving, jacket-flinging gyrations motivate players and a fan base long in need of such fighting spirit. However, they have also run afoul of several officials, notably a couple of public dust-ups with referee Roger Ayers.
Let me be clear: This is not blame attributable to any coach, referee or player; it is a matter of human nature. Once Gottfried earns his ACC bona fides, he will undoubtedly be afforded the same courtesy as the league’s older heads. Until then, questionable hand-checking and over-the-back calls may still befall a team ill-equipped to absorb them.
My colleagues Rob Harrington and Neil Morris are all over the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack, whose tilt yesterday overshadowed the one between Duke and Florida State. The Seminoles prevailed, weathering the Blue Devils' second half rally (yet another one) from a 10-point deficit and watching Seth Curry's potential game-tying three-pointer from near midcourt rattle the rim and bounce out at the buzzer. The final was 62-59.
The result pushed Florida State into a well-charged rematch with North Carolina, about which more down below. But what does it mean for Duke?
But N.C. State fans can formulate a legitimate case after the Pack dropped a 69-67 heart-breaker to North Carolina this afternoon in the ACC Tournament semifinal, completing UNC's three-game sweep against NCSU this season. The Pack landed on the wrong end of several questionable calls, including the game-winning bucket when Kendall Marshall appeared to charge but earned a no-call from the referees.
On the other hand, State gifted the Heels with two atrocious turnovers in the final minutes, and Mark Gottfried failed to remove C.J. Leslie from the game after he picked up his fourth foul. Leslie scored 22 points but fouled out with eight minutes remaining, crippling the Pack’s endgame offense. Gottfried said after the game that he and his assistants suffered a “miscommunication” after Leslie picked up his fourth.
For Carolina, the Heels simply lack elite pedigree when John Henson spends his time on the sidelines. Henson, who’s nursing a sprained wrist, officially is day to day but was unable to pass muster during pre-game testing and may not be able to compete in tomorrow’s final, either.
UNC became further hobbled when Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall and James Michael McAdoo—who’s replacing Henson in the starting lineup—played reduced minutes due to foul trouble. Senior Justin Watts filled in admirably at power forward, wing forward and point guard, playing 18 minutes and making a game-saving steal with seconds remaining.
Zeller led the way with 23 points and nine rebounds on 8-for-11 shooting against a State frontline that was determined to shut him down. Marshall added 12 points and 10 assists, hitting the aforementioned short jumper off the glass. Harrison Barnes shot just 3-for-12 but did make a couple of critical buckets in the second half.
It's Saturday morning in March in North Carolina. Bradford pears are blooming, young people are in love and the ACC tournament in Atlanta is shaping up to be the most interesting and consequential it's been in years.
It was an inauspicious beginning on Thursday. The referees got taken to task for their forlorn effort to express solidarity with the charming Karl Hess. If it hadn't been for the vigilance of bored, resentful reporters courtside, their act of defiance would have gone completely unnoticed by history.
And yes, the Philips Arena was pretty much empty beyond a few family members and sleepy reporters, but the suits of the ACC assured the media (for no one else was watching) that their eyes were deceiving them, that in fact Thursday's games were capacity-plus SELL-OUTS!
Luke DeCock reported the evidence in front of him early during the game:
But something must have changed in the time it took Maryland to defrock the Demon Deacons, 82-60. The ACC discovered that 19,520 souls had somehow watched the game in Philips Arena.
As Chico Marx said in Duck Soup, "Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"
Of course, the ACC's barkers technically managed to distribute 19,520 tickets, whether by putting them under people's windshield wipers or stuffing them in schoolchildren's backpacks or hiring homeless people to give them out at highway off-ramps. Or something like that, according to the AJC.
Fortunately, college basketball resumes printing money this afternoon for the aforementioned doubleheader of shining moments and more utterings of "tobacco road" than Scarlett O'Hara's descendants will be able to bear.
