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Around the ACC (Jan. 22)

Here's the third installment of ACC basketball notes.

Again, this isn't complete. Missing: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia Tech. But when those writers send those notes through I'll post them.

BOSTON COLLEGE (13-5, 5-1): The Eagles absorbed a pair of devastating hits last week. Last Wednesday, one day after BC's 82-63 homecourt victory over Miami, coach Al Skinner, his patience evidently worn thin, permanently dismissed the troubled frontcourt Bostoncollege_2duo of Sean Williams, a 6-10 shot-blocking junior center from Houston, Texas, and Akida McLain, a 6-8 reserve junior forward from Pittsburgh, Pa.

Four days later, the short-handed Eagles (13-5 overall) absorbed their first conference loss of the season in a sobering 74-54 setback at Clemson, but still remained atop the league standings at 5-1.

"It was just something I felt I needed to do," Skinner said of his decision. "We have rules and you have to abide by them, it's that simple. When you don't, this is what happens."

The troubled frontcourt duo, both of whom had been twice suspended before at the beginning of this season and last, reached their last straw when they were dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules. Both players began the season on suspension, with Williams, 20, of Houston, Texas, sitting out the first two games and McLain, 20, of ittsburgh, Pa., sitting out nine for another unspecified violation of team rules.

In Williams's case, however, it was believed his transgression was not of a serious nature when his mother, Audrey Garrett, said it was unrelated to the nine-game suspension her son served at the beginning of his sophomore season after his arrest by BC police May 20, 2005, for marijuana possession and underage drinking following his freshman campaign.

McLain was arrested about a week later in Pittsburgh when he and an accomplice were apprehended for passing counterfeit $20 bills at a local conveinence store. He served a seven-game suspension at the beginning of last season. Both players were eventually reinstated after complying with the conditions of their return to school and the team. Williams attended summer school classes at the University of Houston and completed a drug counseling program at the John Lucas Resource Center under the personal guidance of the former NBA coach and player who experienced his own substance abuse problems.

"I talked to Sean earlier today and, obviously, he's disappointed. Hopefully, this will be a learning experience for him," Lucas told the Boston Globe last Wednesday night by phone from Houston. "Hopefully this will be a learning experience for him and whatever happens, he'll just have to move on with life. Life is a bunch of startovers and he and Akida will have to start over again.

"I don't know all the facts, but when people run into trouble [repeatedly], they become the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf,' '' Lucas added. "It's unfortunate because Sean was having a very, very good year and BC was having a very, very good year."

Projected as the 16th overall pick in ESPN's mock 2007 NBA Draft, Williams averaged 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.00 blocked shots in 15 games this season and ranked as BC's career leader in blocked shots (with 193 in 69 career games) and was the Atlantic Coast Conference's leader (5.14 average). He record his first career triple double with 19 points, 10 rebounds and a
career-high 13 blocked shots in a 98-93 overtime loss against Duquesne Dec. 28. It came
five days on the heels of another otherworldly performance (19 points, career-high 15
rebounds, 7 blocked shots, 3 steals) in an 84-66 loss Dec. 23 against then 11th-ranked
Kansas in the famed confines of Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.

"There's been a lot of special athletes play in this building," Kansas coach Bill Self said of Williams afterward. "But I don't know if we've played against many guys that can block or alter shots like him."

McLain, meanwhile, averaged 2 points in two games, severely spraining his right ankle just 4-1/2 minutes into in his season debut at Kansas Dec. 23. He returned to the lineup after missing six games to log two minutes of action in BC's 82-63 conference victory over Miami Tuesday night at Conte Forum.   While BC sorely missed William's shot-blocking presence in the lane at Clemson -- which would have mitigated dribble-drive penetrations by guard Vernon Hamilton (13 points) and 6-9 power forward James Mays (14 points, 6 rebounds) -- what the Eagles really lacked was depth, which will likely become a vulnerable point in their remaining 11 games.

That much was evident when the Eagles found themselves working with a short-handed (and undersized) seven-man rotation against a Clemson team that eight player substitutions before BC had its first (junior center Tyrelle Blair for starting center John Oates) with 11:37 left in the first half.

"You lose a great player, a great defensive player who means a lot to a great defensive team, it does make a difference," said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell. "I thought they would come here and put forth a valiant effort. If we don't make those shots in the first half, we very well could've been in trouble going into the locker room."

