When Wake Forest and South Carolina took the floor for the first ACC Tournament game on Mar. 4, 1954, there were less than 4,000 fans in the Reynolds Coliseum stands.
Oh, the crowds would come later in that tournament, but the afternoon session of the first day was always a problem in the early years. The tournament would open with the quarterfinal round – which meant that every member of the original eight-team league was in action. But kids were still in school and many middle-class ticket holders still had to work. It was hard to fill the arena on Thursday afternoon.
The media didn’t help – not that first year.
The new ACC Tournament was superficially a continuation of the old Southern Conference Tournament. It was played in the same arena with most of the same teams that dominated the earlier league (indeed, Wake Forest and NC State would meet for the finals in 1953 – the last Southern Conference title game – and again in 1954 – the first ACC event). Two years after 1954, Durham Morning Herald Sports Editor Jack Horner wrote that he had to remind himself that it was the ACC Tournament and not the Southern Conference Tournament.
But there was a fundamental difference between the two events. The 17-team Southern Conference was exclusionary – only eight teams qualified for the tournament, so that more than half the league was excluded. The new ACC allowed all eight teams to participate.
Unfortunately, the media at the time saw that as a bad thing. By cutting out the worst nine teams of the Southern Conference, the league usually guaranteed that the first round – the quarterfinals – were competitive. There were teams in the new ACC – such as 5-18 Clemson (0-9 in the ACC) and 10-16 South Carolina (2-8 ACC with both wins coming over Clemson) that never would have made it to the Southern Conference Tournament.
That’s why so many supposedly knowledgeable writers dismissed the quarterfinals of the inaugural ACC Tournament. The league’s best teams would certainly make mincemeat of those unqualified participants, right? The AP preview of the event confidently assured readers that the tournament’s real action wouldn’t begin until Friday night’s semifinals.
Is it any wonder than few fans made a special effort to be there Thursday afternoon for the first quarterfinal session?
As it turned out, the ACC Tournament had a surprise for all the experts. Lowly South Carolina gave Wake Forest’s defending champions (well, they were defending the ’53 Southern Conference crown) more than they bargained for. Unheralded center Lee Collins battled ACC player of the year Dickie Hemric to a draw in the first 35-plus minutes. The Gamecocks led by 10 at the half and were up double figures late in the third quarter (at the time, games were divided into four 10-minute quarters) before Hemric – unable to get the ball against the South Carolina zone – began to convert on the offensive boards.
Wake tied the game and eventually won 58-57 in overtime.
Maryland, with future national basketball association coach Gene Shue scoring 28 points, did take care of Clemson as expected in the afternoon’s second game. And when Duke took on Virginia in the first night game, the Blue Devils were so much in control that Virginia coach Bus Male decided to turn star Buzzy Wilkinson loose to go after the tournament scoring record.
Here’s the interesting thing. Since it was just the third game of the first ACC Tournament, technically the ACC Tournament scoring record was held by Shue, who had 28 points in the second game. But the number that Wilkinson was aiming at was the 41-point game that Shue had recorded a year earlier – in the Southern Conference Tournament (more evidence of how the ACC event was viewed as a continuation of the former tournament).
Wilkinson did get the “new” record, scoring 42 points on 13-of-44 shooting (16-of-22 free throws).
Even though Maryland and Duke coasted in their quarterfinal tests, the first day of the first ACC Tournament ended the way it started – with a thriller. Heavily favored N.C. State was matched against a very mediocre UNC team (11-9, 5-6 ACC). Frank McGuire elected to hold the ball to slow the potent Wolfpack offense. It wasn’t the all-out stall that would become all too common in the late 1960s, but it was an extremely patient offense.
Many in the crowd – and not just State fans – were outraged. But UNC walked to a 33-31 halftime lead and kept it close until the end with a controversial finish, involving intentional fouls, technical fouls and one egregious officiating error – allowed N.C. State to escape with a 52-51 victory.
In the end, the four favorites did win – but the drama of that first day set the tone for what would become the greatest event in college basketball.
I’ve always loved the quarterfinal round. It used to be the one day where every ACC team was on display, bringing the small, family-like league together. That’s gone with the expansion wind, but the quarterfinal day remains my favorite day of the ACC Tournament.
