All of the ACC's top teams were in action Thursday at the Verizon Center in Washington as the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament got underway.
While much of the focus entering the day was on the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, a few under-the-radar teams had an opportunity to throw the tournament out of whack, play spoiler and make a Cinderella run into March Madness.
Here is a full recap of Thursday's results from the ACC tournament, along with a look ahead to Friday's semifinals action.
|7||No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 8 Pittsburgh||88-71, North Carolina|
|8||No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke||84-79, Notre Dame|
|9||No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech||72-52, Virginia|
|10||No. 3 Miami (FL) vs. No. 6 Virginia Tech||88-82, Miami|
|11||No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Notre Dame||7 p.m. FRI|
|12||No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 3 Miami||9 p.m. FRI|
|Round 1||Round 2||Quarterfinals||Semifinals||Final|
|No. 1 UNC 88|
|No. 8 PITT 72||No. 8 PITT 71|
|No. 9 SYR 71|
|No. 4 ND 84||No. 1 UNC|
|No. 5 DUKE 92||No. 5 DUKE 79||No. 4 ND|
|No. 12 NC ST 75||No. 12 NC ST 89|
|No. 13 WAKE 72||TBD|
|No. 2 VIR 72||TBD|
|No. 7 CLEM 85||No. 10 GT 52|
|No. 10 GT 88||No. 2 VIR|
|No. 3 MIA|
|No. 3 MIA 88|
|No. 6 VT 96||No. 6 VT 82|
|No. 11 FLA ST 88||No. 11 FLA ST 85|
|No. 14 BC 66|
North Carolina 88, Pittsburgh 71
The eighth-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers provided the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels with some nervous moments in the first half Thursday, but UNC ultimately cruised to an 88-71 victory and advanced to the semifinals of the ACC tournament.
With the defeat, Pitt is very much at the mercy of the selection committee as it figures to be among the final teams in or out of the NCAA tournament with a record of 21-11. Conversely, the Tar Heels strengthened their case to earn a No. 1 seed.
Guard Joel Berry III paced UNC with 20 points. Forward Brice Johnson added 19 points and 10 rebounds to take down a Pitt team that received 38 combined points from Jamel Artis and Michael Young.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Johnson furthered his status as a double-double machine Thursday:
Brice Johnson has his 20th double-double of the season for @UNC_Basketball— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 10, 2016
Only LSU's Ben Simmons has more among major conf. players (22)
His performance was so strong ESPN's Michael Wilbon wondered whether he might be the best player in the nation:
Am I crazy to want to take Brice Johnson of North Carolina over anybody else in college basketball?— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) March 10, 2016
Pittsburgh appeared upset-minded early in the contest, and it led by seven with a little over four minutes remaining in the half, but North Carolina went on an impressive run ahead of the halftime buzzer.
According to Carolina Basketball, the Tar Heels outscored the Panthers by nine down the stretch:
Carolina closed the half on a 13-2 run over the last 4:06 of play. #HeelsLockIn— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) March 10, 2016
As pointed out by Andrew Carter of the Charlotte Observer, Berry and his 13 first-half points were the driving force behind that:
It's halftime: UNC 39, Pitt 35. Tar Heels close half on a 10-0 run. Intense, strong finish here for UNC. Berry w/some big plays.— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) March 10, 2016
Among those particularly impressed by Berry's first-half showing was Sherrell D. McMillan of Inside Carolina:
No exaggeration, that was the best half of Joel Berry's young career.— Sherrell D. McMillan (@RellDMC) March 10, 2016
The late flurry in the opening half also gave the Tar Heels a significant advantage over Pitt in terms of offensive efficiency:
UNC shot 57% in the first half. Pitt shot 48%. #HeelsLockIn— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) March 10, 2016
While the first half was a tight battle, the second was all North Carolina, as it carried over the momentum and outscored the Panthers by 13 points in the second frame.
UNC shot a remarkable 58.9 percent from the field over the course of the contest, including six makes on 14 three-point attempts. The Tar Heels also made 16 of their 18 free throws and out-rebounded Pitt by five, thriving in all areas.
A lack of focus and energy early in the game could have cost North Carolina, but head coach Roy Williams' team eventually came to life, and it was all downhill from there for Pittsburgh.
The Tar Heels' talent is undeniable, and they have proved to be the most dominant team in college basketball when they are firing on all cylinders.
That isn't always the case, but if they can make Thursday's second-half performance the norm, then they may well be the favorites to win not only the ACC tournament but the NCAA tournament as well.
While Thursday's performance wasn't a perfect one from North Carolina, Williams was positive about his team's showing, especially the way the Tar Heels dominated the second half offensively, according to Greg Barnes of Scout:
We're happy with the outcome. I think the last four or five minutes of the first half we got active defensively. We were able to score. Up until that first five or six minutes, I was not pleased with the way we played in the first half. I thought that was big for us. Second half, we did a much better job of getting stops, not like the six in a row that we got at the end of the first half. But we got more consistent. Got more shots. 62 percent in the second half. That was good.
Williams also acknowledged the quick turnaround as the Tar Heels will compete in the semifinals of the ACC tournament Friday.