Cliff Hammonds, who led the Tigers with 17 points, buried BC with a barrage of first-half treys (4 of 5) to help Clemson rally from a 12-7 deficit to a 41-33 halftime lead. Hammonds (5 of 6 overall) helped Clemson hit 9 of 18 from the 3-point arc.

"First half, they had so many uncontested threes," said senior forward Jared Dudley. "I don't care what center you have. You could have Ben Wallace back there, but if you have a wide-open three, you're going to hit the shot."

Said Skinner: "I always feel that we'll beat most teams shooting two-pointers. But when a team is making threes like they were, we are going to have a hard time beating them."

When news of Williams' and McLain's dismissal spread, pundits were quick to bury the Eagles, proclaiming their season over and their chances for an ACC title and an NCAA Tournament berth shot.

"We're not going to lay down and die," said Blair, who was expected to start in place of Williams but wound up coming off the bench after freshman forward Shamari Spears (14 points, 6 rebounds) did a credible job in drawing his fourth career start. ‘‘To say that is a disservice to guys who play hard like Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall and Tyrese Rice."

The Eagles, however, only seemed to give the pundits more ammunition when they absorbed a 20-point setback in their first game without Williams.Asked if BC arrived Clemson with a chip on its shoulder and a point to prove the pundits wrong, Dudley said, "I really don't want to get into all that with the media -- what we are and what we're not -- because we're just trying to win ballgames. We were 5-0 in the ACC and it would've been nice to get another one to be 6-0, but you're not going to go undefeated in this league, as you've seen so far.

"We're just going to have to make adjustments with other players, get back to the drawing board and get ready for Florida State on Tuesday."

Floridastate_2FLORIDA STATE (14-5, 2-3): Boston College needs time to get over losing Sean Williams and will likely remain vulnerable Tuesday against FSU, which is eyeing a return to .500 in league play. It's a break for the Seminoles, who hope to exploit BC's situation. Al Thornton, though, feels for his friend Williams, who couldn't stop running into trouble.

"He was my homeboy," Thornton said. "We were very close friends in the camps that I went to this summer. I was sad for him. I tried calling him, but he changed his number."

Wearing throwback uniforms, Florida State delivered an old-fashioned beating to Miami on Saturday at the Civic Center. FSU led by as many as 33 points and coasted to an 86-67 triumph that featured a season-high 13 3-pointers and season-low eight turnovers.

"I'd say it's been a while since we saw that on the scoreboard in a conference game," said Jason Rich, who made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions early and finished with 16 points. "That was a testament to how well we played as a team."

FSU honored former player and coach Hugh Durham's No. 25 jersey at halftime and wore throwback uniforms in honor of his 1972 team that played for the NCAA title. With just two seconds left on the shot clock and Jason Rich inbounding the ball from behind midcourt, Florida State was just about out of options.  Up stepped Al Thornton. Again.

Thornton caught the pass with his back to the basket and then spun, launching a high-arching shot from about 40 feet. Nothing but net. "I really thought I was going to shoot an air ball," Thornton said. "But it was an open look and it went in. I thought it was going to be off - way off."   It was the signature highlight in a half filled with them by Thornton, who scored all
27 of his points after the intermission and led the Seminoles to a crucial 82-73 victory
over No. 25 Virginia Tech on Wednesday at the Civic Center. It's the same routine day after day for the Florida State men's basketball team.

"Right after practice, we shoot a lot of free throws before we leave," FSU sophomore Toney Douglas said. "That's one of the little things that can get you over the hump in March."

It sure helped get the Seminoles finally into the ACC win column on Wednesday. They sank 31 of 34 free throws in their 82-73 victory over No. 25 Virginia Tech. Al Thornton's monster 27-point second half included plenty of work from the line, where he was 10 of 11. Douglas made nine of his 11 attempts. Forty years after a career-ending knee injury limited him to just one game at Florida State, Lenny Hall finally had his letterman's jacket.

Hall, FSU's first black basketball player, was presented with the jacket during an emotional ceremony before FSU's 86-67 victory over Miami on Saturday. Hugh Durham's No. 25 jersey was honored at halftime.

"I see a lot of people that I really, really love and appreciate like Hugh Durham and some of my teammates," Hall said before the game. Alongside Dave Cowens' famous No. 13, Durham's jersey was unveiled to the cheers of 10,821 at the Civic Center. He scored 1,381 points during three seasons from 1957-59 and served as head coach for 12 seasons at his alma mater.

