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No. 3 North Carolina beats Boston College 79-66

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BOSTON — North Carolina forward Luke Maye grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds in an easy victory over Boston College, and then he was off in transition.

Quickly turning his attention to the No. 3 Tar Heels’ regular season finale against archrival Duke, Maye said of Saturday night’s game with the Atlantic Coast Conference title at stake: “It’s huge for us.”

“We wanted to put ourselves in a position to win it,” he said after Carolina beat BC 79-66 on Tuesday to set up a showdown with the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill. “And we have that opportunity.”

Maye scored 17 and Cameron Johnson had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Tar Heels (25-5, 15-2 ACC), who won their sixth straight game and went unbeaten on the road in the conference for the first time since it began playing an 18-game schedule in 2012-13.

It was also Carolina’s first season with 15 ACC wins. No. 2 Virginia is also 15-2 in the conference, with its finale against Louisville.

Next up for the Tar Heels: fourth-ranked Duke, which escaped with a 71-70 victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday — again without Zion Williamson. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward he didn’t expect Williamson, who sprained his knee when his shoe exploded in the previous game against Carolina, to play in the rematch.

Maye said he wants Williamson, who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, “to be as healthy as he can for his future.”

Johnson said Williamson’s absence won’t affect their preparation.

“The more you get caught up in that stuff, the worse off you’ll be,” he said. “And your mental approach will get thrown off. You’ve got to stay level and be ready to compete under any circumstance.”

Ky Bowman scored 23 points with nine rebounds and Nik Popovic scored 20 for Boston College, which has not beaten the Tar Heels in 12 tries since 2010. The Eagles (14-15, 5-12) have lost four of their past five games overall, and eight of their past 11.

North Carolina outrebounded BC 60-35.

The game was tied 16-all before the Tar Heels ran off 12 straight points, holding BC without a basket for more than five minutes. In all, Carolina scored 32 of the last 41 points in the first to head into halftime with a 48-25 lead.

The Tar Heels led by as many as 25 points early in the second half and led 63-42 with 12 minutes left before Bowman hit a 3-pointer and Popovic scored twice from the inside to make it a 14-point game. But Johnson scored in the lane, Carolina scored on back-to-back fast breaks and then Kenny Williams made a layup to open a 22-point lead.

“Very rarely have you seen our team get down and not fight back, just roll over. That’s the start of it,” BC coach Jim Christian said. “That’s what we’re playing for. What we’re playing for is each other. What we’re playing for is culture. What we’re playing for is to keep getting better.”

STANDING STRONG

Carolina coach Roy Williams had to turn the bench over to assistant Steve Robinson in his previous trip to Chestnut Hill after feeling dizzy and collapsing in the second half. The coach has been diagnosed with vertigo; he also had a spell in the Saturday’s victory against Clemson.

“First of all, I’m thrilled to finish a game,” Williams said. “Especially thrilled to finish a game here.”

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Needs to beat Duke to share the regular-season ACC title; a Blue Devils win would give them a chance to share the title.

Boston College: The Eagles had a chance to play spoiler and ruin the Tar Heels’ chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Instead, BC needs a win in the finale and in the conference tournament to finish .500.

UP NEXT

North Carolina: hosts No. 4 Duke in regular-season finale on Saturday.

Boston College: Finishes its season at home against North Carolina State.

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

Reddish scores 24, No. 2 Duke pulls away to beat BC 80-55

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DURHAM, N.C. — No. 2 Duke has the highest-scoring duo in the country — and if Cameron Reddish can stay hot, yet another effective scoring option.

Reddish scored 24 points, helping the Blue Devils pull away to beat Boston College 80-55 on Tuesday night.

Zion Williamson had 16 points and a season-best 17 rebounds, RJ Barrett finished with 19 points and Tre Jones added 11 points for Duke (20-2, 8-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). Williamson and Barrett average a combined 45.4 points — the most by two teammates in Division I.

Reddish averages 13 but is capable of putting up big numbers, too. This was his fifth 20-point game.

“Obviously, we’ve got a great team around me,” Reddish said. “Everybody can contribute. Tonight was just my night, and I was making shots. It happens.”

The Blue Devils overcame some shaky early shooting by shooting 63 percent after halftime to claim their sixth straight win, and they will be no worse than tied for first in the league standings when they visit No. 3 Virginia on Saturday night.

Jordan Chatman scored 16 points while North Carolina native Ky Bowman finished with 11 — he averages 20.8 — on 5-of-17 shooting while facing constant pressure from Jones. BC (11-10, 2-7) gave Duke fits for a half before fading down the stretch of its third straight loss.

