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Around the ACC (Jan. 15)

As I told you guys last week, I've decided to use this blog once a week to fill you in on what's happening around the rest of the ACC in men's basketball with the info provided from the other teams' beat writers.

This week, the only teams I didn't receive any notes from were Virginia and Virginia Tech. Anyway, if you are deep into ACC men's hoops I hope you enjoy it. As a favor, I only ask for some feedback.

Here's some topics to chew on:
1. Which ACC team has surprised you the most the season?
2. Which ACC team has disappointed you the most?
3. And who really is the top team team in the conference this season?

Before we get to the notes... here are my picks for the games of the week:
Wednesday: UNC at Clemson, 7 p.m. ESPN
Saturday: Boston College at Clemson, Noon,
Sunday: Maryland at Virginia Tech, 7:30 p.m.

BOSTON COLLEGE (12-4, 4-0): A year removed from an 0-3 start in its inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the unranked Eagles find themselves perched atop the league standings -- as one of two remaining unbeatens in conference play -- after they followed a pair Bostoncollege_1 of back-to-back Tobacco Road wins at N.C. State (74-58) and Wake Forest (95-85) with a 78-73 victory over visiting Virginia last Saturday afternoon at Conte Forum. And to think, this was the same BC team that suffered a hideous non-conference home loss to Duquesne Dec. 28 (98-93, in overtime) in which the Eagles wasted career-high scoring performances from senior guard Sean Marshall (30 points), sophomore guard Tyrese Rice (29 points) and the first career triple-double of junior center Sean Williams (19 points, 10 rebounds, a career-high 13 blocked shots).

Come to think of it, BC was not the same team. In that devastating Duquesne setback, the Eagles were without senior forward Jared Dudley (who was nursing a stress fracture in his left foot), junior center John Oates (left arch), and junior forward Akida McLain (who severely sprained his right ankle 4-1/2 minutes into his season debut at Kansas Dec. 23 after sitting out the first nine games of the season due to a team suspension).

Ever since the Duquesne loss, the Eagles have slowly generated momentum and, coupled with the return of Dudley and Oates to the lineup in time for the start of ACC action, have strung together five consecutive wins, marking BC's second-longest winning streak of the season after back-to-back losses to Vermont Dec. 13 (77-63) and at Providence Dec. 22 (73-64).

‘‘There's no denying that," BC coach Al Skinner said after his team recorded its first ever victory over the Cavaliers in five all-time meetings. "I mean, you can't be 4-0 in his league and deny the fact that you're gaining momentum. But, in saying that, we're still a work in  progress."

Skinner was of the belief Saturday's victory over the Cavaliers "was a little more of a balanced game'' in which the Eagles "had some perimeter people score and the interior people did a nice job of scoring," he said. While Dudley and Williams combined for 41 points (25 of 31 from the foul line), 18 rebounds and 4 blocked shots to do the work in the interior, senior guard Sean Marshall, who averaged 23.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in BC's five previous games, tallied 15 points on 4-for-12 shooting (3 of 6 from the 3-point arc) while sophomore guard Tyrese Rice had
8 points, 3 assists, 2 turnovers.

But if there ever was a telling statistic in BC's triumph it was foul shooting. The Eagles converted 35 of 45 attempts, which was 26 more than what Virginia attempted (10 of 19). In fact, in its last two games, BC has made a staggering 70 of 91 foul shots, hitting 35 out of a season-high 46 attempts at Wake Forest. Dudley, meanwhile, converted on 16 of 19 foul shots against Virginia to lead the Eagles with a game-high 22 points to go along with 11 rebounds, marking his 21st career double-double.

‘‘We wanted to take it to 'em and get into the bonus real quick," Dudley said after the Virginia game. "Anytime I can get a bump, get a flop, and get to the free throw line as much as I did today, it can takepeople out and really mess up their rhythm."

Dudley's 22 points and 11 rebounds not only marked his 21st career double-double, but also marked the 22d straight game in double figures, which leads the ACC. Dudley now ranks as the ACC's scoring leader (19.4 ppg).

CLEMSON (17-1, 3-1): Clemson allowed North Carolina State and Georgia Tech to shoot well
but escaped unscathed. The Tigers weren’t going to get away with it Saturday in College Park, Md. Their opponent, a Maryland team coming off a putrid performance three days earlier, was far too inspired and far too good to let it happen.