In a nod to his dual contribution, Durham's jersey has the words "Coach Durham'' emblazoned above the No. 25.

MARYLAND (15-5, 1-4): The Maryland basketball team is trying to say all the right things -- they really are. But after losing in trips to Virginia (103-91) and Virginia Tech (67-64) in the last
week, the Terrapins are 1-4 in the ACC, just a half-game ahead of last-place Wake

Maryland_2History provides far more unfavorable comparisons than positive ones. Maryland is off to its worst conference start since 1992-93, the year between Walt Williams’ departure and Joe Smith’s arrival. That team went 2-14 in the league, the worst in coach Gary Williams’ first 17 seasons.   Of course, that was just one year before the Terps (15-5 overall) began a stretch of 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances. However, Maryland has missed the tournament the last two years, and its recent struggles have prompted legitimate concern it could become three seasons -- while also making Williams as testy as he has been all season.

"I’m not worried about that at all," Williams said Sunday. "That’s just for you to write about negative if you want. We’re getting ready for Georgia Tech. That’s our only concern. If we play like we did tonight, we’ll be OK in the league."

Williams was referring to Maryland’s effort, particularly at the defensive end, against the Hokies. But effort will only do so much to fix the hemorrhaging of three losses in four games. Only six teams in ACC history have recovered from a 1-4 start in league play to make
the NCAA tournament. None have done it since 1998, when Florida State went 6-10 but
played a brutal nonconference schedule and earned an at-large berth.

"It’s a concern, but it’s something you can come back from," guard D.J. Strawberry said. "We played hard on the road and it’s tough to get road wins. We could have got one here and now we have to move on and get ready for Wednesday. If we win Wednesday, I think we’ll be OK going into Florida State [Jan. 30]."

N.C. STATE (11-7, 1-4): The RBC Center events staff could credit 14th-ranked Duke with an assist on Saturday.With N.C. State’s home basketball game against the Blue Devils set for a
mid-afternoon start and a Carolina Hurricanes’ NHL game scheduled for the evening, clearing the building and handling parking loomed as major concerns.

Ncstate_2Duke helped out by taking control early, dismantling the Wolfpack by a 79-56 score and sending most of the 19,700 in attendance to the exits early. "They played Duke basketball, and we didn’t match their competitiveness,’’ State guard Gavin Grant said. "We didn’t play as hard as they did, and we didn’t execute our offense the way we should have.’’

The issue was all but settled in the first 20 minutes, when the Blue Devils (16-3 overall, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) forced 16 Wolfpack turnovers en route to a 41-25 halftime lead. Offensively, the Blue Devils picked up at least eight first-half buckets off dribble penetration and held an 18-4 edge in points in the paint.

While the Blue Devils look to feed off Saturday's success, the Wolfpack (11-7, 1-4) regressed following last Saturday's impressive win at Wake Forest. In addition to being befuddled by Duke's defensive pressure and ball movement, State had trouble executing the most basic of plays. Things started to unravel in the opening minutes, when Courtney Fells took a backdoor pass for an uncontested dunk and blew the attempt.

By the time Fells missed another dunk early in the second half -- and compounded matters by grabbing the rim and picking up a technical foul -- the Wolfpack knew it faced an all-but-hopeless task.

"That was a bad game," said State coach Sidney Lowe. "I think we hurt ourselves sometimes by trying to make big plays and be fancy instead of just being solid."

With Engin Atsur again sidelined by a pulled hamstring, Fells handled most of the point guard duties for the Wolfpack with Grant occasionally pitching in. Grant turned the ball over just twice, but struggled through a 1-of-6 shooting day against Duke junior DeMarcus Nelson's tough defensive effort.

"I wanted to keep pressure on him and try to disrupt his rhythm," Nelson said. ‘‘He's one of the great players in the leauge, and I just wanted to go out there and try to make him take tough shots."

Grant refused to take those shots for the most part, and he offered no apologies.

"He was playing good defense, but I could have gotten the ball and drove and taken all types of bad shots," Grant said. "I wasn't going to do that. We were already taking enough bad shots as it was."

The Wolfpack managed to establish little in the way of an iinside game against the Blue Devils. Sophomore Ben McCauley, who came in averaging close to 17 points per game, scored nine on 2-of-8 shooting from the floor as Duke's Josh McRoberts applied the defensive clamps.

