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Around the ACC (Jan. 29)

For you basketball junkies, here's the fourth installment of ACC men's basketball notes. As usual, we are missing a few teams... Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Before I get to that, though, I want to include a few tidbits you should know about how tough the ACC is and why aside from injuries Miami is struggling this season. The ACC is the No. 1-ranked conference this season according to both the RPI and Sagarin polls with 9 teams in the top 55, 7 in the top 35 and 2 in the top 10.

This week's best games...
Thursday: Duke at Virginia, 9 p.m. ESPN
Saturday: Virginia Tech at Boston College, 1 p.m.
Sunday: Florida State Duke, 2 p.m. FSN

Now, the notes...

Boston College (14-5, 6-2): The Eagles continue to ride an emotional roller coaster in their last two games. BC went from the euphoric high of Sean Marshall's buzzer-beating 3-pointer in an 85-82 victory over Florida State last Tuesday night at Conte Forum to the abject low of getting physically beat down by Duke's suffocating team defense in Sunday night's 75-61 loss to 10th-ranked Blue Devils in the hostile environs of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The loss to Duke knocked BC from its precarious first-place perch in the ACC standings, dropping the Eagles to third place behind Virginia Tech (6-1) and North Carolnia (5-1). BC now has to guard against a precipitous freefall in the league standings when they return home to resume conference play against the first-place Hokies next Saturday, but not before hosting Hartford of the America East in a nonconference tilt Wednesday night.

"To win this league, it doesn't end right now, in January and February," said senior forward Jared Dudley. "It's in March, so there's a lot of games left to be played. But [Duke] did what they did what they were supposed to do and that's to hold homecourt advantage."

With eight remaining conference games, the prevailing theory is that the Eagles will have to get to 10 wins in the league to have any realistic chance of making the NCAA Tournament, but to do so BC must find a way to win at least four more games. That might be a tall order for BC, given that it desperately needs to hold serve in its four remaining home games against the Hokies Saturday, Duke (Feb. 14) and North Carolina (Feb. 17) back-to-back, and vs. Clemson Feb. 24 in the home finale.

Realistically speaking, the Eagles could wind up going 1-3 in its last four home games, which means it will need to win at least three of its four remaining road games at Miami Feb. 7, at Florida State Feb. 11, at Virginia Tech Feb. 21, and at Georgia Tech March 4.

"The season's young and to be 6-2 right now is good, and we just have to get better," Dudley said, trying to put a positive spin on the loss at Duke. "We're just learning the longer we go."

With a short-handed seven-man rotation, Messrs. Dudley and Marshall, along with sophomore guard Tyrese Rice, are likely to have to long some heavy-duty minutes in the second half of conference play. Dudley, who last year ranked as the league's leader in minutes per game, played in all but 10 seconds of BC's last two games, and all but 27.9 seconds in BC's last seven games.

Asked if he was concerned about fatigue taking its toll on his 40-minute men, BC coach Al Skinner, a former UMass player who went on to play in the ABA and NBA in the '70s, replied: "These guys are playing for a guy who played every minute that was available to him. I played every minute I had a chance to play. I never wanted to come out. I understand a guy getting tired, but they've got to be prepared to play, and to be a player in this league -- a real player -- you've got to play 40 minutes. "As far as fatigue goes, I'm not the guy that understands that."

If their was one silver lining in the loss at Duke, it was the emergence of 6-10 junior center Tyrelle Blair, who contributed 9 points, 6 rebounds (both career highs) and 5 blocked shots. With the dismissal of junior center Sean Williams and junior forward Akida McLain, Blair has had to step up, but he hasn't inspired much confidence with his awkward, if not timid, presence in the paint.

But something clicked for Blair against Duke.

"Tyrelle gave us a nice lift, there's no question about it," Skinner said. "His interior defense was helpful and he had a presence inside. He's capable and as he gets more comfortable you're going to see a lot more success. In the first half, I didn't think he handled the ball as well as we would have liked. In the second half, I thought he did a much better job. As time goes on he's going to get more comfortable and help contribute to this team."