In think hindsight, the best quarterfinal round I ever saw was in 1970 – in the old Charlotte Coliseum (the round cupcake on Independence Boulevard).
The ’70 Tournament opened with a terrible Clemson team (7-18, 2-12 in the ACC) stunning top seed South Carolina (23-2, 14-0 ACC) with one of the ACC’s great deep freeze games – it served McGuire, who introduced the first slowdown in tournament history in 1954, right). The game was tied 12-12 at the half and it took a couple of controversial officiating calls for the overwhelmingly favored Gamecocks to pull out a 34-33 victory.
The crowd had barely caught its breath after that game, when No. 7 seed Virginia (9-14, 3-11 ACC) threw an even more amazing scare into No. 2 seed North Carolina (18-8, 9-5 ACC). The Cavaliers didn’t use any slowdowns or other gimmicks – they simply ran the favored Tar Heels off their feet, racing to a 45-38 halftime lead and withstanding a 41-point performance by the great Charlie Scott to hold on for a 95-93 victory.
You have to understand, Virginia had not won an ACC Tournament game since 1959 – they went 0-for-10 for the decade of the 1960s. When they upset UNC in 1970, many Virginia fans, expecting another one-and-out, had to scramble for hotel rooms. Even the team had only booked rooms for one night and had to get help to extend their stay in Charlotte!
The first night game of the quarterfinals matched N.C. State – No. 10 in the nation and 19-6 overall – against Lefty Driesell’s first Maryland team -a very mediocre 13-12. But the Terps took the lead at the half and hung tough until Van Williford finally went off (finishing with 30 points) and helped State pull out a 10-point win.
There was no late-game drama in the Duke-Wake Forest game that closed the first day, but it was still a great game. Northwestern transfer Larry Sanders had the game of his life for the Blue Devils (29 points, 12 rebounds) and Randy Denton battled Gil McGregor to a draw in a battle of the ACC’s two most powerful big men. But Duke didn’t have an answer for Charlie Davis (who would a year later become the ACC’s first black player of the year), who poured in 25 points and helped Jack McClockey’s Deacs held off Bucky Waters’ first Duke team.
That tournament ended with a double overtime thriller – as N.C. State stunned South Carolina – but nothing was better for a young sportswriter than that quarterfinal round.
A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
There was a popular poster (a wall poster – there was no such thing then as an Internet poster) in my college days – a cartoon of a New York City view of the world. The drawing showed the city covering most of the scene with the rest of the country and the world relegated to a tiny sliver of existence.
I thought about that poster when I read Peter Thamel’s column in Sports Illustrated, arguing that the ACC needed to move its tournament to New York City and Madison Square Garden.
First, let me say that’s not going to happen.
The ACC DID explore the idea of scheduling an occasional tournament in the self-billed “most famous arena in the world.” The idea was to play one tournament in the Big Apple every five or six years, just as the league likes to play an occasional tournament in Atlanta or Washington, DC.
Unfortunately, Madison Square Garden officials were only willing to negotiate a long-term lease – like the 10-year deal that Thamel suggested. The ACC is not ready to dump on its Tobacco Road roots and become the new Big East Tournament.
So the ACC to New York is not happening any time soon.
Still, the question remains, SHOULD the ACC abandon Tobacco Road and move to the Garden, as Thamel suggests?
Or is Thamel’s idea merely an example of old-fashioned New York City myopia?
I would argue that there was a time when New York City offered significant exposure that wasn’t available anywhere else. There were kids shooting the jump shot s before Hank Luisetti, but when the Stanford star did it in the Garden, everybody took notice. Duke gained its first real national basketball exposure with a tough, overtime loss to Clair Bee’s Long Island Blackbirds in a Garden doubleheader on New Year’s Day, 1944.
But that age has passed – long passed. The ACC doesn’t need New York City for validation or exposure. The league already has maximum national exposure from ESPN. The Duke-UNC basketball games are the most valuable properties in college basketball. The ACC championship game on Sunday afternoon is a national fixture.