"They were very aggressive," Lowe said of the Blue Devil defenders. "They were doing whatever they had to do -- push, grab hold, whatever. They did it. We didn't step into them and hold them off."

Lest that sound like sour grapes on Lowe's part, he hastened to set the record straight. "They didn't just bump the first guy, they bumped the second, third and fourth guy as they were making their cuts -- just the way you're supposed to do it. Just the way we talk about doing it," Lowe said.

"By no means am I saying anything negative about officials. I know what it's like in this league, and they will adjust to your play. We kept telling our guys, ‘Don't worry. You might get a foul called once in a while, but you've got to keep going, and going.' When I say (Duke) pushed and pulled, I don't mean anything illegal. I mean just playing hard. A couple of times we did it, but then we backed off a little bit because we were afraid we'd get a foul or something."

Saturday's loss was State's fifth straight at home in ACC play dating to last season. The Wolfpack lost to North Carolina and Boston College in its final two home games of 2006 and has lost to Boston College, Clemson and Duke this year. State gets another crack at it Wednesday night, when it plays host to Virginia. The Cavaliers handed the Wolfpack a 67-62 loss at Charlottesville on Dec. 3.

VIRGINIA (11-6, 3-2): When senior shooting guard J.R. Reynolds put up 40 points against Wake Forest on Sunday, he became on the ninth player in UVa history to do so (although Buzzy Wilkinson scored 40 or more 10 times during his Cavalier career).

Virginia_1Reynolds' 40 points are the most by an ACC player this season, which gives Virginia the top two scoring performances of any team in the league. Reynolds' 40 topped teammate Sean Singletary's 37 points against Gonzaga a few weeks back, giving the Cavaliers' backcourt the two highest scoring games so far this season.

Reynolds hit 12 of 18 field goal tries, was 6 of 8 from 3-point range, and hit all 10 free throw attempts.

"40 points ... I mean how much more impressive do you want to get?" said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. "I'm impressed. Obviously we had no answer for him."He became only the fifth player in history to score 40 or more points against Wake Forest and the first since 1977. Ironically, former Duke star J.J. Redick scored in the 30s on four occassions against the Deacs, and both Reynolds and Redick hail from the same hometown of Roanoke, Va.

While Virginia coach Dave Leitao said it was by far the best game he had seen Reynolds play, the Cavalier senior wasn't ready to go that far. He prefered his record-setting performance at Oak Hill Academy his senior year when he hit 14 three-pointers in one game, still an Oak Hill record.

Leitao and Reynolds had talked earlier in the week that the senior needed to start thinking about shooting first and making plays later. Reynolds, who hasn't even made or attempted enough 3-pointers this season to qualify in that department of the ACC standings, obviously took the chat to heart.

"Once you get into a rhythm it's hard to get out," Reynolds said. "You're zoned in and basically every shot you take is going in for you. That's what scoach and I were talking about the other day. That I'm a shooter and shooting opens up everything else."

Leitao said that he would have been satisfied with 38 or 39 by his shooting guard, but "40 sounds better and looks better in the next day's newspaper."

Virginia hopes to end its horrible road record this week with two games on the ACC trail, at N.C. State and Clemson. The Cavs are 0-3 on the road this season with losses at Purdue, North Carolina and Boston College. They have lost 21 of their last 23 road contests, not counting neutral site games.

There was a Jerome Meyinsse sighting in Virginia's win over Wake Forest on Sunday. The freshman post player, who had not appeared in the previous four games, played three minutes against the Demon Deacons.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pounder did not compile any statistics, except for one foul.

During his teleconference on Monday, Virginia coach Dave Leitao said he had no regrets about not redshirting Meyinsse this season, thus preserving a year of his eligibility.

"I thought he could contribute to us, and early in the season he was," Leitao said. ‘‘As the games have gone on - particularly in conference play - [circumstances] haven't allowed him to, but I don't think it's unique to Jerome. I think there are a number of guys on our team, first-years trying to find their way. He's similar in that way -- in that's he's trying to figure out a way to continue to earn minutes and play well in those minutes."

One would have thought that the injury to Ryan Pettinella, coupled with the ineffectiveness of Tunji Soroye, might have opened the door for Meyinsse to receive some more playing time. However, that hasn't happened. Meyinsse's minutes have actually decreased since Pettinella went down. The Louisiana native has seven DNPs this season.

