Friday began with the New ACC scoring a massive victory, successfully luring the tournament north of the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time. Before it was over, the Old ACC trumped that in a much more meaningful way.
N.C. State not only avenged its narrow loss at Syracuse, it struck a blow for the old guard with a little help from those ACC-friendly rims and backboards at the Coliseum. The Orange missed six shots on its final possession, although a few didn’t threaten the rim, while Ralston Turner’s 3-point dagger was an unexpected bank shot.
It was a frenetic finish to a game the Wolfpack led by double digits midway through the second half, and after the controversial finish to the first meeting, N.C. State drew two charging fouls late to help close out a 66-63 win, moving along to the semifinals for the third straight year under Mark Gottfried.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim didn’t want to come to Greensboro in the first place. He didn’t have to stay long. The oldest of the ACC’s Old Guard made sure of that, led by 28 points from T.J. Warren, coincidentally a second-generation ACC player.
“I grew up watching the ACC tournament and that’s not a team that I grew up watching,” said N.C. State guard Tyler Lewis, who is from Statesville. “It feels nice to knock them out tonight.”
On the same day the news broke that the tournament would travel to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2017 and 2018 after a previously announced one-year stop in Washington in 2016, the evening session began with a proxy war between teams epitomizing the forces of the old and new ACC.
On one side, N.C. State, playing its 129th ACC tournament game, the school that built Reynolds Coliseum and by extension the ACC tournament itself, the school of Everett Case and David Thompson and Jim Valvano (and Tony Warren) and everything the ACC used to be.
On the other, Syracuse, playing in its first-ever ACC tournament, a school that has treated New York City like a second home over the years, the school that most lamented leaving Madison Square Garden and the Big East tournament behind, the school most excited about going to Brooklyn.
Regardless of N.C. State’s win Saturday, the move north was a victory for Syracuse and Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. It was also inevitable once the latest round of expansion brought those teams into the league. The ACC tournament will now range away from North Carolina for three years, longer than it has ever strayed from its ancestral home.
Interestingly, no one pushed harder to go to New York than the ACC’s coaches, new and old, who would like to leverage the exposure of playing the tournament in the media capital of the world into more respect – the tangible expression of which is more bids to the NCAA tournament.
N.C. State’s win may have helped the league in that department, because the Wolfpack desperately needed a win over Syracuse to have any chance of making the NCAA field. (At the cost of possibly knocking Syracuse out of the East Regional, which will be played at Madison Square Garden.) State may yet need another win Saturday, but this one was still pretty sweet for the entire pre-expansion ACC.
That was clear from the reaction inside the Coliseum during the final seconds, when Duke and Virginia fans rose with the N.C. State fans to drown out the Syracuse fans making their first, and brief, visit to the ACC tournament.
“There might have been some Duke (fans) and some other people cheering,” Gottfried said. “Maybe not any North Carolina fans.”
Maybe not. Chalk that up to the ACC’s Old Guard as well.