Clemson_1No. 17 Clemson saw its undefeated record -- the only unblemished start in Division I -- vanish in a 92-87 defeat that was easy to explain. The Terrapins shot 62.7 percent, the second-best clip against the Tigers in coach Oliver Purnell’s four years, to send Clemson (17-1, 3-1) to its first loss of the season. ‘‘We will look at this loss honestly and look ourselves in the mirror," Purnell said. ‘‘We’ll look at the tape and say we got away from who we are, which is a team that really values defending and rebounding."

The Tigers were particularly deficient in the first category before an estimated 17,950 fans at Comcast Center. Maryland’s guards repeatedly beat defenders off the dribble and made the extra pass for easy baskets.The Terps were 32-of-51 from the field, and 21 of those baskets came courtesy of assists -- six from senior guard D.J. Strawberry, who also had 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting. ‘‘We didn’t come out there very intensified tonight," said Clemson guard K.C. Rivers.

Rivers isn’t known for his defense, but Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds are. The two guards seem to have regressed on the defensive end of the floor after earning a reputation as one of the ACC’s best defensive tandems last season. Purnell said the defensive breakdowns were collective and not pinned on the backcourt, but that’s certainly where the problems began. A week earlier, Georgia Tech’s Javaris Crittenton had his way with Hamilton and Hammonds on the way to a 22-point night. On Tuesday, N.C. State point guard Gavin Grant put up 22 on 9-of-12 shooting. Georgia Tech shot 59.2 percent and N.C. State 54.7, but Clemson managed to win those games because it protected the basketball. The Tigers committed 13 turnovers against Maryland, including nine when the Terps were setting the tone in the first half.

Clemson was also outrebounded for just the third time this season (35-29), with Ekene Ibekwe snaring 10. But defense is what cost the Tigers a chance to surpass the 1986-87 team for the longest winning streak in school history. Clemson now ranks ninth in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (42.8). The Tigers’ four ACC opponents have combined to shoot 55.6 percent. Maryland was fresh off a 22-percent shooting effort three days earlier in a home loss to Miami. "We really didn’t guard in the halfcourt,” Purnell said. "You do that, you’re going to have a tough night. They beat us on the boards, and they beat us in every facet of the game, really."

The loss sucked much of the anticipation out of Wednesday’s visit from No. 1 North Carolina. The Tar Heels also didn’t hold up their end of the bargain; they’ll likely fall from the top spot after Saturday’s loss at Virginia Tech. ‘‘It’s not a great feeling, but we do have to regroup," said freshman center Trevor Booker (14 points). “Some people might think we’re overrated now, but we can’t let it get in our head."

The atmosphere at Littlejohn Coliseum figures to be intense for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game (ESPN), but not nearly as raucous as the setting that would have greeted the teams had they taken care of business Saturday.

Speaking before North Carolina fell in Blacksburg, Va., Purnell was in awe of the young but supremely talented Tar Heels. ‘‘I haven’t seen a better team," he said. “They’re the best team in our league, probably the best in the country. I think coaches will agree that they’re the most talented team. They’re deep, they’ve won a bunch of games this year, they’re well coached and they expect to win. It’s a supreme challenge. You can’t get one bigger."

Rivers said the Tigers had to work quickly to expel the Maryland loss from their memory.‘‘We’ve got to focus on Carolina, and we can’t think about nobody else but them, and
getting prepared for them."

Rivers scorched the nets in the first half and scored 11 straight points by himself at one point, but the sophomore sixth man virtually disappeared thereafter thanks to back spasms.Rivers said he tweaked his back early in the game after falling to the floor. The injury was fine in the first half, when he scored 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting and drained all four of his 3-point attempts. But after he sat down for an extended period at halftime, it tightened up.

Guarded closely by Strawberry for most the time, Rivers had two second half points on
1-of-3 shooting. He didn’t attempt another 3-pointer. ‘‘It was hard for me to pick up speed and run through screens," he said.