Clemson (18-4, 4-4): If it ends up in the National Invitation Tournament for a third straight year, Clemson’s basketball team will know exactly where to point the finger. Not at Thursday’s excruciating two-point defeat at Duke, but at Sunday’s inexplicable meltdown that assured a 64-63 loss to Virginia in front of a dazed and confused crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum.

If Clemson’s streak without an NCAA Tournament appearance extends to nine  years, blowing a 14-point lead to the Cavaliers in the final four minutes will be awfully hard to overlook.

   "The feeling we’ve got now seems like a Clemson team of the past," said junior forward James Mays.

This was indeed a haunting trip back in time for a team hoping to close the first half of its Atlantic Coast Conference slate with a 5-3 record. But the No. 19 Tigers allowed the Cavaliers to close the game on a 15-0 run, capped by Jason Cain’s game-winning put-back with 15.5 seconds left. Up 61-45 after a 3-pointer by Cliff Hammonds with 8:47 remaining, Clemson’s only
production the rest of the way consisted of two Trevor Booker free throws that created a
63-49 lead with 5:05 left.

Clemson, which at 17-0 was the only undefeated team remaining in college basketball just 16 days ago, has now lost four of five games. Virginia (13-6, 5-2) won its fourth straight game and secured a potentially crucial head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the Tigers.Since the ACC schedule expanded to 16 games in 1991-92, Clemson has closed the first half with a winning record just once (6-2 in 1997).

The Tigers’ rebounding problems, so pronounced in the loss to Duke, reared themselves again as Virginia owned a 39-29 advantage while amassing 15 offensive boards. Cain’s game-winning basket was preceded by two offensive rebounds that kept the possession alive, including one that saw 6-foot guard Sean Singletary outleap 6-9 forward James Mays. The Tigers have been outrebounded in five straight games after it happened just twice over the 17-0 start.

The past two games have seen Duke and Virginia own a combined advantage of 79-53 on the boards. "I just don’t think we regard it as importantly as we should,” said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell. Purnell is probably referring to Booker, a freshman who has totaled seven rebounds in
58 minutes the past two games. Forward Sam Perry has totaled three in 36 minutes over the same stretch, including just one in 19 minutes against Virginia.

The controversy that marred Clemson’s 68-66 loss to Duke last Thursday overshadowed some problems that bubbled back to the surface against Virginia. The rebounding issue has already been discussed, but the Tigers also faltered late in the first half and late in the game against the Blue Devils. In Durham, Clemson took a one-point lead with 5:33 remaining in the first half. Duke responded with a 14-2 run from there until halftime, holding the Tigers without a field
goal before entering the locker room up 36-25.

In the second  half, Clemson used an 8-0 run to knot the score at 60 with 3:33 left. The Tigers didn’t muster another field goal until Hamilton scored off a drive with five seconds left.K.C. Rivers missed two 3-pointers; Vernon Hamilton missed another; and Hammonds missed two runners inside of 10 feet. Had Clemson managed to cash in, the gaffes by the officiating crew might have been immaterial.

It was the same story Sunday against Virginia in the final 8:47. Clemson missed open shots as Virginia quickly chipped away at the lead. The Tigers committed three turnovers, including a crucial one with 31 seconds left after Rivers stepped on the sideline while taking in a pass from Hamilton.

The free-throw problems also returned. Mays missed two that would have given Clemson a 10-point cushion with 2:28 left. Hamilton missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on the next trip down the floor. Three days after going 10-of-11 from the line at Duke, Clemson was 9-of-16 (56.3
percent). The Tigers are shooting 58.8 percent on the season, and Hamilton is 5-of-16 in
ACC play.

A good shooting night at Duke didn’t allow Rivers to snap out of his slump. The sophomore sixth man scored just six points against Virginia, the third time in the past four games he hasn’t scored in double figures. Rivers reached double figures in every game during the Tigers’ 17-1 start, a record for a Clemson reserve. He is 13-of-35 from the field in the past four games while
missing 14 of 17 shots from 3-point range.

