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March 11, 2012
By Bill Hass
ATLANTA (theACC.com) – A basketball player’s vision can be his best friend.
What he sees, when he sees it and how he reacts to it can make the difference between winning and losing.
That was the case twice on Saturday in the ACC Tournament semifinals at Philips Arena. Kendall Marshall of North Carolina and Luke Loucks of Florida State made the right reads off what they saw and produced plays that pushed their teams into today’s 1 p.m. championship game.
Marshall’s layup pushed the Tar Heels past NC State 69-67 in the first game and Loucks’ long jump shot provided the difference in the Seminoles’ 62-59 win over Duke. In both cases, their team survived last-second plays that almost produced overtime.
The victories set up a rematch of perhaps the most astounding score of the regular season, the game on Jan. 14 in which Florida State laid a 90-57 thumping on North Carolina. Almost two months later, however, that game is virtually irrelevant.
“We can’t think about that game and try to use (it to) go out and win or we’re going to get beat,” said Seminoles guard Michael Snaer after Saturday’s semifinal win. “We can’t think it’s going to be easy or that we’re going to beat them by 30. It’s probably going to be a fight to the last second like it was tonight.
“We’ve got to go out there and be the tougher team tomorrow. That’s what it’s going to come down to, who’s the toughest, who plays the hardest for the whole game, who’s the most focused for the entire game.”
It’s difficult to imagine the championship being played any harder than the semifinals. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton joked that his game was “a typical ACC blowout.”
And even though Duke had its streak of three straight ACC Tournament titles snapped, coach Mike Krzyzewski couldn’t fault his players.
“This tournament means a lot to us and it hurts us to lose,” he said. “But we lost right. You can lose wrong. Going into the NCAA (Tournament) hopefully we’ll win right.”
Krzyzewski said he is optimistic that the Blue Devils will have 6-11 Ryan Kelly available for NCAA play. He sat out both ACC Tournament games with an ankle sprain, but had ditched his crutches Saturday.
“We get a different look when he’s in,” Krzyzewski said. “He stretches the floor and it opens up driving lanes. Even if he can’t play a lot, if he can play at end of games (it will help) because he’s been a key performer for us at end of games. We’re optimistic.”
Duke and Florida State gave little quarter during their game. With the Seminoles leading 60-59 and in possession, Loucks nailed a long jumper from just inside the 3-point arc to put FSU ahead by three points with 11.9 seconds left. The point guard used his vision to measure the Duke defense and hit the clutch shot.
The Seminoles ran a ball screen and Duke switched defenders, as expected, and Loucks wound up with a bigger player guarding him.
“(The coaches) said if he’s up tight just go ahead and penetrate to try to create and maybe find an open man,” Loucks said, “and if he takes a few steps back go ahead and shoot it. I was kind of reading him, he gave me enough room to get off a decent shot and fortunately for me and the team it went in.”
FSU then played tough defense and forced Austin Rivers into a contested 3-pointer that was off the mark and went out of bounds to the Seminoles. On the inbounds play, Jeff Peterson couldn’t find anyone open and, as instructed, threw the ball high and far. Duke’s Tyler Thornton broke it up, like a defensive back, and Seth Curry pounced on the loose ball.
“A few of us got a piece of it and all of a sudden Curry has the ball shooting with a pretty nice look from half court,” Loucks said. “It was like the longest three seconds of my life watching that ball travel through the air. I thought it was going in as soon as he released it.”
Curry and Krzyzewski also both thought the 40-footer was going to go in, but it spun around inside the rim and hopped out.
Krzyzewski characterized it as “not an Xs and Os game but an effort game.” The same application could be made to the first semifinal.
The Wolfpack hurt itself when the coaching staff lost track of the number of fouls on C.J. Leslie and he drew his fourth and fifth within 32 seconds and fouled out with 8:03 to go, leaving with 22 points. Coach Mark Gottfried said it was “miscommunication” and he should have taken Leslie out after the fourth foul.
So the Pack just dug in deeper, rallied from a five-point deficit and had the ball with the game tied at 67 with less than a minute left. But Alex Johnson’s pass caught Lorenzo Brown off guard and went out of bounds for a turnover with 42 seconds left.
That’s when Marshall, whose excellent court vision has led him to a single-season ACC record for assists, made a play that many people didn’t expect. The plan, he said, was to get the ball to Harrison Barnes, but Brown defended Barnes well.
As Marshall surveyed the court with the clock shot winding down, there wasn’t enough time to get into another set so he drove to the hoop. There was contact with Johnson but no whistle and Marshall laid the ball off the backboard and through the net.
“I think they were looking for me to make that pass,” Marshall said.
The Pack had one final gasp, with 1.2 seconds remaining. From deep down the sideline a long pass was tipped around under the basket but couldn’t be controlled and the buzzer sounded.
“It was going to be a catch (with) enough time to come down and make a shot,” State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
Carolina coach Roy Williams said the player who saved the day was Justin Watts. After the Tar Heels huddled and changed their defensive assignments, State’s Curtis Painter was left wide open. Watts spotted it, or heard Williams screaming, and sprinted over to cover Painter just in time.
The Tar Heels played without 6-10 John Henson, out with a wrist injury suffered Friday. It affected their play to the extent that they had no blocked shots, one of Henson’s specialties.
Williams said Henson told him he was still not comfortable enough to catch or shoot the ball. They will follow the same plan Sunday – see if Henson can catch or dribble the ball without pain, watch him in warmups to see if he can be effective and then determine if he will play.
“He said today that he feels considerably better than he did yesterday,” Williams said. “Now, is he going to improve at that same rate by tomorrow? I personally have my doubts but we’ll just wait and see and go with the same procedure tomorrow.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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