Had they fared better than 5-of-13 from the free-throw line -- including 1-of-7 in the second half -- the Tigers might have been much closer than eight points with a minute remaining. Clemson has nailed its free throws in clutch situations at times this season, but overall the charity stripe has been an adventure once again. In the past two games, the Tigers are 12-of-28 (42.8 percent). Over the same stretch, Clemson is 18-of-36 on 3-pointers (50 percent). The Tigers are shooting 60.6 on free throws this season, good for last in the league. Clemson shot 61.7 percent last season, 60.1 percent in 2004-05 and 63.1 percent in Purnell's first season.

Hamilton and Hammonds were 0-of-4 against Maryland, Mays 3-of-6. "That’s one of the areas we really need to work on," Mays said. "In a game like this, if we’d have made our free throws, the outcome could have been different."

DUKE (14-3, 1-2): Duke was all business Sunday in its trip to Miami and earned its first
ACC victory of the season in three games. Coach Mike Krzyzewski had his team sharp after three days of hard practice and focus on only basketball. The players were not available to media before going to Miami, although they usually are before a game. The product was one of Duke's best games of the season.

Duke_1‘‘We hate to lose. We're good sports but we hate to lose," DeMarcus Nelson, a junior guard, said. "Losing is not acceptable for these players and for this program so when we lose we take losses hard. We had a business approach and the only thing on our mind was to win."

Duke shot 81 percent from the field in the first half, a school record, in making 17 of 21 shots. Duke's 49 first-half points were its most of the season. Duke has struggled to run its offense smoothly and score points almost all season, but its players made seven of their first nine shots after halftime also.

‘‘Isn't that ironic? We've been probably the worst offensive team that I've had for a while so far and we do that in the first half," Krzyzewski said. Still, Krzyzewski added, the season hasn't been saved.

‘‘Everything is not calm and beautiful," Krzyzewski said. "You have to fight to get your experiences and these first three games our kids have fought. We're 1-2 and we have to continue to fight to get better."

FLORIDA STATE (12-5, 0-3): It was with his future - and the NBA - in mind that Toney Douglas decided to leave Auburn following his freshman season.

Floridastate_1Douglas established himself as one of the top scorers in the SEC but wanted the chance to become a point guard, which is where he knows he will have to succeed in order to land a job in the NBA. The tape measure tells him so. ‘‘Everybody has personal goals," Douglas said. "You want to get to the next level. You're not going to be a (shooting guard) at 6-2 in the NBA unless you're Allen Iverson or something. I'm a guard. I see myself doing both. ‘‘The only problem was I just never did it."

And so Douglas packed his bags and wound up at Florida State, where he's attempting to run the offense and yet still display his natural scoring ability. The transition hasn't been seamless. His 22-point performance at Georgia Tech on Saturday was the first time he reached double figures since Dec. 21. He's averaging 13.6 points with 46 assists and 45 turnovers.

Dave Cowens' jersey will soon have company in the rafters at the Civic Center.  Florida State will honor Hugh Durham's No. 25 jersey against Miami on Saturday. Durham averaged 18.9 points in three seasons from 1957-59 and had an even bigger impact as the head coach at FSU for 12 seasons. He led the Seminoles to the NCAA title game in 1972 and won 633 games during his 37-year coaching career.

‘‘At first it came as a surprise," Durham said. "They're retiring the number, and I guess it's a combination of being a player and coach at Florida State. I'm in the position now that I can reflect on some of those things because I'm not coaching anymore."

The honors won't stop with Durham, who ranks 14th on FSU's all-time scoring list with 1,381 points. Bob Sura and Sam Cassell will also have their jerseys raised to the rafters this season, according to FSU spokesman Chuck Walsh. Sidelined for almost two years, Sura's NBA career might be finished because of chronic knee problems. He set the FSU scoring record with 2,130 points and helped revitalize the Seminoles in the 1990s. Cassell, still going strong with the Los Angeles Clippers, made his mark in only two seasons at FSU. He averaged 18.3 points as FSU came a win away from the Final Four in 1993.

Sura's No. 3 jersey will be honored on Feb. 24 as the Seminoles take on North Carolina State. A date hasn't been announced to honor Cassell's No. 10 jersey. Walsh said the basketball program doesn't retire jersey numbers but honors them instead. Jason Rich will continue to wear No. 25 and Isaiah Swann won't have to give up No. 3. Ralph Mims wears No. 10.