Duke (18-3, 5-2): The Blue Devils have won five consecutive games since staggering to a 0-2 ACC start.  Greg Paulus, Duke's point guard, believes his team still has significant improvement
to make to contend for the ACC title but that it has made steady progress since losing to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.

"We're working harder. We're preparing harder. We are better, and that comes with experience and time and maturity," Paulus said. "We're still a young team. We're still trying to find our niche. The fact we lost a couple in a row early, we had to learn from them. We could have taken a step backward and not learned from them but the guys were so responsive and everybody wanted to get better. That's what we need."

Duke's 68-66 win Wednesday over Clemson showed the improvement. Most would think that Duke should have won easily, playing at home against the ACC's least successful program of all-time. Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Paulus and Jon Scheyer, a shooting guard, all said that Duke would not have beaten Clemson three weeks ago.

"The way the last 10 minutes went we probably would have lost by 12-15 points," Krzyzewski said. "In this league at this level you have to learn to play tired well. You have to fight through tired. You have to find something nd you can't really teach that in practice. It has to be taught with game experience. And we have more game experience and we're practicing really hard. (My players) were able to do that."

David McClure might never be the player that he once was, but he is firmly back in Duke's playing rotation and his help has given his team a five-game wining streak.McClure sped down the floor last Thursday to catch a pass from Jon Scheyer and stick in a layup at the buzzer to defeat Clemson 68-66. McClure said that he had never hit a game-winning shot in such dramatic fashion and not at all since biddy-ball.

McClure is back playing this season after missing all of last season because of a knee injury. He doesn't move as smoothly or as confidently as he did before the injury, but his confidence is back and his play is improving. He did wonder after injuring the knee and starting rehabilitation if he would play again and how effective he would be if he did come back.

"That's something, a fear, that was definitely going through my mind," McClure said. "It was such a foreign injury. It had happened but they didn't know too much about it. It wasn't like a typical ACL or MCL. It had something to do with the cartilage and bone.

"Once I was able to get back and start playing and didn't feel too much pain with it, it was one of the best feelings ever because basketball is my love."

McClure is not much of an offensive threat and has a funky release on his jump shots.Krzyzewski has praised McClure several times this season for the energy and effort that he puts into the lineup. Some games McClure starts and the others he plays off the bench, but Krzyzewski is always looking for his help, especially on defense.

"What Dave gives us a chance to do is switch," Krzyzewski said. "He can guard the perimeter guys. He's very stable. He doesn't get up or down. He's dependable. He makes simple, terrific plays. It's not just his defense but his rebounding."

Paulus knows a thing or two about passes, serving as Duke's point guard and having been an All-America quarterback in high school. AAnd the pass that Scheyer threw to McClure for the winning basket against Clemson will forever be one of the best Paulus has witnessed.

Scheyer caught the inbounds pass in the backcourt, not near midcourt as Krzyzewski planned. He sped down the right side of the floor, cut toward the middle, and just as he crossed midcourt lofted the ball ahead to McClure, who has slipped behind Clemson's defense. McClure caught the ball in stride in the lane, took a step and put in the winning shot as time expired.

"It was an unbelievable pass," Paulus said. "For him to have that kind of vision with the clock ticking -- you've got a timer in your head, guys are flying at you -- he made a terrific pass. Dave caught it in stride. Jon deserves all the credit and Dave obviously made a great play."

Florida State (15-6, 3-4): The Seminoles reach the halfway mark in the league schedule Tuesday against the Terrapins (16-5, 2-4 ACC), who have lost all three of their conference road games. The Seminoles will have only three of their final eight league games at home.

Leonard Hamilton has always set the bar high - and the magic number low - when it comes to defense. Miami was ranked nationally in field-goal defense in Hamilton's final four seasons, including No. 1 in 1997-98. His helping man-to-man defense was stout even before he was able to upgrade Florida State's talent and athleticism significantly. The Seminoles were able to get under the targeted 40-percent mark his first season in 2002-03.

But staying under 50 percent has been a challenge of late. Its offense revved up, FSU still has struggled in ACC play because of its defensive shortcomings. The Seminoles have allowed three of their last five opponents to shoot above 50 percent and rank 11th in the conference at 44.9 percent.

