- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Greensboro motels were so fully packed that they were out of everything from hot water to grits. Each school's cheering section staked out a lodge, decorating the lobby with team colors, emblems, flags and everything but David Thompson pictures that glowed in the dark. Even the maids' cleaning carts had bumper stickers on them.
North Carolina rated only a mention in the pretournament figuring. Maryland (22-3) was the regular-season conference champion, N.C. State (20-5) the defending national champion, and Clemson had been playing better than anyone. The only edge UNC had was history. North Carolina and N.C. State have won seven of the eight most recent tournaments.
But the Tar Heels threw the predictions and their season's record aside once the Wake Forest game began. They forced three quick turnovers, including the Scoreboard's interception, and profited from a pair of Deacon misses on the front end of one-and-one free throws to catch up in regulation time of the opener. Guard Brad Hoffman, the only senior in the starting lineup, made the shot that tied it with three seconds left. Then Ford and substitute John Kuester buried free throws and the Deacons in the last seconds of the overtime. "What a way to start the tournament," said Smith.
The same night North Carolina State also got off to a nervous start. The Wolf-pack, which had played some desultory games during the regular season, appeared to have recaptured the spark that produced 57 victories in 58 games the previous two years. State opened up a 22-point lead against Virginia, then left fingernail scratches on the floor as it held on for a 91-85 win.
One of the Wolfpack's problems was that its center was playing for Hawaii. State Coach Norm Sloan thought he had 7-foot Tommy Barker signed, sealed and ready for delivery when the junior college transfer opted for palms instead of pines and headed for Waikiki. That forced Sloan to switch Forward Phil Spence into the middle, and the move muddled Spence's game. "It's a new season now," Spence said before the tournament started. "I'm trying to be the player I was when the season began. I was relaxed then."
Relaxation was not on Clemson's schedule. The Tigers had not won an ACC tournament game since 1964, and Coach Tates Locke was about as cheerful about that as a rock singer is about going bald. Stories that his team may be penalized by the NCAA for rules infractions also did nothing to sweeten Locke's disposition. He retaliated by barring reporters from the locker room. "It's Tates, as in hates," said one writer.
The Tigers had won 10 of their last 12 games, including a 22-point victory over N.C. State. Freshman Wise was a big reason for those successes, and it was Wise who iced the opening victory against Duke. He sank two free throws with three seconds left. Locke said, "We could have had God out there with us tonight and we would have been scared. We're used to getting up on Friday of the tournament and leaving Greensboro for home."
Maryland, which lost in overtime to North Carolina State in last year's finals, earned a first-round bye this year as reward for winning the regular-season title. The Terps also were encouraged by the knowledge that next season the tournament will be played at Capital Centre in Maryland, a result of the supplications of Lefty Driesell, who believes that holding it in tobacco country is injurious to his team's health.
Maryland's rematch with N.C. State figured to be the highlight of this year's tournament. The Terps virtually were assured an NCAA bid, but State would have to win the tourney to have a chance to defend its national title. State Guards Monte Towe and Mo Rivers knew that was no easy assignment.
"You beat up on a guy so much and he's going to get revenge," said Rivers. "Teams have been so fired up for us that it's ridiculous."