GEORGIA TECH (13-4, 2-2): As Georgia Tech gave itself a chance to make real noise after
an ACC 0-2 start by beating Duke and Florida State last week, the Yellow Jackets did it with equal doses of what coach Paul Hewitt knew his team had - offense - and the defense he's said Georgiatech_1 all along will be most important in determining his team's fate.While committing 16.7 turnovers per game, the Jackets have been one of the worst teams in the conference all season in this category, and that problem nearly got in the way against Duke, as Tech had a season-high 28 turnovers. But Tech shot 56.4 percent and held the Blue Devils to 43.9, although Duke helped by
missing some pretty good looks, especially in going 4 of 20 on 3-pointers.

Against Florida State, Tech's second-half defense was as ineffective as it had been in a long while, basically since a dreadful four-game (1-3) streak right before a nine-day holiday break during which Hewitt drilled defense, defense, and more defense. Tech leads the ACC with a 51.3 percent mark from the field, and it helps to hit 39.9 percent of their 3-pointers. This is a better-than average rebounding team that has been much better from the free throw line than expected, and if the Jackets' defense stays intact, they can win more than they lose in conference.

In back-to-back games against Clemson (a one-point loss) and Duke, Tech was minus 21 in
turnovers, and minus-38 in shots attempted.

Surely, the book on defending Tech is more about keeping the ball out of scoring position rather than trying to defend shooters, about turning it over before the Jackets can get into scoring position.

Wing man Anthony Morrow, who led Tech in scoring last season with a 16-point average and led the ACC in 3-point shooting (43 percent), hasn't started a game all season. He was awful most of the first nine games after coming back from a stress fracture in his back. He hit just 14 of 50 shots, 8 of 30 (26.7 percent) on 3-pointers.Add the fact Morrow's a poor defender, sometimes very, very poor, and he wasn't playing much.

Hewitt had no choice but to start playing him more when he realized the second-semester suspension of Lewis Clinch for violating Tech's honor code was pending, but Morrow at the same time was earning more PT by shooting, and, most amazingly, busting his tail on defense.

Dude's been sick since over the past eight games, hitting 36 of 67 shots (53.7 percent), and 23 of 45 of his 3-pointers (51.1 percent). Morrow, a junior from Charlotte Latin, has long has a reputation for needing a screen to shoot, and he's still no great creator, but he's been putting the ball on the floor a lot more recently, getting to the line for 13 free throws combined against Duke and FSU, and hitting 12. He went eight straight games before that without a trip to the charity stripe. On the season, he's hit 23 of 36 free throws (88.5 percent). He's still not Tech's first or second option (Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton), and sometimes center Ra'Sean Dickey (season-high 21 against Duke) gets more looks depending on game-plan, but Morrow's making a difference. Dickey's made 20 of 23 shots (87 percent) in four ACC games, including 7 of 7 at Miami, 5 of 5 at Clemson, and 6 of 8 against Duke. So he should get the ball more, right? His teammates don't seem to realize that, and he had just three attempts against FSU, hitting two. Part of that was Dickey's fault. The junior from Clio, S.C., had six turnovers, five in the first half.

MARYLAND (15-3, 1-2): Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry and forward James Gist watched the
last two seasons spiral into miserable finishes and NIT berths. After a ghastly 63-58
Maryland_1 loss to Miami on Wednesday when nothing -- shooting, rebounding, passing, patience -- was working, the pair called a players-only meeting after Thursday’s practice to clear the air. The Terrapins were revitalized in Saturday’s 92-87 victory over No. 17 Clemson as they averted their first 0-3 start in conference play since 2000. More importantly, they showed far greater resilience against a solid opponent than their two immediate predecessors, who often let one performance linger for an extra game or three.

‘‘That’s how we’ve done it the past two years," Strawberry said. "We just let it go on and go on. We’d lose one and it was ‘OK, it’ll be all right, we’ll get the next one.’ No, it has to stop. We can’t continue to play like that and it has to stop right here. We can’t afford to keep losing."

Gist was particularly vocal during the 15-minute meeting, at one point delineating each player’s role and emphasizing how important it was for everyone to do their part. Two days later, each starter reached double figures and the bench contributed 26 points as Maryland felled the nation’s final unbeaten team.