"We have not been nearly the type of defensive team our staff has been known for in the past," Hamilton said. "At this stage of our season, what we've got to do is just really, really make it a priority. We can't take any possessions off."

In its four league losses, FSU has allowed the opponent's starting point guard to average 18 points and shoot 64.3 percent from the field, 52.9 percent from 3-point range, all the while racking up 18 assists against only eight turnovers. Vernon Hamilton (Clemson), Ty Lawson (North Carolina), Javaris Crittenton (Georgia Tech) and Tyrece Rice (Boston College) were successful by driving into the paint.

"Stopping penetration is probably the most difficult thing to do in basketball, especially with the type of quickness and speed that you're playing against in the ACC," said Hamilton, whose team is allowing 68 points per game. Toney Douglas took the load off Al Thornton and the pressure off Florida State. Douglas scored 10 points in a span of less than three minutes late in the game and then handed off to Jason Rich as the Seminoles survived a scare from last-place Wake Forest on Saturday, pulling out a 74-66 triumph at the Civic Center.

"I knew my team needed me down the stretch to score," Douglas said. "Al can't do at all by himself. I had to help him out and help our team out most importantly."

With FSU clinging to a 64-62 lead, Rich sliced through the paint for a basket and then pulled in the rebound off a missed jumper by Douglas. Isaiah Swann took advantage by draining a 3-pointer off a setup from Douglas with 43.8 seconds remaining. Reaching the 20-point mark for the 10th time this season, Thornton finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds. He was relieved to receive so much support from Douglas, who ended up with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

"I gave him a new name - Clutch," Thornton said. "He's a clutch player. That just shows you what he means to this team."

Changing up his starting lineup for the first time this season against Wake Forest, Leonard Hamilton inserted senior guard Jerel Allen in place of junior Isaiah Swann, who told reporters he was late to a team function. Swann still played 32 minutes and contributed 11 points, including a crucial 3-pointer with 43.8 seconds remaining.

"We had a slight hiccup that we had to bring attention to," Hamilton said. ‘‘Nothing serious. All is well."

Maryland (16-5, 2-4): Maryland coach Gary Williams said during his postgame interview on the team’s radio network (which is piped into Comcast Center) he was glad his team answered some of its critics by following a 1-4 start in conference play with an 80-65 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

He clearly brought his combativeness into his press  conference, as was in no mood to expound on his comment with any substance other than venom.

"I said it’s nice to be able throw it back at some people sometimes. That’s what I said," Williams said before cutting off the questioner several times. "What’s that mean? What’s that mean? You? That’s what I said."

Eventually, he paused long enough for a follow-up about whether fans might have lost faith in the program after consecutive NIT berths and the realistic possibility of another in less than two months. That only led to a reference to two stats, the second which he crowed about at the end of his interview session with reporters a day earlier after hearing it on a broadcast of a Duke-Georgia tech game.

"Not in the program, but maybe in this team," Williams said. "Since we have the second-best winning percentage in the ACC for the last 10 years, I hope they don’t lose faith in the program. Since we’re the only team to have a better record at home than Duke does on the road in the ACC, I hope they don’t lose faith in this program. We haven’t had losing seasons yet."

Wednesday’s victory came over a team that hasn’t won a true road game since March 2005. Draw your own conclusions about how much the victory proves. Junior forward James Gist battled foul trouble all night against Georgia Tech. It didn’t stop him from scoring a career-high 26 points on an array of dunks, easy layups and even a 3-pointer.

"It’s been there, it just hasn’t been on like that," Gist said of his offense, though he might as well have been describing the Terps as well. Teammate Eric Hayes also posted a career-high, scoring 12 points to go along with a smooth seven-assist effort in 30 minutes.

The Terps also received steady contributions from Bambale Osby (10 points), Will Bowers (who despite an empty stat line is finally proving to be the defensive nuisance a 7-foot-1 guy should be) and sophomore Dave Neal (eight solid minutes, his most playing time ever against an ACC opponent and his longest stint since appearing for nine minutes against Winthrop in November).