"It's been a learning experience for him, trying to get him more and more accustomed to college basketball at this level - the pace and the strength and conditioning, and all those kinds of things," Leitao said. "I don't think any of us as coaches - or even he - is discouraged by his inability to get on the court as much as he would like or we would like, but I think he understands that it's learning. A lot of this is new to him, so his success will probably be more in the long term."

J.R. Reynolds, who scored a career-high 40 on Sunday, wasn't the only guy draining 3-pointers from other zip codes. In the first half, Sean Singletary nailed three straight 3-pointers - all of which were from several feet behind the line. The last one was taken near the Wachovia logo on the court - from some 10 to 12 feet beyond the arc. Singletary was almost closer to the half-court line than the 3-point line. Singletary, who finished the game with 19 points and seven assists, said he didn't realize that he was quite that deep.

"I'll have to look at that on film," he said, laughing.

Lars Mikalauskas appears to be all the way back to form following nagging ankle injuries. After averaging less than 10 minutes per game in his first 11 games, the sophomore has averaged 22.5 minutes in his last six contests.

On Sunday, he grabbed a season-high seven rebounds and was one of the players responsible for holding Wake Forest's Kyle Visser to just eight points - nine below his season average.

The Cavaliers are now 10-1 at John Paul Jones Arena. ...Moments after Sunday's game, UVA AD Craig Littlepage presented Leitao with a basketball to commemorate the coach's 100th career win, which actually came against N.C. State on Dec. 3 (nice timing, huh?). ...After beating Wake, Leitao now has 106 career wins.

Wakeforest_2WAKE FOREST (9-9, 1-5): The comments of Wake Forest freshman point guard Ishamel Smith proved telling. The Demon Deacons trailed 40-38 at halftime of Sunday's game at Virginia. And to hear Smith tell it, Wake wasn't just mildly satisfied. The Deacs seemed all most giddy. "(There was) very high energy in the locker room," Smith said.  "Usually we're down 15 of 20. We had grat momentum."

Wake couldn't sustain that emotion as Virginia shook off the Deacons for an 88-76 win behind guard J.R. Reynolds' career-high 40 points. The loss was the fourth straigth for Wake, which slipped to 1-5 in the ACC and occupies solie position of the cellar heading into Wednesday night's home game against North Carolina.

Reynolds' assault on the Deacons included six 3-pointers, some of which defied distance logic. "Some of those threes were like fours," Wake coach Skip Prosser said. Added forward Michael Drum: "He was pulling up from everywhere. Even with hands in his face, it didn't matter."

Reynolds became the first opposing player to score 40 against Wake since Davidson's John Gerdy in Feburary of 1977, and Reynolds did it despite sitting out seven minutes of the first half due to  foul trouble.

After Reynolds and backcourt mate Sean Singletary combined for 37 of Virginia's 40 first-half points, Prosser opted to open the second half in a triangle-and-two defense. "We had to try something," Prosser said. "What we were doing with those two kids in the first half wasn't working. The theory was to make somebody else beat us."

Mamadi Diane quickly obliged by hitting two 3-pointers, and center Jason Cain added a short jumper and a breakaway dunk. The Cavaliers quickly pushed the lead to double digits and coasted home.

Wake's long weekend began in dismal fashion with a 62-40 loss at Duke on Thursday night. Only a last-second bucket prevented the Deacons from amassing their lowest point total since 1959.

Prosser felt the tone was set in the opening half,  when Wake turned the ball over 12 times and went 0-for-4 from the foul line. "It’s not that cryptic," Prosser said. "This is a game you can’t cheat. If you don’t give yourselves a shot, even a bad shot, on the offensive end, then you’re not going to win. When you get free opportunities against a team like Duke, if you don’t cash in your share... Again I think it’s not that cryptic."

Hounded by Duke's student section most of the night, Smith turned the ball over eight times in 26 minutes and did not have an assist. Prosser blamed inexperience more than Cameron Indoor jitters.

"I don’t think the aura of the building--legendary as it is--was the main culprit tonight," Prosser said. The Deacons' problems as a whole, Prosser feels, are due more to mechanics and fundamentals than frayed confidence. That probably leaves Wake facing much more of a dilemma, particulary with Wednesday night's home game against fourth-ranked North Carolina on the immediate horizon.

"I can go in there and start a little campfire and (roast) marshmallows and we can all sing ‘Kumbaya,' '' Prosser said. "But the reality is the way we’re giving the ball to the other team and shooting free throws."