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One Devil Of A Team
Curry Kirkpatrick
March 17, 1986
No. 1-ranked Duke charged into the NCAAs after knocking off Georgia Tech for the ACC title
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March 17, 1986

One Devil Of A Team

No. 1-ranked Duke charged into the NCAAs after knocking off Georgia Tech for the ACC title

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Dawkins regained the advantage for Duke at 50-49 and again at 64-63 with a driving, pumping scooper in the lane with 1:35 to go. Still, the Tech bees, who were finally playing up to the potential promised by their own No. 1 ranking back in November, would not buzz off. Neal, subbing for the fouled-out Bruce Dalrymple, drove around Amaker to give the Jackets another lead. But it would not last. Alarie took care of that—"Salley was fatigued. Nobody challenged me on the shot," he said—and the Duke defense did the rest.

Not that Neal didn't have an opening. Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said he admired Price for dishing off and Neal for firing away, but given their druthers the Techsters would have preferred Salley to get the ball low. "I pulled the string," a crestfallen Neal admitted. "Then it felt like I swallowed my heart."

Even as these November-March book-end No. 1s settled parochial matters, it was not easy to forget how still a third ACC team—the late, not so great and currently prostrate North Carolina Tar Heels—had topped the rankings for most of the three months in between: truly a remarkable trifecta for the old conference, which has never ceased finding itself remarkable in any case. For all its posturing and press-agentry—no, it is not true that the league is booked for a guest shot with Ted Koppel—it would be difficult to imagine any conference having a better year, both team-and player-wise. In addition to Dawkins, Maryland forward Len Bias and North Carolina center Brad Daugherty may have been the best seniors at their positions in the land—they likely will be the one-two picks in the coming NBA draft—and they are just a sampling from a long, double-figure list of the league's upper-classmen coveted by the pros.

Inevitably, the six ACC teams that had won 18 games or more were rewarded with invitations to the NCAA tournament. For Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia, N.C. State and Maryland it is a new spring; for crippled North Carolina the question is no longer whether the Tar Heels can win the national championship but whether they might win a rematch with Brown (which they beat 115-63 in December). Alas, Carolina has to play Utah in the first round.

Beleaguered coach Dean Smith might have been excused if he had packed it in for the ACCs to give his Heels a chance to heal in time for the NCAAs. After Steve Hale (partially collapsed lung) and Warren Martin (sprained foot) went out, the Heels reeled into Greensboro, losers of three of their last four games. Carolina avoided total depression only when Virginia Beach high school phenom J.R. Reid announced he would sign on for the future.

Late most every season somebody gets hurt for Carolina—Phil Ford and Walter Davis in 1977, Kenny Smith in '84, Hale last year. Sure enough, just as soon as Hale appeared hearty last week against Maryland, 6'10" forward Joe Wolf crashed to the court early in the first half and had to be carried away with a sprained ankle.

Though the Tar Heels led Maryland at the half 34-28, the numbers of the Terps' Bias were more meaningful: two baskets, five turnovers; pennies from heaven for Carolina. Soon, without Wolf, the Tar Heels could not guard Bias—he had 13 points and 10 rebounds after intermission—nor play their high-low double-post offense with Daugherty alone. Maryland scored 18 of the first 21 points in the second half for a 46-37 lead and later outran the losers 20-4, as Terp guards Keith Gatlin and Jeff Baxter lit up the Carolina backcourt for 39 points. A helpless Daugherty did not score a field goal for a stretch of 16½ minutes in the 85-75 Maryland victory. "Wonder if J.R. saw this one," Maryland coach Lefty Driesell chortled. Daugherty did find time to interrupt some standard Terrapin taunting and prevent a fight.

"I just told Bias," said Daugherty, "to tell his guys to shut up because they won't play that way tomorrow."

Ah, but the Terps would. "Hey, give us credit. This was no upset," crowed Bias. It was a reasonable statement considering the fact that Maryland had begun the ACC season by losing its first six games but had turned around to win seven of its last nine.

Possessing the body of a Greek god and a surly demeanor, the 6'8" Bias has had a spectacular big-game year—41 points against Duke, 35 against Carolina, 30 against Georgia Tech. A sometime artist and a self-described born-again Christian—"Yeah," says Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times, "from the church of the Holy Vicious Elbow"—Bias was MVP of the ACC tournament as a sophomore when Maryland won it in Greensboro in 1984.

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