Playing in New York City is not going to bring the league any more money (the TV money wouldn’t change and the Garden is actually more than 3,000 seats smaller than the Greensboro Coliseum, meaning less tickets to sell … plus a higher rental fee for the facility) or exposure.
Thamel argues that he talked to half a dozen coaches and administrators at the Big East Tournament this week and they all agree that it would be a great idea to move the ACC to New York.
Well, duh – those are all New York and Big East guys. I wonder what Thamel would hear if he talked to ACC people?
The Sports Illustrated author went into bizarro world when he suggested the ACC needed to move to New York City to protect itself from raids from other conferences. How misguided can you be – the ACC may be vulnerable to expansion, but if it is, that’s a national football league issue, not basketball. The ACC already has the strongest basketball brand in the game – moving to New York City isn’t going to change that … and it’s not going to change the fact that the Big Ten TV network gives that league a financial edge over any other conference.
The whole argument reflects nothing more than New York City arrogance.
I’m sure those big city slickers would love to steal our crown jewel.
But I can’t see what’s in it for the ACC.
At some point, the ACC Tournament will move to New York City – for a year.
But it will return to Tobacco Road and “quaint” Greensboro Coliseum on a regular basis.
The big question going into the first game of the semifinals was how well Miami would play.
There was a time in mid-February when the Hurricanes looked like the best team in the country. As they rolled to a 13-0 ACC record, Miami became the fashionable pick of shallow analysts – Digger Phelps and the like.
But a funny thing happened en route to Miami’s coronation – the Hurricanes became mortal, losing three of four games down the stretch. Of those three, just one was a strong performance – in a 3-point loss at Duke. But Miami also lost at Wake Forest, then stunningly lost at home to Georgia Tech.
In the regular season finale – a game Miami suddenly had to win to claim the regular season title – the ‘Canes went into halftime tied with lowly Clemson – at home.
Now, Miami did take control in the second half and pull out a 13-point win, but it was hardly the kind of impressive performance that had LeBron James and Dwayne Wade cheering from courtside as the ‘Canes slapped the floor in a 27-point victory over Duke.
According to Miami coach Jim Larranaga, his team got to 13-0 in the ACC, then lost focus.
“You get to a point where you’ve played very well for a long time and it’s very, very hard to keep your foot on the accelerator,” he said. “And there’s a tendency to let up at some point. I thought we did in very late February. It’s hard to recapture momentum again.”
He saw the same thing happen in 1981, when Virginia (Larranaga was an assistant to Terry Holland) dominated the ACC, winning the league by three games. But that team went into the ACC Tournament in Landover, Md., and laid an egg – losing by 22 to Maryland in the semifinals.
Larranaga said the ’81 Cavs used that performance as a wakeup call.
“That Virginia team – losing that game to Maryland in the ACC Tournament might have been the true motivation for us to get back to playing at a very high level at both ends of the court. And we got to the Final Four.”
He hopes Miami can find the same kind of trigger in Greensboro this week – not necessarily a loss, but some kind of wakeup call.
Miami didn’t get its call against Boston College. Leading by 13 late in the first half, the ‘Canes collapsed as quickly and as thoroughly as Georgia Tech did against the Eagles a day earlier. Boston College turned a 21-8 deficit into a 27-25 halftime lead.
The second half was a war – a sloppy war played at BC’s pace and at BC’s level. Miami finally pulled it out as Shane Larkin asserted himself in the final minutes, but if Digger Phelps had watched that Miami team, he wouldn’t be picking them to win it all.
Of course, Miami will get at least one more chance to regain its swagger Saturday in the semifinals, but if the ‘Canes play like they did Friday and N.C. State repeats its Friday performance, the Pack will send Miami back to South Beach.
The big surprise in Saturday’s second semifinal game was not how well N.C. State played but how lifelessly Virginia played.
How could they be so lackadaisical?
Nobody knows for sure, but the consensus of opinion was that Virginia needed this game to survive the NCAA bubble and earn an NCAA Tournament bid. But the Cavs went through the motions as if nothing was at line. Heck, last year’s Virginia team – with an NCAA bid locked up – gave N.C. State a better battle in a 3-point loss.
Of course, Virginia has been schizophrenic all season – consistently outstanding at home and consistently mediocre on the road.
