Scroll down for Todd Turner’s photo gallery from Day 2 of the ACC Tournament.
The dominoes started to fall in between the morning session, after Clemson bested Miami and NC State advanced against Pitt, and the night games — one of which, the UNC game, was the toughest ticket in town just yesterday.
But the NCAA announced at 4:30 p.m. that fans would not be attending the NCAA Championship games this year in an email that hit every inbox on Press Row. While we were all wondering what pieces of our tribe constituted “essential staff,” the UNC System declared that until further notice, classes would be conducted online at all its universities.
The ACC sent its email out at 8 p.m., around halftime of the first game, again reaching every inbox in the media section: No fans at the ACC Tournament for the rest of the week, but fortunately for me, credentialed media made the cut.
Shortly thereafter, the NBA announced it would suspend its season until further notice.
It was all anyone was talking about in our little media Hooversville: a couple camera operators in the dining room searched for a precedent; the national media wondered aloud what this meant for the Olympics; everyone in the dining room was talking about it between games — including the waitstaff, who gathered in an outdoor tent near the smoking section and wondered aloud what they were going to do with their kids this week, and what they’d do next week without the income the NCAA Tournament was all but guaranteed to bring.
No fans, no work.
I’ll tell you: The news really sucked all the oxygen out of this little thesis I had been crafting since the first minutes of the Miami vs. Clemson game, birthed when I noticed that Miami’s starting lineup consisted of three guards and two forwards — a deviation from the normal configuration of two guards, two forwards and a center. And get this: Clemson started with four guards and a forward. Four guards! And one of them was Greensboro’s John Newman III, whose father, Johnny Newman, played for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA and also had a role in the 1997 Charlie Sheen film Shadow Conspiracy (he played a basketball player).
But back to the four guards. Guards can shoot. They can run. They can pass. Four of them working effectively could feed a solid big man in the paint and create buckets all day. And Miami’s two-forward formation would give them a 2-1 rebounding advantage without sacrificing speed.
Perhaps these two strategies canceled each other out too well. Barely five minutes into the game and it ground to a halt with busted plays, bad passes, thwarted shots and fouls. The half ended with a dismally low score of 23-21, even after a flurry of scoring and lead changes in the waning minutes.
The second half began on a similar grind — close in score, but dull — until Newman came alive. At the 10-minute mark, he dropped a jump shot, drew a foul and then ricocheted around the court loose ping-pong ball, disrupting, disabling, defending: the kind of moves that don’t show up on a stat sheet but can propel a team to win. He capped the run off with a bug dunk that put Clemson ahead 48-46, beginning a run that saw his team up by 11 with 1:06 left to play. And that was pretty much it.
Game 2, Pitt vs. NC State, saw a different dynamic at work. The Pitt Panthers have been relying all season on freshman forward Justin Champagnie, the best player on the team — he put up a season-high 31 points against Wake Forest on Tuesday, and last month against Syracuse he nabbed 17 rebounds. Pitt’s three-guard, two-forward starting lineup against NC State seemed designed around his play.
But NC State has a badass, too: Devon Daniels, who averaged just a point or so per game below Champagnie this season, but also has on the court with him two big men: DJ Funderburk and Manny Bates, who helped hold Champagnie down to just 9 points, to Daniels’ 23.
The battle between the great player and the great team wasn’t even close, really. NC State scored the first point, a free throw by Daniels at 19:18, and never fell behind. They won by 15 points and should face 4-seed Duke on Thursday, barring any more surprises.
Like most of the working press, I spent most of the Boston College vs. Notre Dame game in a daze of concern. But I wasn’t so spun that I didn’t clock the Irish starting lineup, which like Clemson held just a single forward and four guards.
Why would anyone do this? Well maybe you’ve got a big man who can’t shoot, so you use him to score easy layups and pull rebounds to spin out to the guards. Or maybe you’ve got one who can shoot, and all you need is to feed him passes in the low post.
Notre Dame forward John Mooney is such a player: a 6-foot-9 senior who led the ACC in regular season rebounds and shot a respectable (for a big man) .455 field-goal percentage. Plus he sets picks, grabs loose balls, is a monster on defense and is unstoppable in the paint.
By contrast, Boston College’s biggest player, 6-foot-11 senior forward Nic Popovic, spent the game on the bench in a team hoodie, sidelined with back spasms.
Even though BC kept Mooney to just eight points all day, the game was never close. Was anyone even paying attention as the Irish lead grew from 7 points at the 10:29 mark to the eventual 22 by the end of the game? Or were we all dwelling on the announcement made at the half: That the UNC vs. Syracuse game would be the last of the tournament to be witnessed live by fans.
It is part of the magic of UNC basketball that its fans, even when their 14-seeded team is coming off the worst regular season anyone can remember, can see a path to daylight. A win against Syracuse, then run the table against Louisville tomorrow and maybe Virginia on Friday, and we’d have a Duke-UNC championship game, the stuff of North Carolina basketball legend — except, there would be no one in the stands.
UNC started three guards and two forwards. Syracuse went with two guards and three forwards. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, one of them was Elijah Hughes.
Hughes, at 6-foot-6 a small forward with deceptive speed and a hot hand, had a huge game: 27 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 assists. In between the numbers he drew fouls, moved without the ball. Though UNC got within four points in the first half, the second half was all Syracuse. I knew the game was over at 7:47, when Syracuse was up 72-47. It took the Tar Heels in the Greensboro Coliseum a little longer to figure it out.
And so we close the books on Day 2 of the ACC Tournament with a certain slate of games —‚ including No. 1 seed Florida State and a big in-state match-up between 4-seed Duke and NC State — and uncertain terms.
Will the media truly be allowed back in to cover the games? Will home-court advantage cease to be a thing without any fans in the seats (looking at you, Duke)? And moreover, if there’s a great basketball game going on and there’s no one there to see it, does it even make a sound?
ACC Gallery Day 2