Per Barnes, he stressed the importance of keeping things simple so the players aren't overloaded during the short period of preparation:
We're going to allow the guys to enjoy this for three or four hours. After the game is over tonight, we'll get together and do our preparation for the team we're getting ready to play. We do know these teams because we've seen them play all season long. It's not as bad in the early-season tournaments when you don't know anything about the guys.
We'll try to give them the three or four most important things and let it go at that. We can't give them 25. Make sure we allow them to get their rest and get their legs back so they can come back and do it physically again tomorrow.
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon was understandably a bit frustrated after the game based on how poorly his team played in the second half, and the line of questioning apparently didn't help.
After being asked about struggling to come from behind in games, Dixon reminded everyone his team had to come back to beat Syracuse in the previous round, according to Zac Boyer of the Washington Times:
<Giggling uncontrollably> pic.twitter.com/IFk2VHwvrd— Zac Boyer (@ZacBoyer) March 10, 2016
Dixon's team wasn't able to repeat that feat Thursday, and the Panthers are left hoping their resume is good enough to make the NCAA tournament field.
Notre Dame 84, Duke 79 (OT)
Despite leading by as many as 16 points in the second half, the fifth-seeded and 19th-ranked Duke Blue Devils fell to the fourth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish 84-79 in overtime Thursday.
By virtue of the stirring, come-from-behind win, Notre Dame will move on to face North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament Friday. In the process, ND may have punched its ticket into the NCAA tournament as it is now 21-10.
Senior forward Zach Auguste was the primary difference-maker, putting up 19 points and 22 rebounds against a Duke team that had no answer in the paint.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Auguste closed in on UNC forward Brice Johnson's ACC double-double lead by virtue of his fantastic performance:
Zach Auguste (@FightingIrish): 15 pts, 13 reb so far today; his 19th double-double this season, 1 behind UNC's Brice Johnson for most in ACC— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 10, 2016
The Blue Devils received an awesome individual effort in their own right from Player of the Year candidate Grayson Allen, who scored 27 points, but with Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard struggling from the floor, they didn't have enough offense.
Duke entered halftime with an eight-point lead, and that advantage ballooned to 16 at one point, but a 14-0 run brought Notre Dame within two points with a little over four minutes left in regulation.
Notre Dame ended up out-rebounding Duke 44-40 in the game, but it was especially dominant in that regard from the second half on, per ESPN's Jeff Goodman:
Duke just can’t keep Notre Dame off the glass. Not exactly surprising with lack of interior guys.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 10, 2016
The Fighting Irish were able to tie the game and force overtime, which prompted Pete Sampson of Scout to suggest it was the best they had played in quite some time:
Win or lose, this might be the best basketball Notre Dame has played in about a month.— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) March 10, 2016
With the momentum firmly on its side, Notre Dame came out flying in OT, scoring the first five points of the extra period in under 40 seconds.
As pointed out by Goodman, Duke's offense went completely stagnant from the midway point of the second half on:
Duke had 64 points with 11:09 left in the second half. Blue Devils now have 72 with 58 seconds left in overtime.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 10, 2016
Perhaps no team in the nation has higher highs and lower lows than the Blue Devils, which is something Seth Davis of CBSSports.com referenced when the game started to get away from Duke:
Duke can be so so good, but it's margin for error is so so thin....— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 10, 2016
The Blue Devils attempted to play the foul game down the stretch and get back in the game, but Notre Dame was able to hang on for arguably its most impressive win of the year.
The road doesn't get any easier for the Irish with a game against North Carolina looming, but they proved they deserve to be a part of March Madness.
Duke will be there as well, but unless it can find some sort of consistency, repeating as national champions seems highly unlikely at this point.
Notre Dame showed an incredible amount of mettle in Thursday's comeback win over Duke, and head coach Mike Brey was thrilled with the team's effort following the contest.
According to ACC Men's Basketball on Twitter, Brey felt as though his players' commitment to defense in the closing stages made the difference:
Coach Brey: "I'm proud of our group. How we defended in the 2nd half was the key, and that's the best we played man to man D all season."— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) March 10, 2016
Several players came up big for the Irish, but none more so than Auguste. He was dominant on both ends of the floor, and Brey believes his big man is performing at a truly elite level:
Coach Brey: "I don't think there's anyone in the country playing better than Zach Auguste right now." #ACCTourney— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) March 10, 2016
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had a much different outlook after his team essentially gave the game away with poor play in all facets during the latter portion of the second half.
Coach K pointed out there was a massive disparity between the way his team started and how it finished:
Coach K: "it was like 2 different games. We played really well for 28 minutes, handling foul trouble. Then we started missing shots."— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) March 10, 2016
Per Bret Strelow of the Fayetteville Observer, Krzyzewski also felt as though Duke's struggles on offense led to a lack of commitment on defense:
Coach K, noting team's youth, says, "When we're not hitting, it totally impacts our defense."— Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow) March 10, 2016
There is no question Coach K has an extremely talented team at his disposal, but inconsistency has been an issue all season long, and it reared its ugly head once against Thursday.
