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Wednesday’s Things to Know: N.C. State ends Clemson’s NCAA hopes; Colgate makes NCAAs for first time in 23 years

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Wednesday was a slower night for Championship Week as only one autobid was decided and a lot of conference tournaments getting into key matchups beginning on Thursday. But the bubble still had some important movement while the night’s only autobid has a fun story to follow for the next week. 

N.C. State stuns Clemson with wild ACC tournament comeback

Two bubble teams collided in the ACC tournament second round on Wednesday afternoon as N.C. State rallied to knock out Clemson. Trailing by 16 at the half, the Wolfpack stormed back to win as the Tigers went over 10 minutes without a field goal in the second half. Markell Johnson hit two free throws with 2.6 seconds left to give N.C. State the win on what some considered a controversial late foul call.

But N.C. State’s comeback is secondary to the impact this game has on the bubble.

With both of these teams clinging for their at-large lives, the Wolfpack extended their season while Clemson is likely going to be left out of the Field of 68. The win for N.C. State is also nice, but they might still have work to do when they get a crack at No. 1 Virginia on Thursday.

CBT’s Rob Dauster has more on both of these teams in the latest edition of Bubble Banter.

Colgate makes first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years

Wednesday night’s only autobid went to the Patriot League as Colgate outlasted Bucknell to earn its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996.

Sophomore guard Jordan Burns erupted for a career-high 35 points during a night in which the Raiders’ best player, Rapolas Ivanauskas, was battling foul trouble. Ivanauskas, the Patriot League Player of the Year, finished with 14 points and eight rebounds while junior Will Rayman finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.

While Colgate isn’t projected to be any sort of major threat as a likely No. 15 seed, they have a fun story as a program with minimal success since the mid-’90s. Learn more about the Raiders with our in-depth look here.

TCU, St. John’s survive the bubble (for at least another day)

The only other bubble teams to play outside of the Clemson/N.C. State matchup on Wednesday was TCU in the Big 12 tournament and St. John’s in the Big East tournament.

Holding off Oklahoma State to advance, the Horned Frogs avoided a potentially disastrous loss as Kouat Noi tallied a team-high 20 points in the victory. TCU advances to face No. 1 seed Kansas State in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Thursday, as the Wildcats will likely be without senior forward Dean Wade (foot).

St. John’s finally got the best of DePaul with a win in Madison Square Garden after the Blue Demons swept the regular-season series. Shamorie Ponds, Mustapha Heron and Justin Simon all had 18 points each to pace the Red Storm as Simon also deserves credit for slowing down DePaul star Max Strus (14 points, 4-for-12 shooting). St. John’s could gain more at-large credibility tomorrow with a matchup against Marquette in the Big East quarterfinals.

CBT’s Rob Dauster examines more on St. John’s and TCU’s bubble cases in Bubble Banter.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle will reportedly miss time in ACC tournament with injury

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Syracuse star Tyus Battle will miss the Orange’s ACC tournament opener against Pitt on Wednesday, according to a report from Mike Waters of Syracuse.com.

Battle suffered a bruised hip during Syracuse’s game at Clemson over the weekend, and according to Waters, an MRI revealed no structural damage. But the junior guard was seen walking gingerly with ice packs on him after the game.

Waters also reports that if Syracuse advances past the Panthers on Wednesday that Battle would be doubtful to play against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals on Thursday.

Putting up a team-leading 17.2 points per game to go along with 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, the Orange’s offense could struggle without their best shot creator. While the Panthers are an ACC afterthought and Syracuse took both games from them during the season series, it’ll be interesting to see how the Orange play without their best player.

No. 3 North Carolina sweeps season series with win over No. 4 Duke

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North Carolina claimed a share of the ACC regular-season title on Saturday night as the No. 3 Tar Heels notched a 79-70 win over No. 4 Duke. Sweeping the regular-season series over the rival Blue Devils, North Carolina continues to put itself in position to potentially earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Freshman Coby White led a balanced North Carolina effort with 21 points while senior guard Kenny Williams made plays on both ends of the floor to finish with 18 points and six rebounds — while doing an admirable job of making life tough on Duke freshman scorer R.J. Barrett (26 points, 10-for-27 shooting).

