N.C. State 66, Syracuse 63: If Jim Boeheim had his reservations with Greensboro before, his team's performance in the Orange's first-ever ACC tournament won't leave him feeling any better. Syracuse got a multitude of opportunities -- six to be exact -- to tie the game on its last possession, but the Orange couldn't convert as N.C. State pulled the upset on Friday evening.
Just as he did all season long, Tyler Ennis did his best to keep the Orange from losing. With nobody but Jerami Grant (19 points, 5-of-9 shooting) providing a scoring punch, Ennis (21 points, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals) took over, and Syracuse responded on the defensive end. The Orange took the lead at 59-57 off two C.J. Fair free throws, capping off a 12-2 run with just under four minutes to play. State rallied and got a couple good breaks, including a banked three by Ralston Turner and a drawn charge by Barber to retake the lead.
In the first half, Fair was 2-of-12 and Syracuse shot just 26 percent. State got an unexpected spark from point guard Tyler Lewis, who hit two threes, forcing the Orange to play up on him and opening up the middle of the zone. At the break, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried was pleased with what he saw.
"I like us," Gottfried said during the ESPN halftime interview. And he must have liked what he saw in the second half, too. T.J. Warren got his 28 points, but it was actually the supporting cast that did its job to push the Wolfpack past the Orange. Anthony "Cat" Barber had six assists, Jordan Vandenberg was 5-of-5 for 10 points, and Kyle Washington had seven rebounds. Far too often this year, N.C. State needed Warren to carry them, so it has to be a positive sign for Gottfried to see so much confidence out of the team as a whole.
Rakeem Christmas picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. With N.C. State already holding a rebounding edge, the Orange didn't have enough guys crashing the boards, which led to one-and-done possessions for Syracuse and the bottom of that zone didn't do a very good job of stopping State's penetration. That, coupled with the cold shooting night out of Fair, kept Syracuse from going on any sort of sustained runs through a majority of the game.
The Orange shot just 32.7 percent on the night, and the team that was once ranked No. 1 in the nation at 25-0 has now lost five of seven heading into the NCAA tournament.
Duke 63, Clemson 62: Duke and Clemson weren’t about to let Syracuse and N.C. State have the only crazy finish of Friday night at the ACC tournament. Duke took the lead on two Rodney Hood free throws with four seconds to play, and Rod Hall lost the ball on the final possession driving to the lane as Duke survived to play the Wolfpack on Saturday.
With the energy Clemson was playing with early, it would have been understandable if the Tigers had a letdown after coming off an overtime game on Thursday evening. In the second half Duke seemed to be making its run. The Blue Devils started pushing the lead, but Clemson pushed right back and finally took the lead with :09 to play on a Hall layup.
Even though Jabari Parker wasn’t at his best, shooting just 6-of-17 for 18 points, Rodney Hood picked up the slack, going 5-of-13 from the floor, while Amile Jefferson added six points and 13 rebounds. Duke was a bit sluggish from the get-go and looked like a team that had taken almost a week off. Eventually the Blue Devils started getting into the passing lanes defensively and finding easy buckets, which helped the offense break the ice against a tough Clemson defense ranked top 20 in the country via KenPom. K.J. McDaniels answered back and started hitting shots, and Hall had a lot of success as well to get back in it. The Tigers aren’t really near the bubble, but they did more with less this year than anyone probably thought they would. McDaniels took his game to another level and was one of the most valuable players in the ACC, and Clemson had a big win over Duke during the regular season. McDaniels might opt to enter the NBA Draft, but if he were to stick around, Brad Brownell would have a pretty strong team heading into next season.