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ACC Tournament Sets Postseason Standards

March 08, 1987|JOHN FEINSTEIN | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — So, here we are at the meaningless Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. You know, the one no one cares about because it doesn't decide an NCAA bid any more. That must be why Terry Holland had almost no voice left Saturday after his Virginia team pushed North Carolina to the wall--and almost through it. That must be why Dean Smith seemed totally wired for 50 minutes of play.

It also must explain why all those players keep hugging each other at midcourt after victories. And why the losers barely can get the words out as they try to explain what just happened.

They say that the best day in sports is the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Bet this: March 28 in the Superdome will have to go an awfully long way to top March 7 in Capital Centre.

You want overtime? How about two. In the first game. You want more? How about another two in the second.

You want teams caring? Check the look on Tyrone Bogues' face as the continuation of his miraculous college basketball career hung in the balance.

You want memories? How about Scott Williams' "throw" of a basket that saved North Carolina at the end of the first overtime.

How about Bogues racing downcourt with time running out before dishing to Antonio Johnson for a layup to create overtime No. 2 for Wake Forest and North Carolina State.

Want something a little different? How about Dean Smith nearly tripping over one of his many managers with seven seconds left in overtime as the kid tried to pick up a towel lying at his feet.

The coaches care. The kids care, too.

"This is like an NCAA tournament game," normally placid Tar Heels forward Joe Wolf said. "No, it's not. There's no way that could be as emotional as this was. This was just unbelievable. I can't ever remember being so drained."

In all, it was as sweet a day of basketball as one could ask for. Not to mention a lengthy one.

When Virginia-North Carolina was over, when the Tar Heels had climbed all over each other, Holland, with what voice he had, talked about what a wonderful game it had been.

Did he disagree with a couple of calls? Sure. "But in a game like that one," he said, "how can you complain about the calls? It was as good a basketball game as you could ask for."

Smith was not quite that gracious.

"I didn't think I was that bad," he said when someone asked him about his pirouetting, bellowing bench performance that led to one technical foul late in the second half. "Actually, it's my fault. I just get that way when we play Virginia. It has to do with their off-the-ball defense. If you want to know what I mean, come watch the tape with me."

There was more.

On Virginia's Tom Sheehey: "It would be interesting to spend a whole game watching him off the ball. He did a lot of good things today, some of them positive, I mean, offensively."

What he meant was Sheehey pushes and holds away from the ball, in Smith's view, and gets away with it.

It was Sheehey impeding J.R. Reid coming through a screen that led to Smith's technical foul.

"I'm sure Dean would like it if Tommy got out of the way," Holland said. "I'm sure our kids would like it if they got out of our way. That's not the way basketball is, though."

Is Tom Sheehey perfect? No. But he was only doing what everyone else in the building was trying to do: win a basketball game.

What made Saturday special was that four basketball teams went out and played as hard as they could for as long as they could. No one worried about rankings or seedings or anything else.

"We were tired just watching the first game," N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano said. "That was a classic. I gave my team three pep talks. We'd go out, fired up, ready to go, then they'd play another overtime. Finally I just said the hell with it."

If Virginia-North Carolina was a classic -- and it was -- then Wake Forest-N.C. State was a final showcase for as memorable a player as this league has seen.

He is only 5 feet 3, but Bogues transcends height. The only shame in Wake Forest's loss Saturday was that there was no chance for Bob Staak to take Bogues out of the game for a final standing ovation, one he richly deserved.

It is fair to say that he has graced this league for four years and everyone, not just Wake Forest, will miss him.

If there was a sadder sight than Bogues walking off the floor Saturday night, head down, not even wanting to stop for a final handshake, it does not quickly come to mind.

Valvano had only kind words for Wake Forest and for Bogues. "I don't think I can ever remember a team going through a season like they have," he said. "They never quit, always hung in and that isn't easy to do.

"Muggsy Bogues, I don't know what to say about him. He's just unbelievable. I've been in coaching for 20 years and I've never seen a guy more difficult to defend.

"Here's a guy 5 foot 3 who absolutely dominates the game. When he goes out, what a sigh of relief. When he comes in, he's everywhere. He's a great basketball player."

Valvano spoke these generous words in the flush of a dramatic victory, knowing he had been lucky to win. When you win in double overtime, it should be easy to be gracious.

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