“They ramped it up all over the floor,” coach Jim Christian said. “We knew that. We needed to meet their intensity, and I thought the first five minutes of the second half, all the things we did really, really well in the first half, we didn’t do well on the defensive end.”

Reddish finished one point shy of his previous high, set Nov. 11 against Army, and this was his best game since scoring 23 at Florida State on Jan. 12 and hitting the game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

He scored 10 points in less than four minutes, hitting two 3s three possessions apart while starting the 23-8 run that put the Blue Devils in control. The lead gradually grew from there, with Alex O’Connell making it a 20-point game with his jumper with about five minutes left.

Reddish’s best play might have been the one that started that decisive burst: He stripped Bowman in the backcourt and hit a layup in the final second of the half — one of his two steals.

“It reminded me of (NBA star Grant Hill), what he was doing, because he’s 6-foot-8 and he’s so long,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And I think that helped him offensively. Because you’re moving strong, you’re playing strong, and it translates to other aspects of your game.”

BIG PICTURE

Boston College: Bowman saves some of his best performances for the four ACC schools from his home state — he scored 33 points two years ago against North Carolina and 30 in last year’s victory over Duke, and helped them take a 30-28 halftime lead. But until now he never had to contend with Jones, one reason why the Eagles remained winless at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke: The Blue Devils were at both extremes with their enigmatic 3-point shooting. Duke, which entered shooting a program-worst 30.9 percent from long distance, missed 14 of 15 3s in the first half while trailing 30-28 at the break. And then the Blue Devils hit four of their first six in the second half while they pulled away.

ZIONLIGHT

Even Williamson’s missed dunks draw oohs and aahs. It looked like it was showtime when he stole a pass near midcourt with about nine minutes left and had a breakaway. But when the ball slipped off his wet hands, he sent his reverse dunk hard off the iron — his first miss on a breakaway all season.

“The ref would tell me, `Z, tuck your jersey in,’ and I’d be like, `Mr. Ref, my jersey’s wet. I sweat a lot,” Williamson said. “I wasn’t mad at the ref. I was mad at myself for trying to go too fast.”

TRE BIEN

Jones has locked down on two high-scoring guards in a four-day span. He held St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds — who averages 20.9 points — to 11 points before leading the defensive effort against Bowman.

HE SAID IT

“I say it would have been a 9 1/2. Not a 10 yet. . It would need another spin. He knows what I’m looking for.” — Sophomore guard Mike Buckmire, Williamson’s sidekick in the locker room, on how he would have rated that dunk if Williamson hadn’t missed it.

UP NEXT

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Saturday.

Duke: Visits the Cavaliers on Saturday night in a rematch of the Blue Devils’ 72-70 victory three weeks ago.

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

Virginia Tech tops Boston College 77-66 for 8th straight win

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BLACKSBURG, Va. — Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 25 points to lead No. 10 Virginia Tech to a 77-66 victory over Boston College on Saturday.

Alexander-Walker made 9 of 14 from the floor for the Hokies (13-1, 2-0 ACC), who overcame a cold-shooting first half to win their eighth straight game. Virginia Tech shot 55.6 percent in the second half (15 of 27).

Boston College (9-4, 0-1) led early in the second half, but Virginia Tech took control with an 11-0 run. Alexander-Walker scored six of those points as the Hokies took a 43-36 lead and never trailed. Alexander-Walker set a career high in scoring in an ACC game.

Virginia Tech led by as many as 16 in the second half and maintained the lead because of its proficiency from the free-throw line. The Hokies made 9 of their final 11 attempts in the final 9:16 and finished 21 of 25 for the game.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. added 20 points for Virginia Tech, hitting 6 of 7 from the floor and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. Justin Robinson scored 12 and had five assists.

Jordan Chatman paced the Eagles with 18 points. Boston College shot just 39.6 percent (19 of 48).

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: Alexander-Walker has scored in double figures in all 13 games he’s played this season and scored at least 20 points in seven games.

Boston College: The Eagles will need improved play from star guard Ky Bowman to compete in the ACC. Bowman entered the game averaging 20.9 points, but scored just 14 against the Hokies. He didn’t hit a field goal in the final 18:31 and scored just two points on free throws.

ACC Reset: Does ACC title run through Durham or Charlottesville?

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College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.

To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?

Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?

What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?

What is still left for us to figure out?

We break it all down here.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the ACC.

MIDSEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Zion Williamson, Duke

This decision really is not all that difficult. As of today, Zion Williamson is likely the favorite to win National Player of the Year; he’s been atop the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings for more than a month. The numbers he is putting up for the No. 1 team in the country more than speak for themselves — 19.8 points, 9.4 boards, 2.3 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.9 blocks — but it is more than that. He’s the most unstoppable force in college hoops. He is the piece that allows Duke to play the way they want to play this season. His versatility defensively is a major reason the Blue Devils are one of the top three teams in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric while his ability to grab-and-go in transition and make plays using his out-of-this-world physical gifts is why the Blue Devils are an impossible matchup.

Williamson is a special, special talent. By the end of the year, even the world’s biggest Duke haters will be forced to agree.

THE ALL-ACC FIRST TEAM

  • ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
  • R.J. BARRETT, Duke: There are 353 teams in college basketball, and Barrett is ninth nationally in scoring and putting up those numbers while playing on the No. 1 team in the country. Let’s not overthink this.
  • DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia: Kyle Guy is Virginia’s leading scorer and Ty Jerome is arguably their best player, but for my money Hunter is the guy that needs to be recognized on this list. He’s the most talented player on the roster and is the guy that allows the Wahoos to be matchup proof.
  • NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech: Not only is Alexander-Walker one of the best players in the conference — he’s averaging 18.5 points, 4.3 boards, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals while shooting 46.8 percent from three — he’s probably the most improved as well. He’s turned into a knockdown jumpshooter than is a playmaker defensively and thrives initiating offense and running pick-and-rolls. He’s become a lottery pick.
  • CAMERON JOHNSON, North Carolina: North Carolina’s best player to date this season, which is odd considering Luke Maye was their preseason all-american, Nassir Little is the future top five pick that can’t seem to crack the starting lineup and Coby White is the freshman getting all the hype.

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

  • NCAA: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State, N.C. State, Louisville, Syracuse, Clemson
  • NIT: Miami, Boston College, Notre Dame, Pitt
  • OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech
(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. DUKE’S FRESHMEN ARE WORTH THE HYPE

This is hardly breaking news.

Zion Williamson has been absolutely sensational. R.J. Barrett is a guy that has his flaws as a basketball player, but those flaws will not be all that visible when he’s playing against college athletes. Cam Reddish is struggling to find his role on this Duke team and has still managed to put up 13.5 points in just 23.8 minutes while shooting 35.6 percent from; if only all freshmen could struggle like that.

And then there is Tre Jones, the unsung hero on this Duke roster. He is a game-changing defensive presence, precisely the kind of point guard that Duke has been looking for since … well, since Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils are the favorite to win the national title this season because of those four players.

So yes.

Duke’s freshmen are worth the hype.

2. VIRGINIA MIGHT BE BETTER THAN THEY WERE A YEAR AGO

This is my favorite storyline of the season to date. Coming off of the most embarrassing loss in the history of college basketball, the Wahoos entered this season carrying the burden of being the only No. 1 seed to have ever lost to a No. 16 seed, and they’re doing so while already being saddled with the reputation of being a choke artist.

Let’s call it like it is: In the last five NCAA tournaments, Virginia has either blown a lead they shouldn’t have blown or lost earlier in the tournament than they should have based on their seed. People remember things like that, since that is the time when the most people are paying attention to college basketball.

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Now stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this might actually be the best Virginia team that we have seen in the Tony Bennett era. They’re as good defensively as we have become accustomed to this program being, but this team is better offensively than a typical Virginia team. Kyle Guy has been very good once again this season. Ty Jerome continues to play like a future pro. Freshman Kihei Clark has given them the lineup versatility that we knew they were lacking. Most importantly, De’Andre Hunter has given Virginia a dynamic combo-forward than can defend up and has NBA ability on the perimeter.

This is a dangerous basketball team.

3. “THE REST” IS LOADED THIS YEAR

Before the season started, one of the questions that we had about the ACC what who would be the team that would be the best of the rest; who would win the race for fourth in a league that is going to be dominated by Duke, Virginia and North Carolina.

As it turns out, there is more than one team vying for the title of “best of the rest”, and there is legitimate reason to wonder whether or not each of those teams can crack the top three in the league.

Let’s start with Virginia Tech, who has emerged as the best team that Buzz Williams has produced in Blacksburg. We knew, coming into the season, just how good Justin Robinson was, but with the emergence of Nickeil Alexander-Walker as a legitimate star in the league, the Hokies all of a sudden look like they have the best backcourt in the ACC. They start four seniors, they are betting quality minutes off their bench and we still haven’t seen Landers Nolley or Chris Clarke. This team is for real.

I think the same can be said for Florida State. While M.J. Walker has not quite taken the step forward I think everyone expected him to take, Mfiondu Kabengele has developed into one of the most productive players in the ACC. Trent Forrest has embraced the point guard role while Terance Mann is playing the best basketball of his life. If Phil Cofer can get back to where he was last season, the Seminoles are a very real threat to get back to the Elite Eight.