Tip-off for UNC-N.C. State is 1 p.m., while Duke and Florida State have a re-re-match at approximately 3 p.m. Triangle Offense will be tweeting like mad with our nacho-cheese covered fingers. Follow us @IndyweekSports. And we expect today's events to be so exciting that we'll write about it before tomorrow's grand showdown between UNC-
N.C. State winner and the Duke- Florida State winner.
Before we yield the floor to Mike Potter's explanation of why some blue-tinted china may get broken Monday night, let us deliver the first of the 73 advance plugs we'll make for the following event:
In the Jan. 1, 2012 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Nocera puts his green eyeshades on and proposed a system by which college football and (male) basketball players might be paid. If you haven't seen it, it's a must-read.
Also a must-read is Taylor Branch's The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA. Branch presently has a teaching appointment at UNC, and he made a few ripples at an event two weeks ago in which he charged that UNC's coaches have forbidden their players from talking to him.
On Wednesday, March 14, we expect the C-word* to be bandied about a bit as Nocera comes to Chapel Hill looking to rumble on the eve of the three-week event that is expected to deliver $771 million to the NCAA coffers each spring. He'll address such topics as, and we quote:
Is it time to kill the N.C.A.A.?
Should college athletes collect salaries?
Should universities sponsor semi-pro teams?
Does corporate money threaten the University’s mission?
It'll go down at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, beginning at 5:30 p.m. We suggest getting there early. We'll be there. Taylor Branch might be there, too.
But the Tar Heels suffered a worse loss than any the Terrapins could have delivered, as John Henson landed awkwardly on his wrist in the first half and writhed in pain for several seconds. He returned after a few minutes but visibly struggled even to catch the ball, resulting in his departure from the game for good.
X-rays turned up negative, but whether Henson can play on Saturday — versus N.C. State at 1 p.m.— remains highly uncertain. More troubling, depending upon the extent of the injury, he could miss or play with reduced effectiveness during the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Henson is right-handed but prefers to finish with his left in the paint, and offensively he’d have little to offer should that hand be compromised.
More immediately, Henson’s potential absence opens up a realm of possibilities to the Wolfpack. C.J. Leslie historically has performed very poorly against Henson’s length, but the sophomore forward should enjoy much more success against James Michael McAdoo or any other Tar Heel frontcourt option.
Turning the focus back to the Terps, Kendall Marshall continues his offensive tear. He set the ACC single-season assists record in a 13-point, 12-assist effort, and he knocked in 3-for-4 on threes.
Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock — whose confidence appears to be at an all-time high — led the Heels with 15 points apiece. Barnes played a more complete game than usual, snatching seven rebounds, dishing out two assists and thieving three steals. Conference player of the year Tyler Zeller turned in a steady 14 points and seven rebounds.
So fluid has been the pipeline between Vancouver and Carolina this offseason that midfielder Floyd Franks, who began the day listed as a member of the RailHawks on the team’s website, sat on Vancouver’s bench wearing a Whitecaps jacket during the game. Later, it was confirmed that Vancouver would soon announce Franks’ signing, the fifth former Railhawk inked by the MLS team since Rennie’s arrival.
Thus, the match with Vancouver was as much about saluting Carolina’s past as glimpsing its future. However, even if many of today’s RailHawks were still unfamiliar to the crowd of 3,587, the fans’ enthusiasm for the home team never defected. And Colin’s crew obliged, rewarding supporters with a 2-2 draw in regulation time followed by a 4-2 penalty kick shootout victory over the Whitecaps to win silverware signifying something called the “Fourth Annual Hilton Garden Inn Southpoint Community Shield.”
GREENSBORO COLISEUM It’s kind of an odd scene for the final day of this ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament, since for the first time since 1993 there’s nobody from North Carolina in the championship game.
No. 6 Maryland — the third seed in the tournament — will be a slight favorite against No. 15 Georgia Tech, which is the fourth seed.
And it’s like somebody forgot to tell the fans, as an announced crowd of 9,122 is in the house for the contest.
Maryland is the only out-of-state team ever to win the tournament since it found its permanent home in Greensboro in 2000, that happening three seasons ago. And Georgia Tech, which has its best team ever, made its only previous finals appearance in 1992.