‘‘We can’t go on like this. It’s ACC season and this is when it counts," Gist recalled telling his teammates. "We’re trying to get to the tournament and have our fun. We have to have this meeting and talk about it and put it all out there and if anybody has any problem with anybody, it needs to be known now and not later in the  season."

It would have been easy to point fingers after Wednesday’s loss, especially since just about everyone who played was culpable in the debacle. Yet after constant admonitions about offensive impatience and shaky rebounding from coach Gary Williams, the message sunk in from this session.

‘‘That was a really good meeting," freshman guard Greivis Vasquez said. "Sometimes when you hear something from coach all over again, it’s not very good. We just have to talk and see each other."

While the rebounding improved, the most obvious change from Wednesday’s loss was the crispness of the interior passing. Maryland zipped the ball around better than at any point since its 8-0 start, and only attempted four 3-pointers in the up-and-down game. As a result, the Terps received a jolt before what could prove to be a telling stretch of four of five games on the road, including Tuesday’s visit to Virginia.

‘‘This game basically could have made or broke our season ...," Strawberry said. "It just got the point across. We had to win. We can’t keep losing on our home floor. We have to win. I just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page and everybody had the same mindset about how important this game was. We went out and played like it."

Few referees are as fun to watch (or present the possibility of even greater entertainment through their willingness to engage coaches and players) than Ted Valentine. So it’s little surprise he’s already Vasquez gets some advice had a cordial discussion with emotional freshman Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez encountered foul trouble early in the second half against Clemson and sat for an extended period. Valentine provided some counsel after Vasquez was a bit too exuberant, though the two soon shook hands.

‘‘He told me I’m a tough guy, and he’s a tough referee," Vasquez said. "I know him. He’s pretty cooland he’s a nice referee. It was a close game and I was too excited. Sometimes I have to calm down."It was a solid bounce-back game for Vasquez despite the foul troubles. He had 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting after an abysmal 1-for-11 night against Miami.

The figures from Maryland’s loss were rather heinous, though there is no truth to the rumor Maryland officials were rummaging around closets looking for peach baskets. However, these stats are all correct:

* Maryland made only 13 field goals, and had a drought of 7:55 with a basket to finish the first half.
* The Terps then outdid themselves and went 9:33 without a basket toward the end of the second half. A D.J. Strawberry layup with less than three seconds left -- one met with
perisive cheers by the remnant ofthe crowd remaining in the arena -- snapped the skid.
* Maryland’s 22.4 percent was the lowest in the span I can look up easily (1998-99 season to precent). In that time, Maryland had shot below 30 percent only once ( last year’s 27.9 percent at North Carolina).
* Here’s something more definitive: The 58 points was the fewest Maryland scored at home
in coach Gary Williams’ 18 seasons.
* Maryland had a wretched rebounding night, far worse than the 55-41 final deficit indicated. The Terps trailed 17-5 at the under-12 timeout and never recovered.

While passing, shooting and rebounding all improved against Clemson, the Terps also received significant lifts from reserves Parrish Brown and Will Bowers. Brown, a diminutive though steady guard, delivered eight points in another quietly effective performance. The senior, who frequently delivers a 3-pointer or a slick pass or takes a charge in his limited time, played 11 minutes against the Tigers. Bowers’ production was also significant. The senior 7-footer scored six points and also improved his rebounding in 12 strong minutes while helping to spell Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist. If both can consistently provide 10 solid minutes, it would be a boost to a team that hopes to go at least nine players deep. Maryland’s starters all seemed fresh deep in the second half, in part because of contributions from Brown and Bowes.

‘‘Clemson has their eight or nine guys they play consistently, and coach said we did a good job of coming out with our eight or nine guys and matching their intensity," Brown said.

NORTH CAROLINA (15-2, 2-1): Bobby Frasor can't get his right foot healed. He hurt it again on Northcarolina_1Saturday in North Carolina's 94-88 loss to Virginia Tech. X-rays Sunday in Chapel Hill revealed no break, but his status for Wednesday's game at Clemson is unknown. ‘‘We have no set timetable whatsoever," Coach Roy Williams said. "We'll just have to back off a little bit and see what happens."