For a night, anyway, the Terps looked very much like a dangerous team.

"We’re this close to being a great team," freshman guard Greivis Vasquez said. ‘‘We’re really close and we just have to hang in there."

One of the night’s most interesting developments was Vasquez’s defense against heralded Tech guard Javaris Crittenton.The 6-foot-5 Vasquez was draped over Crittenton for much of the night, and helped hold the Yellow Jackets freshman to a career-low five points.

"I wasn’t afraid of him," Vasquez said. "He’s OK. He’s not like an NBA player you have to be afraid of. I was just playing good defense and I was containing him, same as Eric [Hayes] did."

In a related development, reserve guard Parrish Brown didn’t play against Georgia Tech, snapping a 32-game streak of appearances dating back to a home loss to North Carolina last Feb. 2. The senior isn’t injured and wasn’t suspended. Rather, the 6-footer didn’t have the
size to match up against a team that started a 6-foot-5 point guard (Crittenton) and four forwards and Williams was reluctant to give Crittenton the opportunity to shoot over someone when he could have Vasquez glued to him for much of the game.

There was plenty going on off the field this week in College Park, and amazingly none of it has to do with any arrests (in an answer to my prayers in July and August, it has been a police blotter-free season for both football and basketball, knock on wood). However, three things of note that could be of some use. Athletic director Debbie Yow agreed to a contract extension through 2013 that will pay her a guaranteed $350,000 annually.

Yow, who took the Maryland job in August 1994, had een signed through 2013. The school has won 13 national championships (I don’t count their phony competitive cheer title, which accounts for the 14th title in official releases) under Yow, and the department has balanced the budget all 12 years after running deficits the 10 years before she arrived.

When asked by the Washington Times if the new deal all but ensures she will finish her career at Maryland, Yow said, "Absolutely, that is the idea." It is the fifth contract extension Yow has received since she arrived in 1994 and the first since November 2004. Yow’s two most notable hires have paid off well. She brought in football coach Ralph Friedgen and he’s delivered four bowl appearances in six years. Women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese quickly built her program and won a national title last spring.

She also oversaw the construction of Comcast Center, and is heavily involved in plans to expand Byrd Stadium. A design firm was hired in November and the department hopes to have the expansion -- which is mostly the addition of luxury suites and mezzanine seating -- done in time for the 2010 season.

If Yow completes the contract, she will have spent 19 years at Maryland. Her five immediate predecessors -- Carl James, Jim Kehoe (on an interim basis), Dick Dull, Lew Perkins and Andy Geiger -- were at Maryland a combined 15 years. "If leadership isn’t stable, how would you ever hope to get any of your issues [handled]?" Yow told the Washington Times. "That’s about half the battle -- that and sticking through the tough times to enjoy the good times."

Safety Antwine Perez, who was a Parade All-American in high school in 2005 and played last year at Southern California, has transferred to Maryland. The New Jersey native is the second high-profile transfer in as many years to land at Maryland. Quarterback Josh Portis, who began his career at Florida, will be eligible for the Terrapins after  sitting out last season.

North Carolina (19-2, 5-1): North Carolina's young reserves want more playing time, and on Saturday in a game at Arizona got their chances and delivered.

UNC took a 92-64 victory despite having two key players, forward Brandan Wright and guard Marcus Ginyard, out sick after falling ill after the team arrived in Arizona. Deon Thompson, a freshman forward, earned the first start of his UNC career in place of Wright and Alex Stepheson, a freshman forward, had one of his best games off the bench.

"It's a very young team," Williams said. "For Deon, Alex and Danny (Green, a sophomore forward), I challenged them in the locker room. I said, ‘Everybody wants to play more. Here's an opportunity to play more. Now you know what you have to do with it: you have to play well.’ ’’

Thompson scored 14 points, his season's high, and reached double figures for the first time this season. He played 23 minutes, also a season high. Williams started Thompson instead of Stephenson because Thompson's footwork in defending is better right now. Stepheson came off the bench to score 10 points, his season high, and hit five of seven shots. He had scored seven points total in UNC's previous six games. He played 15 minutes, his longest time in a game in 10 games.