Both teams will be in the NCAA Tournament without dissent when the selection committee meets. On the line is Maryland’s chance to move ahead of Duke to the No. 5 spot in the national rankings, as well as the Yellow Jackets’ chance to make a bid at the Top 10.
Maryland is going to be on the “2” line for NCAA pairings no matter what, and could be the first No. 2 ahead of Duke with a win today, which could affect who is assigned to the Raleigh Regional. If Georgia Tech wins, the Jackets likely move to the “3” line.
Maryland won both regular-season meetings, the last one 64-56 in Gwinnett.
This one is a war, and the Terps hang on to win 68-65.
R.E.M. played Cameron while touring with their then new album, Lifes Rich Pageant (but without the apostrophe in "Life's"). Let's Active, whose frontman, Mitch Easter, co-produced R.E.M.'s Murmur, opened. You could look it up.
Lifes Rich Pageant was R.E.M.'s breakout album—not quite the one that made them a household name (that would be the next one, Document, which featured "The One I Love" and "It's the End of the World As We Know It"), but the one that assured that they soon would be. Pretty much a pop album, rather than an art album or a folk album as R.E.M.'s previous releases had more or less been—Pageant was produced by John Cougar Mellencamp's producer—its lead single was the tuneful, hummable "Fall on Me."
"Fall on Me" may or may not be about acid rain or ecological peril generally. You never can quite tell with R.E.M., but in any case the song is certainly about the sky falling. Yesterday morning, thinking of R.E.M.'s show at Cameron a little over 25 years ago, (they actually played there again less than a year later), "Fall on Me" sprang to my mind, perhaps also summoned by the previous day's brooding rain and its night of heavy fog—the sky falling low over Durham, indeed.
But after North Carolina pummeled Duke last night, 88-70, UNC's biggest win at Cameron since not long after R.E.M. played there, the clouds of the song's meaning cleared up. As they like to say over in Chapel Hill, "If God is not a Tar Heel, then why is the sky Carolina blue?"
Well, so, the Carolina-blue sky fell on Duke yesterday, with the very dawn of the game. North Carolina raced out to a breathless, wha'ppen? 13-point lead before the first break in the action—feathers hit the ground before the weight can leave the air—and led 22-5 at the second official timeout. At that point, I tweeted that either team could still win by 17 points: They are both talented, unpredictable, streaky, capable of both greatness and blandness, and hard to get a read on—like R.E.M., come to think of it. There was no reason why Duke couldn't roar back, as they have done a few times this year, with their home crowd in a frenzy (what noisy cats are we), and also no reason why UNC couldn't continue to dominate to the final buzzer.
Which the Tar Heels did, and won not by 17 but by 18 points. They led by the astonishing score of 48-24 at halftime. "We were overwhelmed in the first half," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski would later say. The Tar Heels pushed the lead to 26 points 23 seconds into the second half, withstood the inevitable Duke rally and marched to victory.
The game was, in other words, something of a dud. Good thing we had lifes rich pageant surrounding it.
GREENSBORO COLISEUM It’s Cinderella Day at the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Two of the teams in the semifinals just aren’t supposed to be here, but N.C. State’s Kellie Harper and Wake Forest’s Mike Petersen are each coming off the most impressive wins of their coaching careers.
State (18-14), the first No. 9 seed ever to make it this far, will be the underdog against No. 15 Georgia Tech (23-7) in the opener that tips off at 11 a.m. to make ESPNU happy. Georgia Tech swept the season series, winning 76-66 in Raleigh and 75-68 in Atlanta.
After this one’s over the Deacons (19-12) — who have won two ACC Tournament games in the same year for the first time in school history - will be the underdog against new tournament favorite No. 6 Maryland (26-4).
This time the glass slipper doesn’t fit the Wolfpack, as Georgia Tech takes over early and rolls 87-61.
It doesn't fit the Deacons either, as they fall 73-58 to a Maryland team that seems to be on a mission just like Georgia Tech.