And even though Duke fell on the road in Chapel Hill, there were still able to stay in a game during in which they basically played without Zion Williamson or Marques Bolden.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

North Carolina’s guard play dictates the ceiling of this team

It’s important to note that North Carolina won both games over Duke with Zion Williamson relegated to the bench. Duke fans and anti-North Carolina people will express this sentiment whenever they can. And there’s something to be said for that.

But even with the Blue Devils missing Williamson and Bolden (more on that below), North Carolina’s guards had a very solid game against Duke. With senior forward Luke Maye (seven points, 3-for-13 shooting, 16 rebounds) having an off-night shooting the ball, the Tar Heel offense had to rely mostly on White and Williams to make plays. Both players delivered results for the first 34 minutes of Saturday’s game.

White had some dazzling moments knifing through traffic and making tough shots, garnering praise from NBA Draft gurus in the process. The second half opened up in large part due to White’s ability to do what he wanted with the ball in his hands.

Williams had a sound 7-for-15 shooting night in which he was 4-for-7 from three-point range. On the defensive end, Williams also helped draw three first-half fouls on R.J. Barrett as he frustrated the freshmen into some bad offensive possessions.

It has to be comforting for North Carolina that they can beat a very good team like Duke even with Maye having an underwhelming shooting night. If North Carolina’s guards continue to play like this, and Maye plays up to his normal capabilities, then North Carolina is as dangerous as any team in the country.

What does Duke do if Marques Bolden is out?

The injury bug continues to bite Duke late in the regular season. Williamson has missed the past five games. Tre Jones briefly left the second half of the Wake Forest win with what was labeled a bruised right thigh. Cam Reddish appeared to be favoring his knee at times on Saturday.

But the potential loss of junior big man Marques Bolden is a major subplot to follow for the Blue Devils over the next few weeks. Bolden went down with a knee injury in the opening minutes of Saturday’s game as he was helped to the locker room by teammates after colliding with the basket stanchion. He didn’t return to the contest as Duke had to roll with a smaller lineup to face North Carolina. Postgame, Coach K told reporters that Bolden suffered an MCL sprain.

Without Bolden in the lineup, the Blue Devils were missing the team’s second-best rim protector besides Williamson. Although Bolden has had an up-and-down career at Duke, his size and athleticism on the defensive end is unmatched on this Blue Devil roster — particularly if Williamson isn’t on the floor to help as a freakish weakside shot blocker.

Javin DeLaurier did a solid job playing an energy role in finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds, but he can’t protect the rim, or defend bigs in the post one-on-one nearly as capably as Bolden can. If Bolden misses any sort of significant time, it puts even more pressure on a limited Duke rotation that can’t get consistent production from players outside of Barrett, Reddish and Williamson.

And since Reddish can be maddeningly inconsistent in his own way, it means players like Alex O’Connell (0 points, 0-for-4 shooting) can’t have nights where they provide next to nothing. With the way Jack White has also struggled to shoot late this season, Duke’s depth continues to take hits heading into the postseason. For their sake, the Blue Devils desperately need Bolden back as a stabilizing force at the rim whenever Williamson gets a rest.

Should we worry about North Carolina’s late-game offense?

Although North Carolina won on Saturday, a troubling late-game stretch of offense will be something to monitor going forward.

After developing a comfortable double-digit with a little under seven minutes left, the Tar Heels took the foot off the gas and struggled to score the rest of the game. Going nearly six minutes without scoring, and the final 6:47 of the game without a field goal, North Carolina allowed Duke to crawl back into the game to make it tight at the end.

Many offensive possessions ended in contested shots or turnovers as North Carolina’s half-court offense was stagnant much of the time. Not known to run many plays, Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams has already had to adjust his offensive tendencies during the Miami win earlier this season.

While it didn’t get that dire in this one, North Carolina’s offense clearly lost a lot of confidence down the stretch against an undermanned Duke team playing without a true rim protector. For as brilliant as North Carolina can look, they can also have some puzzling stretches of bad offense. That kind of sustained stretch of poor offense could haunt this team in the postseason.

Jerome helps rally No. 2 Virginia past Louisville 73-68

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Four Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles in six years might make it seem like old hat at No. 2 Virginia, but after the Cavaliers earned that fourth one by coming back to beat Louisville 73-68 on Saturday, Ty Jerome said it was time to celebrate.

Even if the ACC Tournament still beckons, followed by pursuit of the school’s first national championship.