Ty Lawson, a freshman point guard, scored 18 points, his career high. Freshmen scored 29 of UNC's first 32 points. UNC was in such control that it built a 43-25 halftime lead with Tyler Hansbrough, a 6-9 sophomore center, scoring only two points on free throws with 2:56 left before the break.

Hansbrough didn't score his first field goal until 18:06 remained.

"We were good at times," Williams said. "To hold them under 40-percent (shooting) in both halves, I'm very proud of that, but at the same time they missed a lot of shots that they're normally going to make. We had an edge today that perhaps they didn't have. Not having two of your very important players made everybody else get up on a little bit of an edge."

Williams has been asking Lawson for about three weeks to shoot more and pass the ball a little less. The message finally got through last week.

Lawson scored all 15 of his points after halftime in an 88-60 win at Wake Forest. He surged right after Ish Smith, Wake Forest's point guard, picked up a third foul and went to the bench with 18:29 left. Lawson quickly scored eight of UNC's next 10 points and hit two 3-point shots. UNC led 44-41 when Smith drew his third foul and was up 55-46 after Lawson hit his second 3-pointer.

Lawson actively sought his shot. Some shots were created when Wake Forest's defense didn't come out far enough to pressure Lawson, knowing his reluctance to shoot from the outside. Lawson made five of eight shots overall.

"Coach told me going into the second half, `Shoot more jumpers,’ ’’ Lawson said. "I was trying to drive too much and sometimes I was going too deep. When I'm open, I need to take shots. Everybody has been telling me I need to shoot more."

Williams considers Lawson a good outside shooter. Williams also knows that more outside shooting that just Wayne Ellington's 3-pointers should ease the defense inside on Hansbrough and Wright.

Lawson played only nine minutes in the first half against Wake Forest after drawing two quick fouls. "I did not sense a frustration level," Williams said. "I did tell him he should be well-rested. I told him we needed a good half out of him. I've talked to him more recently about not ignoring his shot because he can shoot the basketball. I think sometimes he looks past that, which is great when you have a point guard who's pass first, but you shouldn't ignore your open shots.

"I did tell him we needed a big half out of him. If that's what it took,  I'll tell him that every game."

UNC's game at Arizona Saturday started at 11 a.m. Rocky Mountain Time to accommodate national television.

At least one UNC player, Hansbrough, had no trouble getting up early to play. "I'm fine with that," Hansbrough said. "It's no problem with me. That means I don't have to get back at like 4 in the morning. I'll get back and get some sleep."

Williams would rather stay in ACC play and not take a break with a non-conference game so late in the season.

"You have mixed emotions," Williams said. "Sometimes I think it's good. If I had my druthers I would always not do it, but I also like playing nationally televised games against national opponents. So I think that's good for us, too."

The Arizona game was UNC's farthest trip west after Jan. 1 in the regular ever. UNC had played west of the Mississippi River after Jan. 1 only four other times in school history.

N.C. State (11-8, 1-5): Just in case Virginia's J.R. Reynolds hadn't made a strong enough statement last weekend against Wake Forest, he delivered an encore Wednesday night at N.C. State.

Three days after Reynolds scored 40 points to key the Cavaliers past the Deacons, Reynolds scored 29 to lead Virginia to a 71-58 win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh.

It wasn't just Reynolds' point total that was awe inspiring, it was the manner in which he delivered. With State fresh off an 11-0 run and within 42-41 with just under 12 minutes remaining, Reynolds scored 20 of Virginia's next 22 points to keep the Wolfpack at bay.

With Sean Singletary adding 27 points, the duo combined for all but 15 of the 71 points the Cavaliers scored in the game.

"We went man and we went zone," State coach Sidney Lowe said. "I told our wing guys in the zone to push out on their guys. Sometimes they would shoot in our face. If you have good guards, you’ll win in this conference, you’ll win college basketball games. And they have good guards."

"I was just like 'wow'," Gavin Grant said. “They made big shots when they needed to."

The Wolfpack had this past weekend off in preparation for two games against nationally-ranked teams this week - Wednesday at Virginia Tech and Saturday at home against North Carolina.

