Almost before the noncrowd of 6,937 had filed into the arena in Greensboro, Challenge officials acknowledged that they had made a mistake by scheduling two consecutive nights in a venue where the lack of interest in anything but fraternal ACC warfare is freely admitted. "The Big East vastly overestimates our fascination with their league," said Lenox Rawlings of the Winston-Salem Journal. "Seton Hall was a nobody before last year."
Well, the Pirates may be somebodies again because of a brand-new backcourt of junior college transfer Oliver Taylor and freshman Terry Dehere, who combined for 44 points, including the last nine in overtime. The visitors were almost Tucker-ed out by the Demon Deacons' new pivotman, a 6'8" transfer from Georgetown. Tucker scored 18 points in the second half, including two free throws to tie the game with five seconds left, and then nearly won it on a jumper that was all the way i...whoops!...before it banged the back rim and flew out. "Wake reminds me of us two years ago," a gracious Carlesimo said. "They may be an NCAA team already."
With the ACC behind in the Challenge for the first—and last—time after the Seton Hall victory, the N.C. State-St. John's game turned suddenly when Redmen guard Greg (Boo) Harvey angrily slammed the ball against the floor after being called for a foul with St. John's ahead 50-44 and 11:11 left. Boohoo. State scored the next eight points—the Wolfpack backcourt of Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani accounted for 15 baskets in the game—which sent Valvano into paroxysms of jolliness. He even acknowledged using the conferences' rivalry as motivation. "Sure," he said. "I told my guys I didn't want us [the ACC] to go down 3-1."
OWENS, OH MY!
Providence's take-no-prisoners, 94-foot style made Clemson look chaotic, even for Clemson, before Davis shockingly made his winning free throws. "[Rick] Pitino stuff," Tiger coach Ellis sneeringly called the Providence strategy. "Nobody in our league plays like that."
Nobody in the ACC plays like Duke, either. Top-ranked Syracuse knew it was in for something special when the well-heeled Duke student zoo turned up in seemingly full force, chanting its favorite printable epithet at the poor little orange fuzzball, "Stu-pid mas-cot."
By the end of the nerve-racking struggle in which the Blue Devils emerged from a 32-17 first-half deficit to make a game of it—there were 13 ties in the last 15:17—a single message stood out: The only difference between the teams was a new Big O, the brilliant 6'9" sophomore Owens, who had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while playing center, point guard and everything in between—and who made it abundantly clear that Syracuse is promoting the wrong guy (senior Derrick Coleman) for player of the year.
"It felt like a Final Four game," said Duke center Alaa Abdelnaby, who has played in a couple of those encounters. "When you lose, you're supposed to go down in the rankings—but Duke should move up," said Syracuse's Johnson, the man whom Owens, while dribbling over midcourt near the left sideline, spotted underneath the Duke basket with time running out. Despite stiff pressure from the Blue Devils' Robert Brickey, Owens somehow lasered an astounding across-the-body bullet pass to Johnson to set up the winning free throws.
The one desolate face in the Duke locker room belonged to freshman guard Bobby Hurley—a Sean Penn look-alike—who was burned for 21 points by Syracuse senior Stephen Thompson. "We can't be losing this type of game," he lamented. But then Hurley's national high school champion team, St. Anthony's in Jersey City, N.J., lost only one game in two seasons.
TWIN TOWERS OR TERRORS?