Virginia (2) – 68
North Carolina (7) – 59

Clemson (3) – 80
NC State (6) – 54

Before a nearly full house in the first game of the evening session at the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals, the 7-seed Carolina Tar Heels and 2-seed Virginia Cavaliers nearly put me to sleep.

The first 15 minutes of the half were like a slapfight at the bus stop: a lot of arm-waving and movement, but nobody really got hurt. Silly turnovers, poorly conceived shots, turnover that went nowhere. After 12 minutes, Carolina was up 13-11 when a 3-pointer by Virginia’s Isaac McNeely flipped the lead. They’d get up by 8 before Carolina started to come back, putting together a 6-0 run in the waning minutes. Nobody was putting up numbers, with the exception of Carolina’s RJ Davis, who finished the half with 12, 8 of them in the last five minutes. The halftime score of 25-24, to Virginia’s advantage, didn’t inspire much confidence that Carolina would get the win that they would need to even be considered for the NCAA Tournament next week. They haven’t missed the Big Dance since 2010, unless you count the COVID year, in which they probably would not have made the cut before the tourney got canceled. And I don’t.

Where were the high-flying commandos who put up 85 points last night? Where was the defense that rendered Boston College ineffectual? After scoring 8 in the first half, Leaky Black Leaky Black got stymied for most of the second. After rolling his ankle last night, Armando Bacot was wobbling around like a buck dancer. Or maybe he always moves like that? The only thing that seemed to be working was Davis’ 3-point acumen and Carolina’s ability to draw fouls. They entered the bonus with 11:23 left in the game, and up until that point had hit 100 percent of their free throws, 7-7.

Had they kept that up, they might have won that game. But once UNC entered the bonus, they started missing free throws, five of them before the end of it. There was one point, with 2:46 left on the clock, that Carolina came within 3 points after an RJ Davis layup, so close the fans could smell it in the air. But the Tar Heels could not close. No NCAA Tournament (probably — the NCAA loves them some Carolina), no Tobacco Road showdown for the championship and no salvation for the ACC.



Last night 6-seed NC State fairly steamrolled 11-seed Virginia Tech. Clemson, a 3-seed in their tournament debut, would be a much different type of opponent. Clemson swept NC State during the regular season, the last time on the Wolfpack’s home turf by a convincing 25 points, 96-71.

But before we get into it I want to talk about NC State’s DJ Burns Jr., a bear of a man at 6-foot-9 with a listed weight of 275, which there’s just no way. A grad-student transfer from Winthrop in his first year with the Wolfpack, he’s immovable in the box and a bully under the boards, where he’s got a knack for being in the right place. He led the team in rebounds (158) and blocks (28) during the regular season, and bears the distinction of being the only starter on the team never to attempt a single 3-point shot.

Still, he scores a lot, moving with surprisingly delicate speed when he’s close to the hoop.

Against Clemson, his team did better when he was on the floor to handle Clemson’s big guys, barreling through Ben Middlebrooks, whipping around PJ Hall. In the first half, they kept trying to draw charges on him, but he’d wait in the pocket for just the right moment to throw a legal shoulder. Usually. It is worth nothing that Burns Jr. also led the team in personal fouls.

But he only played 12 minutes in the first half, dropping 8 points and contributing just 1 rebound.

The Wolfpack held the lead for most of the first half; Clemson pulled ahead at the 8-minute mark maintained a 3-point lead at the buzzer, 39-36.

In the second half, a 10-0 run starting at 16:06 put Clemson ahead 55-52. A 12-0 run at 9:49 gave them a 67-46 lead. And there was just no coming back from there. Not even Burns Jr. could save them, though he managed a team-high 12 in just 30 minutes of play.

On the Clemson side, Ian Schieffelin and PJ Hall each dropped 15 points, while Hunter Tyson snagged 12 rebounds along with his 10 points and Chase Hunter had 9 assists and 11 points.

The scrubs finished this one out. Final score:

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