After missing 12 of State's previous 13 games, senior point guard Engin Atsur returned against Virginia. He finished with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting while playing 32 minutes.

"It was great to have Engin out there and allow the guys to play their natural positions," Lowe said. "He’s a little rusty and I didn’t want him to do too much, because when you do too much you end up making yourself look bad."

Gavin Grant missed his frist start of the season against Virginia. Lowe said the reasons with two-fold: Grant missed a tutoring session on Wednesday morning, and his defensive play in recent games had fallen below par.

"It was a decision I made," Lowe said.  "I wasn’t pleased with his defensive effort in previous games, and I wanted us to come out with a strong defense at first. When he came off the bench, he played good defense and proved he wanted to play."

Grant had eight points and five turnovers before fouling out late in the game.

Lowe endured a frustrating losing streak against UNC as a Wolfpack player, losing seven straight to the Tar Heels during one stretch. But State broke through in his final two games as a senior, defeating UNC at Raleigh late during the 1983 regular season, then again in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament at Atlanta.

Lowe will be looking to end another Wolfpack skid againt the Heels in his first game against the neighboring rivals as head coach this Saturday. UNC currently owns six straight wins in the series and three strraight at the RBC Center. State's last wins came in 2003.

Wake Forest (9-11, 1-7): Wake Forest concluded an 0-2 week with a 74-66 loss at Florida State. Even so, Demon Deacons coach Skip Prosser was grateful for small favors.

"It was nice to be coaching at the end of the game," said Prosser, whose team has been on the short end of some lopsided scores while enduring what is currently a six-game losing streak. Saturday saw Wake lead 59-57 in the fading minutes before the Seminoles scooted ahead to stay.

Wake hopes to get back on the winning track Tuesday night against visiting Georgia Tech. But the Deacons can't count on Joel Coliseum to be a particular homecourt advantage. Wake is 0-3 in home ACC games this season, with the losses coming by an average margin of 17.3 points.

Wake senior Kyle Visser failed to score in double figures for the first time this season when he mustered just eight points in the 88-76 loss at Virginia on Jan. 21. But Visser bounced back last week with 16 points against UNC and 17 agaisnt Florida State, giving him 10 or more points in 19 of the Deacons' 20 games.

After watching FSU's Al Thornton lead his team with 25 point and 11 rebounds on Saturday, Prosser paid the Seminole star what might be viewed as the ultimate compliment, considering the source.

"Thornton reminds me of Josh Howard (the former Wake star and 2003 ACC Player of the
Year)," Prosser said. "Josh Howard was a guy with a collection of young players who sort of willed Wake to an ACC championship. He had a courage that was contagious."

Sometimes there is nothing that can be done to prevent a full-fledged blowout. But sometimes there is, and Prosser felt last Wednesday night was one of those times.

Talented North Carolina finally threw its game into high gear after an uneven start and rolled to an 88-60 win at Joel Coliseum. But the Demon Deacons helped the visitors in no small measure by missing 11 of 16 free throws and shooting 32 percent from the floor.

"They weren't guarding us from the foul line, that I remember, and we shot worse there than we did from the field," lamented Prosser.

UNC led by just five points at halftime and saw Wake creep within three in the early stages of the second half. With 12:57 to play, the Deacons trailed 56-49 but held possession of the ball with designs on mounting a strong closing run.

Then the game evolved into a nightmarish blur for the home team. Tar Heel freshman Ty Lawson stole the ball and fed teammate Alex Stephenson for a dunk in transition. Lawson came up with another turnover and scored himself. UNC guard Danny Green connected on a 3-pointer.

Long (and agonizing for the Deacons) story short: The Tar Heels closed the game on a 32-11 tear, resulting in their most-lopsided road winever at Wake and their biggest win over the Deacons at any venue since 1986.

"They're like Jaws," Prosser said. "They smell blood, and it becomes a feeding frenzy. Even if you make a couple of free throws, you stop the bleeding. Even if you make one open three, you stop the bleeding. We didn't do either one of those things. It became a full-blown hemmorhage there after a while."