“You can’t take this for granted,” Jerome said after the Cavaliers cut down the nets with most of the 14,000-plus fans remaining in John Paul Jones Arena and cheering each snip. “Like coach (Tony) Bennett said, over an 18-game stretch to only lose two games, you can’t take that for granted. You have to be thankful for that, but we’ve got to stay humble and we have to know what we’re still trying to do.”

Jerome scored 24 points, including the go-ahead free throw with 5:34 remaining, as the Cavaliers rallied for their eighth straight win.

They will head to Charlotte, North Carolina, as the top seed and with a double-bye. No. 3 North Carolina tied for the top spot when it beat No. 4 Duke on Saturday night, but the Cavaliers had the tiebreaker for the seeding by virtue of their 69-61 victory at UNC on Feb. 11.

“Now we’ve just got to get back in the gym and work really hard and get into an extra gear going forward,” Jerome said.

Kyle Guy added 13 points and Jay Huff also made huge contributions at both ends for Virginia (28-2, 16-2), which has now won or shared the ACC title nine times in its history. Guy said the way the Cardinals made them fight for it can only bode well for Virginia going forward.

“We’re in 40-minute territory and it really showed tonight. I think there’s no better way to prepare us for what we’re about to get into and this gauntlet that we’re about to start,” he said. Virginia has trailed in three of its last five second halves and came back to win each time.

Jordan Nwora scored 19 and Malik Williams 12 for the Cardinals (19-12, 10-8), who lost their ninth in a row in the series and for the sixth time in the last eight games under first-year coach Chris Mack. The Cardinals missed nine of their last 11 shots.

“We put ourselves in position to win the game and I think their composure versus our composure in the last 3, 4 minutes probably decided the game,” Mack said. “They looked like a team that’s been there before.”

Louisville used a 20-4 run spanning the half to open a 47-40 lead early in the second half, quieting the sellout crowd until Virginia immediately scored seven straight to tie it. The game was tied at 49 when Louisville scored six in a row to go back ahead, and the lead flip-flopped until Jerome followed a three-point play by Christen Cunningham by making a pair of free throws.

That put Virginia ahead 63-62 and when Louisville turned the ball over on its next possession, Jerome found Huff free at the top of the key for his second 3-pointer. Huff also had two steals and a block during the rally, and Guy and Braxton Key hit 3-pointers.

SWAN SONGS?

Virginia honored its lone senior, center Jack Salt, before the game, but he might not be the only player the Cavaliers lose.

De’Andre Hunter, a 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore guard, has been mentioned as a potential NBA lottery pick, and Jerome, a 6-5 junior with NBA 3-point range, could also be considering leaving after the season, though Jerome wasn’t letting on afterward.

“I just try to block it all out,” he said of whether his thoughts about his own future caused him to savor the moment a little more. “Coach Bennett always says that tomorrow has enough problems. Just focus on today and never surrender to the little things.”

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals managed just 52 points in their 12-point loss to Virginia on Feb. 23, but offensive bursts by Williams (seven points early) and Nwora (10 in the last 8:33) had them within 36-33 at halftime. Nwora scored eight of Louisville’s 10 during a 10-3 run that briefly gave them a 27-26 lead with 6:06 remaining. … The Cardinals also outscored Virginia 20-16 in the paint after being outscored there 38-4 in their home loss to the Cavaliers.

Virginia: Huff has a huge offensive upside and is a fan favorite at Virginia, but his defensive liabilities have limited his playing time in the past. Lately, he’s grasping Bennett’s Pack-Line defense better, working as a rim protector and getting critical playing time.

“He’s just playing with a high level of confidence,” Guy said of the 7-foot-1 Huff.

UP NEXT

Louisville: The Cardinals will await their opponent in the ACC Tournament.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have byes through the first two rounds of the ACC Tournament.

Follow Hank Kurz Jr. on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hankkurzjr

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 14 Florida State surges past Wake Forest 65-57

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Florida State made no excuses for its sluggish first half.

The No. 14 Seminoles fell behind 14-2 to Wake Forest, a team near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings. Then came a second-half surge — 18 straight points — and a 65-57 victory. Florida State won for the 12th time in 13 games to finish fourth in conference.

“They kept us out of sorts,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We couldn’t find our rhythm. I just felt Wake Forest did a very good job defensively of not letting us do what we need to do.”

