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2008
3
Mar

Comeback Weekend 2008

Comeback Weekend 03/03/08

There were five ACC games played over the weekend. All five at various points had one team holding a double-digit lead. What made the whole business somewhat interesting is that four of the five managed to lose.

Things kicked off in grand style noon Saturday with Duke playing at NC State. Given Duke’s gaudy record and State’s underachieving, the game was expected to provide little more than backdrop for the celebration of Coach K’s 800th career win. The Duke coach did notch the milestone victory, but it didn’t come easy.

For the first time since the last time they pounded Virginia Tech, the Pack summoned up sufficient motivation to actually make a game of it. State dominated most of the contest, easily finding the gaps in what has recently become a very suspect Duke defense. Even the sideline demeanor of El Sid changed from his usual stare of blank incomprehension to something approaching awareness.

In the end, however, Duke demonstrated why Coach K was in a position to chalk up win #800. The Devils charged back in the final few moments to grasp victory from the jaws of what would have been a very bad loss.

The last few minutes of the game did conjure up memories of what used to be an ACC staple, the Tobacco Road shootout. There was time when all four of the ACC’s North Carolina teams used to always play these types of games against each other, at least twice against all of the others and usually more, counting the old Big Four and ACC tournaments. The end of Saturday’s game brought thoughts back to some of the fierce struggles waged between close friends Coach K and Jim Valvano. ACC expansion and lousy Wolfpack teams means we don’t often see them anymore.

Yearly round-robins between Carolina and Wake and Duke and State have been lost due to expansion and conference flavor and reputation that was largely built on these intra-state tussles has been lost along with it. Those NC sports columnists bitching about the loss of them have a point.

While there have been positives to expansion from this Hokie’s point of view, such as the expanding Merryman trophy case and much shorter football road trips, replacing one of the Duke-State basketball classics with either playing in front of a sparse, disinterested crowd in Fredo’s Conte Forum counts as a negative.

Following the opening instant classic game, ACC attention became divided between Wake-Georgia Tech and the Hoos at the Canes. Actually, there was very little division. GT took an early lead over the Deacons, then held on for a win that very likely, barring some unexpected run in next week’s ACC Tournament, will have Wake contemplating the NIT and next year, when the infusion of mega-talent to the league’s youngest roster should have the Deacs scary good.

The real action was in Miami. Much of it occurred before the game. Eagle-eyed ACC refs noticed that one goal in Miami’s arena was tilted slightly downward, about the first thing noticed about basketball by anybody in south Florida. Suggestions that crack Canes’ maintenance workers might repair it were met with blank stares. Finally it was proposed that the eschew goal be replaced by a spare one. This failed when it was discovered there was no spare goal. This is, after all, Canes basketball we are talking about.

During the next half-hour, otherwise known as the ‘What do we do now?’ phase of the game, it was pointed out that the game could be re-scheduled. Already faced with a busy week brought on by that rarest of happenstances, an indoor basketball game being rained out, Hoos’ coach Fallback Dave, showing all the interest expected from the coach of a 13-13 team residing at the bottom of the ACC standings playing out the season’s string, said, “Screw it, let’s play.” And play they did, electing not to play a schoolyard half-court game but instead actually using the full court and the non-regulation goal.

It was a wild affair featuring outstanding performances by what just might be the ACC’s two best guards, Sean Singletary of the Hoos and the Canes’ Jack McClinton. McClinton’s torrid three-point shooting sparked the Canes to a 15-point late lead before Singletary, as has happened often this year, led the Hoos to a stirring comeback. As also has happened often this year, Singletary’s heroics were in vain as the Hoos lost by two.

The dejected facial expression on the face of the Hoos’ superlative guard indicated that he was thinking about the many millions he cost himself by returning to Hooville for his senior year. It could also be assumed that when Singletary cast his collegiate lot with Petey four years ago it probably never once crossed his mind that he would spend his final season playing for a coach utterly incapable of surrounding him with decent talent.

The Hoos-Canes donnybrook ended just in time to channel-surf over to a very surprising score between Carolina and Fredo. The Tar Heels actually trailed what now looks like the ACC’s worst team by double digits. This was largely due to an absolute scoring explosion by Fredo’s guard Tyrese Rice, who lit up Carolina for 38 First Half points. Ol’ Roy’s vertigo was caused this time by the rapid swiveling of his head as he watched shot after shot by Rice sail through the basket.

As has happened a few times this year, opponents of Carolina have to play the customary two halves and another upset bid foundered in the second. After the lead ballooned to 18, an exasperated and dizzy Ol’ Roy set his starters down in favor of guys who actually demonstrated some inclination to play. The lead quickly disappeared and the Heels turned that 18-point deficit into a 10-point win. This was aided and abetted considerably by, as also has happened a few times this year, Fredo’s Rice scoring a bunch of points but disappearing later in the game. Fredo’s dismal record indicates that Rice ain’t Jared Dudley.

By Sunday, there was only one weekend ACC left to play, Clemson at Maryland. The best was saved for last. For 29 minutes the Terps dominated, holding a 20-point 59-39 lead. One would think this would be a big enough cushion for even Maryland and one would be wrong.

The Terps then proceeded to demonstrate that the late collapse against Tech was no fluke by topping it, this time blowing that 20-point lead and losing to Clem 73-70. The game’s stunning ending left Maryland students hurling their usual obscenities, this time at the celebrating Tigers and Gary Williams wearing the facial expression of a death row inmate who just got his first glimpse of Old Sparky.

Expert opinion has concluded that Maryland has managed to late-game collapse its way out of the NCAA Tournament, although you do have to wonder about ‘expert’ opinions such as ESPN’s babbler Digger Phelps, who spent much of the weekend steadfastly claiming that 105 teams were “dead solid locks” to make the 65-team field. The loss by the Terps to Clem has likely culled the herd to 104.

There is another week left in the regular season before things get really interesting. There will be ACC games to enjoy on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. They will have trouble matching the high drama and comedy that was seen last weekend. From my perspective and vantage point, however, they are certainly welcome to try.

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