For the first time, fans could sit in the stands at the ACC tournament with a beer. And for a while, N.C. State fans could have used a few. At noon. On a Tuesday.
At first, it was to numb the pain of watching Cat Barber get dunked on by Bryant Crawford. By the end, it was in celebration of a win over Wake Forest and another chance at Duke.
If Tuesday tournament basketball in Greensboro was a jarring scene, this was even stranger: the stands at Verizon Center sparsely populated but generally tinted red by commuting N.C. State fans and errant – or petulant – Maryland fans.
In tribute to the ACC tournament’s spiritual home in Greensboro, a black curtain hung over the end zones of the upper deck. In a somewhat different tribute to recent history, Wake Forest lost an ACC game away from Winston-Salem for the 21st straight time.
And in tribute to Wolfpack assistant coach Rob Moxley’s recovery from his life-threatening health issues last spring, the ACC presented Moxley, who will step down to director of basketball operations after the season, with the Bob Bradley Award before the game, recognizing courage and named for the late Clemson publicist.
This was the ACC’s second visit to this building, but with four teams that weren’t around the last time, in 2005, and no Maryland. (And also no Louisville, at home, feeling shame.) The Wolfpack knocked out the Demon Deacons that year in the quarterfinals and proceeded to do the same thing Tuesday, although a long, long way from the quarterfinals.
It would take a win over Duke merely to get N.C. State to that point on Thursday, but at least the Wolfpack kept the possibility alive with the 75-72 win over Wake Forest. It looked grim at times, a game that would eventually provide in drama what it lacked in elegance, and one of those rare occasions where someone on the Wolfpack roster outscored Barber. That happened four times in ACC play, and the Wolfpack was 1-3.
This time it was Maverick Rowan putting away the Deacons with four second-half 3-pointers, finishing with 24 points to Barber’s 22. The Wolfpack made it interesting, fouling a Wake Forest 3-point shooter and missing a free throw with 17.1 seconds to go that gave the Deacons a chance to tie on the final possession, but they chucked up three wild shots that never came close to going in, and the Wolfpack survived.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried looked for most of the game like an aspiring actor trying to capture the perfect “exasperation” head shot. His overwhelming emotion at the end was merely relief.
“I thought our guys just hung in there,” Gottfried said. “We overcame some mistakes. We overcame some errors. But we kept playing hard.”
Afterward, D.C.-area N.C. State fans Juan Carlos and Jesus Rodriguez wandered the concourse clutching green 16-ounce cans of Goose Island IPA, giddier from the Wolfpack’s win than any additional beers previously consumed.
This is a big departure for the ACC tournament, one that breaks with decades of tradition in the pursuit of a few more dollars for conference coffers, but also in recognition of a new, less abstemious era of collegiate sports.
“Love it,” Juan Rodriguez said. “It’s crazy that it’s even a question.”
Coolers at concession stands are packed with a wide variety of oversized cans – domestic, import, cider and premium brews alike. A 24-ounce Bud Light is $11.50. A 16-ounce Stella Artois Cidre is $10.25. So were the Goose Island IPAs the Rodriguez brothers were drinking, which would have been news to them.
“We have not looked at how much they cost yet,” Jesus Rodriguez said.
For any Boston College fans who traveled to Washington, sticker shock was the least of their concerns. The Eagles lost to Florida State in Tuesday’s second game, going 0-for-27 in ACC play in both football and basketball, futility of even more historical significance than the availability of a beer or two.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock
ACC Tournament results, schedule
N.C. State 75, Wake Forest 72
Florida State 88, Boston College 66
Noon: No. 8 Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Syracuse (WRAL)
2:30 p.m.: No. 12 N.C. State vs. No. 5 Duke (WRAL)
7 p.m.: No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech (WRAL)
9:30 p.m.: No. 11 Florida State vs. No. 6 Virginia Tech (WRAL)