by DeMarco Williams
All right, Big East. The ACC has let you solo shine for a day, but now it’s time for some real hoops action. Man, do y’all understand that this conference has an eight- and nine-seed, Miami and Virginia Tech, with 35 combined wins? Yet, here they are, trying to convince the selection committee that just because you finish 7-9 in conference doesn’t mean you’re not a NCAA tourney-caliber team. Craaazy.
But whatever. The days leading up to Thursday’s tip at the Georgia Dome have been filled with stories about tickets going unsold (the recession) and memories of the freak tragic tornado hitting downtown Atlanta during the SEC Tournament almost exactly a year ago (the depression).
Inside the Dome today, there’s another natural disaster lurking- the bubble-sitting Miami Hurricanes (18-13). Both they and their opponents, the Virginia Tech Hokies (17-13), need this game and, maybe, a few others over the weekend to feel good about their chances of an NCAA invite. Here’s how they did…
Game 1: No. 9 Miami vs. No. 8 Virginia Tech
– The Georgia Dome is extremely organized. Uniformed help is all over. Signs are clear and understandable. Things are so tight that, during a moment when a guard lets writers pass through a walkway at the same time players are coming off the court after warm-ups, this woman, who appears to be an ACC front-office type, scolds the guy about letting us pass. Loudly. In front of everyone. Sad.
– Jack McClinton, Miami’s do-everything guard, gets the Skip Prosser Award, an honor seemingly given for doing well on the field and in the classroom. Good stuff. But that haircut –Think: P-Diddy Mohawk meets Wesley Snipes in Blade- not so much…
– Hmm, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was saying, is pretty light. The official number is somewhere around 26,000, but I can’t see over 20,000 being in the building right now.
– Nerves are all over the place. You can tell by all of the clumsy ball movement and fouls. First team to call down may have the advantage.
– Oh my, this McClinton has some serious handles. And he’s hella quick. An energetic bunch of the Miami faithful is beside me. Somebody in the crowd goes, “Take it to the hoop, Jack!” Don’t know about that, but he does take three early shots and missing them all. He’s on the bench around the 15-minute mark.
– 12-2 start for Virginia Tech. But like the Hokies reporter besides me says, “They’ve done this before.”
– The U’s Cyrus McGowan is pretty active underneath. I like that. Definitely see him and Va. Tech’s Jeff Allen battling some in the interior.
– Finally hear from the Virginia Tech band with 11:47 left. Maybe their director got stuck in traffic on Northside Drive. Geez, it’s nuts out there.
– The only thing worst than the Hokies’ musical timeliness is Miami’s shooting. If it’s better than 30%, I’d be shocked. My new Hokie friend beside me says it’s 27%.
– My Hokie colleague goes “Oh Lord!” when VT’s Cheick Diakite takes a jumper. It touches hardly anything… I now understand the outburst.
– Today’s PA announcer is REALLY struggling. I’ve never heard a guy say “I’m sorry” or “Check that…” so many times during a game. It’s kind of annoying.
– McClinton, a 20ppg guy during the year, has zero points with four minutes left in the half. Hokie guards Dorenzo Hudson and Malcolm Delaney are putting the clamps on dude.
– Jeff Allen is quietly doing his thing. He’s got six points and hustle plays that’ll never show up on ESPN. Plus, he’s doing a good job on McClinton during the switches… well, until Jack finally hits a teardrop with about three minutes left.
– McClinton hits a jumper. Might he be heating up? The Hurricane faithful is definitely standing up, feeling the momentum go there way some. After being down by double figures during most of the sloppy, relatively-uneventful first half, Miami’s fought back to a 28-24 deficit at the half.
– One Hokie name that went unmentioned in the first is leading scorer A.D. Vassallo. He makes sure that won’t happen in the second by scoring a quick four points, giving him 10 for the game.
– The guys were probably thinking so much about “We gotta win this one to make the NCAA tournament” that “We gotta win to play North Carolina tomorrow” never entered their heads. The coaches seemingly fixed that at the half. Overall, the pace has picked up tremendously in the second frame.
– Getting physical out there. Nah, don’t take my word for it. Just look at Jeff Allen. Dude has to change his jersey from 0 to 13 because of blood.