This was the road version – one that shot 38.9 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from the 3-point line. This is a team that was hammered on the boards and beaten to every 50-50 ball.
Virginia looked like a team that wanted to play in the NIT … or at least deserved to play in the NIT.
N.C. State looked like a team ready to beat the 2013 ACC regular season champions as badly in the semifinals as Maryland beat the 1981 regular season champs in the semifinals.
As bad as Virginia looked Friday and as lifeless as Miami appeared to be in their ACC opener, Duke was worse.
The Blue Devils’ lackadaisical behavior stunned the Duke coaching staff that was confident their team would make up for a subpar performance last month in College Park. Instead, Duke came out so obviously flat that Coach K called a timeout 90 seconds into the game.
“We came out of the gate fast and they weren’t themselves at the start – that was the difference,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said.
Duke never did regain the rhythm that it had displayed since the return of Ryan Kelly. The Blue Devils – the ACC’s best 3-point team – hit just 4 of 25 from behind the arch, a frigid 16.0 percent. It was Duke’s worst 3-point shooting game since the 1989 championship game in Atlanta.
At the same time, Maryland – one of the ACC’s weakest 3-point teams – shot a solid 8-of-20 (40.0) – about what Duke usually shoots. And the usually mediocre 3-point shooting Terps hit 23 of 25 from the line.
Even at that, Duke had a chance midway through the second half, when the Devils closed the lead to 48-46 and had possession with a chance to tie (for the first time since 0-0). Mason Plumlee drove the lane and put up a shot as he collided with a Maryland defender.
The shot went in and the whistle blew.
I immediately recalled a similar situation in the last minute of the 1957 UNC-Maryland game. Undefeated and No. 1 ranked UNC trailed the Deacs by one when Lennie Rosenbluth drove the lane and put up a shot as he collided with Wake Forest’s Wendell Carr.
Every non-UNC fan who was there swears that it should have been a charge of Rosenbluth, negating the basket and giving Wake the ball. Instead, it was ruled a block on Carr, Rosenbluth made a free throw, UNC won by two and the Tar Heels went on to win the national championship.
A similar call in this case would have tied the game and put Plumlee on the line with a chance to give Duke its first lead of the game. Instead, the call was charging and Maryland came down and got back to back baskets from freshman Shaquille Cleare to start a 17-6 run that essentially clinched the game.
“A lot about tonight is not us and not what we didn’t do,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s about Maryland. They were trying to survive and they played like it.”
Did Turgeon offer future Duke opponents a blueprint to deal with the previously invincible with-Kelly lineup?
The Maryland coach isn’t sure, but he did admit that his scheme was to go small and to switch on every Duke screen. It worked on this occasion. Will it work for Duke’s NCAA foes?
Or will Duke make some of the shots they missed against the Terps?
At least Krzyzewski and his staff will have an extra two days to get ready for the NCAA tournament – to rest Seth Curry and his fragile leg and to give Kelly more practice team to get in rhythm. If there was any good news in the defeat, it was the strong performance of freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, who exploded out of his recent funk in a big way.
While Duke is resting and practicing, North Carolina – beaten so badly by the Blue Devils just a week ago – won their quarterfinal game with Florida State with some torrid 3-point shooting (10 of-22).
It was a rematch of the 2012 title game – although neither team bore much resemblance to the ’12 finalists. Michael Snaer, the only FSU starter from that game still around, had 20 to pace the Seminoles. James Michael McAdoo (who only started the ’12 title game because John Henson was hurt) and Reggie Bullock were the only returning starters for the Heels.
Now, UNC will meet Maryland in the semifinals, while N.C. State tests the top-seeded Miami Hurricanes.
Duke, for the first time since 2007 and only the second time since 1997, will be idle on Saturday.
Now that the Blue Devils can’t win it, can I offer the personal hope that we end up with an N.C. State-Maryland finale – a rematch of the 1974 championship game, 39 years later, on the same Greensboro Coliseum Court where David Thompson and Tommy Burleson dueled Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and John Lucas in the greatest game ever played., http://juicedsportsblog.com/sports-news/news/featherston-the-quarterfinals
Popularity: 1% [?]