Frasor, a sophomore point guard, hurt his foot in the first half on a drive to the basket with 28.1 seconds left. He was fouled, made the second of two free throws, and limped off the court to the UNC bench. He did not return. "It's sore; I made that drive on the baseline and cut off my right foot and I could tell something happened to it," Frasor said. "I don't think it's broken. I definitely did something to it."

Team trainers and Williams have repeatedly said that Frasor's problem is a sore foot, nothing more. He missed six games while resting the foot and was in his fourth game back when hurt again.Frasor bumped into Tyler Hansbrough after making the second free throw and hurt the foot a second time.

‘‘It's pain on the outside of my foot," Frasor said. "I stepped on Tyler's foot and put more pressure on it. There was a lot of pain there but it's kind of calmed down a little so I'm hoping it's a stinger or something." UNC will head to Clemson on Wednesday and try to regain the touch that led to 12 consecutive victories and the No. 1 national ranking before losing at VirginiaTech.

Frasor's injury has created uncertainty at point guard. UNC's defense allowed Virginia Tech to shoot better than 50 percent from the field in both halves. UNC had 17 turnovers and 14 were steals by quick Virginia Tech defenders.UNC surrendered a 17-0 scoring run that wiped out its 21-13 lead and put Virginia Tech ahead for good.

‘‘We just can't come out not ready to play like that and then let the other team outplay us," Marcus Ginyard, a UNC reserve guard, said. "The biggest disappointment for this whole team is they outplayed us. That's not North Carolina basketball. North Carolina should never get outplayed."

UNC will need two of its starters to regain productivity against Clemson. Reyshawn Terry, a forward, has scored nine points in UNC's three ACC games. He did not make a field goal in the first two games. He got a dunk and a 3-point basket in the first 3:36 at Virginia Tech and did not score again. Ellington has made only four of his last 18 3-point shots. He was so accurate in the
first 14 games that Williams constantly said he thinks the ball is going into the basket each time Ellington shoots. Lately the ball has been bouncing off the rim for Ellington. Wes Miller, a reserve guard, believes that UNC learned how not to play an ACC road game at Virginia Tech and won't make the same mistake at Clemson.

Miller was encouraged when UNC cut a 23-point lead to 91-88 with 16.9 seconds left before Virginia Tech sealed the decision with three free throws.‘‘If we play with that kind of intensity and that kind of effort and play together like that for 40 minutes, then we don't put ourselves in those kind of situations," Miller said. "We're a good basketball team. We can come together. We're never out of it. Those are the things you take from it. But you've got to do it for 40 minutes. You can't wait until the end of the game."

N.C. STATE (11-6, 1-3): Sidney Lowe played point guard on one of NC State's greatest basketball teams. Now, as the Wolfpack's first-year head coach, he's appealiing to his young players' sense Ncstate_1 of history. With State mired in an 0-3 start in ACC play, Lowe summoned the ghosts of past glory years. He had former All-American David Thompson in attendance for Saturday's road game at Wake Forest. Perhaps inspired, the Wolfpack delivered one of their most solid efforts of the season in dismantling the Demon Deacons, 88-74. Thompson, who starred on State's first NCAA
championship team in 1974 (Lowe played on the second one nine years later) addressed
State's team in the locker room at game's end.

‘‘I told the guys a couple of days ago that they weren't playing for themselves anymore," Lowe said. "They're playing for everybody that has ever worn an N.C. State jersey. ‘‘We talked about the tradition of the guys that have come before them and come before me. We represent those people. I wanted David to come in so they could see who I was talking about."

State entered Saturday's game against Wake as the ACC's worst shooting team. The Wolfpack departed from form by going 9-of-20 from beyond the arc (45 percent). Courtney Fells led the assault with a 4-of-9 showing from 3-point range, and freshman Dennis Horner made both his tries. Overall, State shot a blistering 68 percent from the floor in the second half and checked out at 61 percent for the day. ‘‘The reason things were so crisp and so open for us is that we did a great job -- finally -- of getting the ball to the open man and of not holding the ball and letting
them trap us," said Fells, who finished with a career-high 20 points.