– McClinton isn’t really having the typical game you’d expect from him. Still, he’s showing flashes of the AI-like quickness and fearlessness. He’s got a flashy nine points. His total for the game? That same flashy nine.
– Hurricane Adrian Thomas kills any movement the U had with two lazy passes that end up in VT’s hands. The game notes say he ends up with four turnovers. Dude only played 17 minutes. Yikes!
– Hudson muscles in for a board and a put back. The crowd erupts. He and Vassallo, now with 14, aren’t having hey-look-at-me kinds of games, but they are doing the little things to keep the scoreboard in their team’s favor.
– Dang, it’s 55-37, Hokies. This one is getting out of hand. Miami fans sitting behind their team’s bench is in utter shock. They didn’t make the 13-hour drive to the A for this, I know. They’re not talking. They’re not clapping. They’re not nothing.
– Malcolm Delaney deserves some credit next to Hudson and Vassallo. At first you’re thrown by the kid’s 1-for-10 shooting, but when you look at his point total and see 17, you’re like how’d that happen. 14-for-15 from the free throw line happened, that’s what.
– The Hokies are up 20 with two minutes left. The starters take a seat to a nice cascade of claps. Virginia Tech’s feint hopes of making the dance grow a little brighter with this more-than-convincing win over Miami, 65-47.
– During the post-game, VT coach Seth Greenberg: “Just a really solid team win overall. The big thing for us was the finish… I told the guys, we finish games, maybe we haven’t made a shot on the last possession and maybe we haven’t stopped someone. But we finish games. I told them- don’t be afraid.”
– A.D. Vassallo: “We’re playing right now for a spot in the NCAA Tournament but more than that we’re playing for the ACC Championship. We’re playing the ACC Tournament and we’re in the mindset that we’re going to win games. We’ve just got to go and play like we did today. We’ve just got to go out there and play as hard as we can.”
– Jack McClinton: “We got outplayed today. They did great on defense and executing on offense and that was the difference in the game. I didn’t play my game at all. I wasn’t going to get my shot as much. I played a bad game. I got to put it behind and keep going.”
Game 2: No. 12 Georgia Tech vs. No. 5 Clemson
By most accounts, Georgia Tech’s season has been a failure. 11-18 record overall. 2-14 in the ACC. Losers of 12 of 13 during one particularly-brutal stretch. Like a Jermaine Dupri/Whoopi Goldberg love child, it just hasn’t been pretty. But a closer look will tell you that Paul Hewitt’s squad hasn’t really been all that bad, seeing as how they lost a remarkable 10 games by five points or less. During one close win, an 86-84 upset of then No. 4 Wake Forest on January 31, SLAM was in the building, taking game notes. Just keep that tidbit in mind as the second game of the ACC tournament, this one between the Yellow Jackets and No. 18 Clemson, tips off.
– The Jackets come out fired up. They’ve got some pep in their jump step. They’ve moving the ball well. Forward Zach Peacock drops a quick mid-ranger. Too bad there appears to be more Clemson fans in the building than Tech followers. Really? The school’s, like, five minutes away- walking!
– All in all, the pace is a lot faster early on than the first game. Just look at Tech guard Iman Shumpert. He’s covered in sweat and they’ve only played four minutes. Pace yourself, young fella.
– Lewis Clinch, Tech’s leader in scoring, shows why, going in and knocking them out from deep. He’s got an early seven.
– But even with all the early scoring, the Yellow Jackets are having some serious issues with Clemson’s defense, especially their full-court presses. Just about every possession is facing either a timeout or some sort of indecision from the guy putting the ball inbounds.
– Clemson freshman Bryan Narcisse looks just like Horace Grant might have 20 years back. Horace could never jump like this kid though.
– There goes another Tech timeout because they couldn’t get the ball in. Hewitt’s gotta do something about that.
– Tiger Raymond Sykes is lanky and has ridiculously-long dreads, but the kid’s got great footwork and I love his energy. For all those reasons, you can’t miss him on the floor.
– “What are you doing, Zach,” asks a fan about five rows behind me after the muscular forward misses a wide-open J. “Take it to the hole, Zach!” Good advice.