Virginia 72, Georgia Tech 52
Malcolm Brogdon proved why he is one of the best players in the ACC and the entire country Thursday, leading his Virginia Cavaliers to a 72-52 victory over Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers are No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 and have the opportunity to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a strong showing in Washington, so this was a critical win.
Brogdon finished with 26 points on sparkling 10-of-15 shooting from the field and carried his squad from the opening minutes. Virginia also got 12 points and eight boards down low from Anthony Gill, but nobody else on the team scored in double figures.
Virginia finished 7-of-14 shooting from the three-point range and limited its turnovers to a meager seven against the underdog Yellow Jackets. Thanks largely to that offensive pace and outside shooting, the Cavaliers were in full control of the outcome for the majority of the second half.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman commented on Brogdon’s game:
Not enough people appreciate how good Malcolm Brogdon is.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 11, 2016
As for Georgia Tech, Adam Smith put up 16 points and four three-pointers in the defeat. However, the Yellow Jackets turned it over 14 times against a Virginia defense that was No. 4 in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency numbers, which isn’t the recipe for an upset.
Despite the wide margin of victory, Virginia only held a 30-28 lead at the half. Without Brogdon, the Yellow Jackets may have been in an early position to pull off the upset, as ESPN Stats & Info illustrated:
Malcolm Brogdon carried the Cavaliers in the 1st half pic.twitter.com/eX9HLDrdS2— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 11, 2016
Virginia was ahead 32-30 with less than 19 minutes remaining when it finally took off and put the Yellow Jackets in the rear-view mirror.
Brogdon hit a jumper with around 14 minutes left to push the lead to 46-35, and the advantage never fell to single digits again. With Brogdon at the helm, the Cavaliers put things into cruise control and advanced to Friday’s semifinals.
Brogdon commented on his team’s slow start and quick finish, per ACC Men's Basketball: “Sometimes we have a habit of starting slow and feeling our way into the game, but we picked it up.”
The Cavaliers picked it up at the right time and overcame a Yellow Jackets team that beat them during the regular season. Brogdon remarked on the turnaround, again per ACC Men's Basketball: “GT beat us and was better than us, but tonight we were an improved team from last time. We made the adjustments.”
Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory praised Virginia in the aftermath, also per ACC Men's Basketball: “Tonight, they played a lot better than we did. They're so good defensively and they're consistent defensively.”
If the Cavaliers continue that consistent defense, they could win the ACC tournament and enter the Big Dance as one of the favorites.
Miami 88, Virginia Tech 82
The Miami Hurricanes added another win to their resume Thursday in the push to earn a No. 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Miami knocked off Virginia Tech 88-82 and avenged its loss to the Hokies in the regular-season finale.
Five different Hurricanes scored double figures, but the backcourt of Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez spearheaded the effort. McClellan finished with 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Rodriguez added 19 points, nine assists and three steals. The two senior guards combined to make six three-pointers and set the tone for Miami throughout the game.
Corey Evans of HoopSeen.com weighed in on Rodriguez’s performance and what it could mean moving forward:
Angel Rodriguez is the true wild card to Miami's next three weeks. Plays within himself and takes care of the ball, could make a run to F4— Corey Evans (@coreyevans_10) March 11, 2016
Miami shot an impressive 56.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three-point range and also made 20 important free throws in the single-digit victory. The perimeter defense was also critical, as the Hurricanes forced 14 Virginia Tech turnovers and held the Hokies to a meager 2-of-9 shooting from downtown.
The only problem for Miami was Seth Allen, who carried Virginia Tech’s attack with 31 points, 17 of which came from the free-throw line. He consistently attacked the rim and looked for contact and kept his team in the game with his ability to come through on the charity stripe.
Jason McIntyre of the Big Lead commented on Allen’s outing:
Seth Allen is a beast. Could be Cat Barber next year if he can develop a reliable shot. Nobody can stop him from getting to the rim— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) March 11, 2016
That assertion is something for Virginia Tech fans to look forward to even if their team’s NCAA tournament hopes came to a close Thursday.
The teams battled out a back-and-forth first half, Miami taking a 33-32 lead into the locker rooms.
The Hurricanes appeared to be in full control with an early spurt in the second half and established a 50-38 lead with just over 15 minutes remaining. They then pushed it to 59-44 when McClellan drilled a three-pointer with less than 13 minutes left.
Miami maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half, but the Hokies gradually chipped away at the deficit until they got it to 76-70 with around 90 seconds left. However, they never got closer than six for the remainder of the game, as the Hurricanes hit clutch free throws down the stretch to keep their ACC tournament title dreams alive.
Postgame, Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams focused on his team’s improvement on the season, per ACC Men’s Basketball: "I think our team has improved and plays incredibly hard. Our maturity has continued to evolve in a positive way."
Miami coach Jim Larranaga praised his two guards, again per ACC Men’s Basketball: “Angel and Sheldon have been tremendous. Fun to coach, fun kids to be around. Come with tremendous effort and execution.”
Larranaga also shared what his message was to his team, also per ACC Men’s Basketball: “I tell the guys to keep their poise and not worry about anybody else but themselves."
If Miami does just that, it could make some serious noise in the Big Dance behind Rodriguez and McClellan.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.