Luke DeCock

ACC tournament begins with some already left behind

Boston College’s Patrick Heckmann (33) shoots a free throw during the second half against Georgia Tech before a sparse crowd during the first day of the Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. on Tuesday, March 10, 2015.
Boston College’s Patrick Heckmann (33) shoots a free throw during the second half against Georgia Tech before a sparse crowd during the first day of the Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Wake Forest traveled the shortest distance to get to the ACC tournament, and the Demon Deacons had the shortest stay.

It took them 40 minutes to get to the Greensboro Coliseum and a little more than two hours to get sent home Tuesday.

Talk about a whirlwind tour of the other side of the Triad. Half of the rest of the ACC has yet to arrive, and Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are already gone.

“I’m in shock,” Wake Forest forward Devin Thomas said. “I don’t have any words.”

Tuesday at the ACC tournament is the saddest day. It’s like Wednesday used to be, but sadder because of the unfamiliarity. There are few fans, few media, no good teams, no Syracuse. It’s basketball for the sake of basketball.

The winners move on, to play in a building that should, with North Carolina and N.C. State playing Wednesday, be full or close to it. The losers are forgotten, mere footnotes for the fans who show up on the weekend.

Bad teams begat good basketball Tuesday, and both games came down to the final possession. The ACC should be so lucky the rest of the way.

Boston College and Georgia Tech, in their third straight year of meeting on the first day of the tournament, produced an entertaining finish when Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan hit a step-back jumper with 10.9 seconds to play for a 66-65 win and a date with the Tar Heels on Wednesday. The Yellow Jackets lost their eighth one-possession game in ACC play in what may have been coach Brian Gregory’s final game at Tech.

Wake Forest came from 11 points down in the second half to take a late lead on Virginia Tech, only to give up yet another late basket to Jalen Hudson before missing three shots near the rim in the final six seconds to lose 81-80.

A lane violation on Thomas, late in the second half, came back to haunt the Deacons.

“We have no one to blame but ourselves,” Wake’s Cody Miller-McIntyre said.

If everyone had known the basketball would be this entertaining, watching the teams at the bottom of the ACC standings play on a Tuesday afternoon wouldn’t have been such a tough sell, as evidenced by the billboard on Interstate 40 near Mebane touting ACC “Opening Day” as “Better Than Work.”

(Other slogans potentially considered during what must have been one memorable brainstorming session: “Better Than A Poke In The Eye,” “Hey, You Could Do Your Taxes Instead,” or “Now 100 Percent Karl Hess-Free.”)

It actually wasn’t a bad crowd Tuesday, with the sides of the lower bowl mostly full, even if the ends weren’t, and the atmosphere condensed with the assistance of the throwback presence of the Curtain of Doom that shielded the upper deck from so many Carolina Hurricanes games.

Attendance was down slightly from last year’s first day, an announced 9,003 compared to 10,945 a year ago, but there were only two games instead of three, cutting the native fan base by a third, and these people came of their own accord.

There was no Scotty McCreery concert to draw them in the doors, only the magnetic lure of Buzz Williams’ orange-and-crimson argyle sweater. The Virginia Tech coach didn’t wear it Tuesday, but now he has a chance to bust it out against Miami, somewhat unexpectedly.

It’s easy to make jokes because it’s Greensboro and it’s a Tuesday and it’s a novelty, but there were more important games played in Atlanta three years ago in front of less impressive crowds – and the same may be said next year in Washington.

This Wednesday will, unquestionably, be different. Hanlan, who has had his share of ACC tournament moments over the years, knows that as well as anyone.

“UNC being so close, it will definitely feel like a road game,” Hanlan said. “It will definitely feel like a pretty good ACC tournament game.”

Tuesday was clearly better than work, leaving a high bar to clear when the tournament really starts Wednesday.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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