The Seminoles (25-6, 13-5 ACC) never led until grabbing the lead at 47-45 on Trent Forrest’s basket with 7:28 left. Phil Cofer followed with an easy basket, then M.J. Walker supplied the knockout with a 3-pointer.

The Deacons (11-19, 4-14 ACC) frequently switched defenses, making it hard for the Seminoles to get the ball inside to 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje and 6-10 Mfiondu Kabengele.

Forrest led a balanced FSU attack — 11 players scored — with 11 points. Koumadje had 8 points and 10 rebounds. After a cold-shooting first half by both teams, FSU shot 54 percent in the second half.

Brandon Childress, who scored three baskets to spark the Deacons to their early 12-point lead, finished with 13 points and Chaundee Brown added 11 — all in the first half.

The Deacons, who shot just 26 percent, went scoreless for nearly six minutes as the Seminoles erased a 45-40 deficit with their 18-0 run.

Wake Forest was 16 of 16 from the foul line en route to a 31-24 halftime lead as both teams struggled from the field. But the Deacons made only 6 of 13 from the line in the second half.

“We came out low energy, but we didn’t take them lightly,” Koumadje said. “Their defense was kind of tricky. But at the end of the day, we did what we had to do.”

PJ Savoy’s 3-pointer with 9:28 left pulled FSU into a tie at 45 — the first time the Seminoles hadn’t trailed since Wake Forest scored the opening basket.

“I thought we executed a lot better (in the second half),” Hamilton said. “We got some tremendous help from our non-starters in the first half.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: The Seminoles capped their first 25-game regular season and maintained their momentum heading into the ACC Tournament.

Wake Forest: The Deacons gave a strong performance for 30 minutes against a ranked team — they blew a big lead earlier in the week in a one-point loss to Duke — for the second straight home game. They’ll need to continue their improved play in the tournament in Charlotte to extend their season.

STAT PACK

Florida State rallied to finish 12-5 in the ACC after a 1-4 start that included losses at Pitt and Boston College, which finished back in the standings. But the Seminoles played only single games (all losses) against Virginia, North Carolina and Duke.

SENIOR NIGHT

Wake Forest senior Anthony Bilas, a seldom-used reserve was in the starting lineup for the first time in his last home game. Bilas’ father, Jay, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, was in attendance before going to Chapel Hill for the broadcast of the Duke-North Carolina game. Bilas re-entered the game in the final seconds and made an open 3-pointer for the game’s final points.

UP NEXT

Florida State: Plays Virginia Tech or the Wake Forest/Miami winner in the third round of the ACC tournament in Charlotte on March 14.

Wake Forest: Plays Miami in the first round of the ACC tournament on March 12.

Duke’s Zion Williamson officially ruled out against North Carolina

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Duke freshman Zion Williamson has been officially ruled out of Saturday’s ACC rivalry game against North Carolina.

Listed as doubtful on Friday, Williamson has been recovering from a Grade 1 right knee sprain since exploding out of his shoe when the two storied Tobacco Road rivals met a few weeks ago. Saturday will mark the fifth consecutive game that Williamson will miss as Duke has gone 3-1 during his full absence.

When Williamson went down with the knee injury 33 seconds into Duke’s home loss against North Carolina, it shifted the dynamic in a crowded ACC race as the Tar Heels and Virginia remain ahead of Duke entering Saturday’s action.

ACC tournament seeding will be at stake on Saturday as the Blue Devils have a chance at a No. 1 seed with a win and Virginia loss to Louisville. The Tar Heels are also hoping for the season sweep over Duke as they attempt to also earn that No. 1 seed.

While Williamson is being held out on Saturday, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski sounded cautiously optimistic that his star freshman could return for the ACC tournament. The hope is that Williamson can play a few games in Charlotte and get into better game shape before the NCAA tournament.

“I want to give him a chance to get in game shape. I would be surprised if he wasn’t ready by the ACC Tournament, Krzyzewski said Friday. “Hopefully we’ll play some games there, not just one, and get ready for the NCAA Tournament.”

Besides Williamson, Duke is dealing with some other minor injuries at this point in the season. During a sluggish performance in a win over Wake Forest earlier this week, junior center Marques Bolden was limited with a hip injury. Freshman guard Tre Jones also had to be taken to the locker room during the second half with what was described as a bruised right quad. Both are expected to play on Saturday, but Duke is clearly banged up at this point in the season.