Senior point guard Engin Atsur's injury woes, meanwhile, continue. After missing nine games due to a pulled hamstring, Atsur returned to play 31 minutes in the Jan. 6 homecourt loss to Boston College. But the injury flared up again following practice on Sunday. Atsur sat out last Tuesday's homecourt loss to Clemson and again against Wake on Saturday. The Wolfpack doesn't play again until hosting Duke this Saturday, so Lowe remains hopeful Atsur can benefit from the weeklong break. Gavin Grant has resumed the point guard duties during Atsur's absence. Grant had four assists and seven turnovers against Wake Forest, but at least he didn't find scoring as difficult as he has while playing the point in the past. Grant led State with 24 points while going 9-of-14 from the floor.

Lowe has jokingly labeled his team the "Six Pack'' because of his thin bench. But even with Atsur sidelined, seven players played at least 12 minutes against the Deacons. Another -- walk-on Darrell Davis from the football team -- played six minutes.‘‘I saw Coach Lowe in the dining hall a few weeks before the season started and wished them luck," the 6-foot-5 Davis said. "And I told them that if they needed any help to give me a call. A little while later, they did."

Davis, a true freshman, redshirted during the football season but hopes to play his way into the wide receiver mix next fall. Davis, who hails from Dade City, Fla., did not attempt a shot from the floor. He had one rebound, one assist and committed three fouls.

WAKE FOREST (9-7, 1-3): Not much way to put a silver lining on last week's going-ons at
Wake Forest. The outlook for this week, at least on paper, doesn't look so good either.

The Demon Deacons (9-7, 1-3) yielded a total of 183 points in homecourt losses Wakeforest_1to Boston College and N.C. State last week. Wake allowed State to light up Joel Coliseum for a 61 percent showing on Saturday. Wake trailed 50-32 at halftime, and things only got worse as the Wolfpack shot nearly 70 percent in the second half. That's far from encouraging, particularly since the schedule now shows road trips at Duke (Thursday) and Virginia (Sunday), followed by a home game against North Carolina (Jan. 24) on the immediate horizon.

The Deacons continue to start three freshmen and play an 11-man rotation that includes only two seniors (and no juniors). Now that Wake is 16 games into its season, head coach Skip Prosser isn't sure that is as much of a factor as some might think. At the same time, Prosser -- who took over prior to the 2001-02 season --  seems to be beating himself up a little for letting the program get into this position. ‘‘I'm not one to use youth as an excuse," Prosser said. "But I would not have foreseen us being this young six years in."

Predictably, message boards and talk shows are beginning to register a fair amount of grumbling from alumni and fans who saw the Deacons stumble through a 3-13 showing in ACC
play last year and fear their team might be heading in that directiron again. Kevin Swinton, who scored a team-high 16 points in 21 minutes against N.C. State, agreed that Wake's youth is not a blank check for continued dismal showings, particulary defensively.

‘‘We're all ballplayers," said Swinton, playing his way back into form after missing three games with a knee injury. "When we step out there on the court, we have to overlook our youth and just play. ‘‘I played with confidence (against State), and that's something I have to keep doing.
That's what we all have to do."

Prosser would certainly welcome more showings like the one turned in by Swinton, who went 7-of-9 from the floor against the Wolfpack and grabbed seven rebounds. ‘‘Inspired and inspiring," Prosser said. But now here comes Duke. ‘‘We're not giving ourselves much of a chance (with the way Wake's played recently)," Prosser said. "But we're at the point now where there's a lot of basketball still to be played. I'm not going to give up on them, and they can't give up on one another."

The loss to State was so decisive, it might be ludicrous to suggest one play made a substantial difference. But Wake center Kyle Visser's second foul midway through the first half of Saturday's game didn't help. Visser was whistled for his second foul as he tried to deflect a pass. Visser went to the bench for 3 1/2 minutes, during which time the Wolfpack scored a couple of buckets inside to take the lead for keeps. When Visser returned to the game, the Deacons were forced to play zone, and State took advantage with its good shooting. ‘‘You try not to pick up your third foul, and you want to stay as aggressive as you can," Visser said. "But there's thin line there."

Visser, the ACC's third leading scorer, did manage to keep his streak of double-digit scoring games alive with 11 points. He has scored at least 10 in every game this season.

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