– Remember Clinch? He’s got 13 with about four minutes to go in the 1st.
– Know Trevor Booker? He’s one of Clemson’s interior rocks, and he’s got nine because of his intensity.
– Man, don’t you just love the three or four guys at the end of every college bench that stand for everything and give dap to every guy coming to the seat for a rest. Love’em.
– I also love how Tech’s throwing seeding out the window for this one. Who cares that they’re the 12th seed facing a 5. The Jackets came to play. 39-39 at the half.
– Like the case was in the 1st, the Yellow Jackets come out the locker rooms with the pedal to the floor. They quickly go up 44-39 after a thunderous Peacock slam.
– There’s some back and forth for a minute, until Clinch hits a sweet 20-footer. The young man’s got 21. Feels like he’s on his way to a special day.
– The jumbotron locks in on a fan who’s going in on some popcorn. Who’s the fan? None other than new Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens. Can’t think of any collegiate connection for T.O., but I’m almost certain he still has a house in the Atlanta area. Plus, the dude really digs basketball.
– Tech’s Gani Lawal, a third-team All-ACCer, has been consistent today, but before a nice alley-oop from, who else, Lewis Clinch, he hadn’t done anything really remarkable.
– Though the Clemson Tigers can’t seem to get anything going, Booker’s still at it. The impressive forward’s got 13.
– Though the Clemson Tigers can’t seem to get anything going, their full-court D is amazing… or Tech just didn’t bother practicing it much this week.
– Lawal gets the ball pretty deep in the paint, but he dishes it off to Alade Aminu, who then fumbles it out of bounds. There’s a timeout on the floor. Coach Hewitt immediately approaches Lawal with a just-shoot-the-damn-thing motion. I like Lawal, really I do. But he goes in and out of focus in games sometimes. After a few more possessions, he’s regained his composure and he’s pumped up. He dunks and starts beating his chest. Tech, 62-55.
– Umm, did we mention that Tech was 1-0 against ranked opponents when SLAM was in the building?
– Lawal is REALLY focused now. He’s getting every loose ball. He’s got 18 points too. With him and Clinch and Peacock, why is it again they only won two ACC games this year?
– Clinch is the real deal today. He’s got 27 and he’s heading to the line. A couple of possessions later, he takes an attempt and lands awkwardly on a Tiger’s foot. He goes down. Damn, that sucks. He limps off. Tech’s forced to call a timeout.
– Timeout over. So is Tech’s long gasp. Clinch is back in the game.
– Clemson seems to have one more good run in them, and they’re looking to guards K.C. Rivers and the other T.O. in the building, long-range marksman Terrence Oglesby, to lead the charge. Both of them hit big threes.
– Lawal squashes any thoughts of a Tiger comeback with yet another dunk. Stat department, can you please check and see if this guy’s leading the conference in slams. He has to be… 79-75 Tech with under a minute remaining.
– T.O. hits another three. He’s got his biggest 11 points of the season.
– Another Tech turnover because of Clemson’s pressure. The Tigers get the ball down to Booker. Smart. He’s fouled. Booker misses the first attempt. The second too.
– Tech fan: “We got this here! We got this!”
– Looks like it… wait, Tiger Andre Young hits a clutch three. 84-81 Tech.
– But when Georgia Tech’s band starts playing the fitting Young Jeezy’s “Put On” with seven seconds left, the Atlanta crowd knows this one’s over.
– Clinch goes to the line one last time…. 31 points… and then a career-high 32. What a game, sir.
– Upset City: 86-81 Tech. And a 2-0 record with SLAM in the building.
– Coach Hewitt’s thoughts on Clinch’s career afternoon: “He’s been a big-time player for us for a long time. He’s had some issues, coming back from injuries or missing some games for different reasons. We were talking about it this morning with the coaching staff; if he’s on the court consistently, this is what you’ll see from him. This is probably the first time in his career where it’s not an injury or something that’s kept him from the court. And like I said, I’m serious. I’ve been saying to my staff for the past week, he’s in midseason form right now. Everybody else is at the end of the year. He’s just getting cranked up right now. I expect him to go out tomorrow and play exactly the way he’s played over the last six or seven games.”