I also believe that N.C. State belongs in this conversation as well. I have so much respect for what Kevin Keatts is able to do when running a program, and it only took him one year to get the Wolfpack to be what he wants a basketball team to be: They’re loaded with guards, they love to press, they have a number of guys that can really shoot the rock and their bigs are good enough to get the job done. They’re probably third-best of this group, but that still leaves them as something close to a top 15 team this season.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW

1. CAN A GROUP OF FRESHMEN WIN A NATIONAL TITLE?

Only twice in the one-and-done era has a team that was built around freshmen won the national title. Kentucky did in in 2012 with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist running the show. Duke did it in 2015, as Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow carried them to a title. This Duke team, however, is different in the sense that their four-best players are all freshmen. Neither the 2012 Kentucky team nor the 2015 Duke team had this little upper-class influence on their roster. 

That said, I think the reason that there is a very real shot Duke can get this done is the presence of a couple of key veterans pieces. Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden don’t play all that much, but the options that they provide Duke — Bolden with his size and rim protection, DeLaurier with his versatility and shot-blocking — let Mike Krzyzewski change looks based on opponent.

But the two biggest reasons why I think Duke can avoid the fate of other freshman-led teams — besides, you know, the fact that their Big Three is awesome — is the presence of Jack White and Tre Jones. Those two are elite level glue guys that make a major difference in the way Duke can play. We took a deep dive into their impact on the program last month.

2. WILL SYRACUSE TURN THIS THING BACK AROUND?

The Orange are the team in the ACC that has been the toughest to figure out early on this season. On the one hand, this is a team that wasn’t all that good last season that managed to gather quite a bit of preseason hype due to the fact that they won three NCAA tournament games and returned everyone of note from last year’s team.

So I get it.

But it’s also worth noting that this is a team that was elite defensively last season and not only added a couple of talented offensive weapons, they brought back Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle, the former a sophomore expected to make the leap and the latter and all-american and NBA draft hopeful. I know that they have lost to some teams they should not have lost to, but I think the ceiling is still there.

That said, it seems like the best place for Syracuse to be heading into the NCAA tournament is as a No. 10 or No. 11 seed. So maybe the Orange are right where they want to be.

3. WHAT HAPPENS WITH NASSIR LITTLE VS. ROY WILLIAMS?

The most annoying topic of discussion this season has been the debate over whether or not Nassir Little deserves more playing time for North Carolina. The truth is this: Little plays a position where North Carolina has depth to spare. We know Roy Williams wants to play with two big men. We also know that he already has Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson on the roster. If Little wants to get minutes, he is either going to have to outplay one of those guys — one of whom was an all-american last season and the other who has been playing at an all-american level this season — or be good enough to convince Williams to play small.

And while Little has been effective this season, he hasn’t done either of those things. It might happen as he continues to get acclimated to the college level and figures out what Williams wants from him, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The reason Little isn’t playing more isn’t a conspiracy. He just has a lot in front of him to beat out.

(Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. VIRGINIA WINS THE ACC TITLE AGAIN

The Cavaliers are legit this season. I’m on board with the idea that this is Tony Bennett’s best team in Charlottesville, and I think they prove that with their fourth ACC regular season title in the last six seasons.

2. DUKE JOINS VIRGINIA IN THE FINAL FOUR

I also think this is the year that Virginia breaks through and makes it to the Final Four. The narrative will always be “you can’t win the big one” until you win the big one. Ask Jay Wright. Or Bill Self. Or Mark Few. Or Jim Calhoun. Tony Bennett is the next on that list.

Duke will join them there as well, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The Blue Devils are my pick to win the title.

3. THE ACC GETS AT LEAST THREE TEAMS INTO THE ELITE EIGHT

I really believe in the depth of this league, and I already told you I think that they are going to get two teams into the Final Four. This means that one of the other four top 15 teams find a way to win three games in March. That’s very doable.

Boston College surprises Chris Herren, Jr. with scholarship

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It’s the season of glad tidings and decking halls, but also giving.

Boston College coach Jim Christian got in the spirit this week.

Christian and the Eagles surprised walk-on Chris Herren, Jr. with a scholarship after practice, making their entry into the “awarding walk-ons a scholarship” genre with video of them breaking the good news.

The pump-fake from Christian and the staff was nice, but really, it’s Herren’s initial confusion as to what he was reading that really makes the video.

Happy holidays.

Monday’s Things to Know: No. 1 Gonzaga wins; ACC/Big Ten Challenge starts; Oregon, South Carolina falls

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Monday’s college hoops had the start of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge while No. 1 Gonzaga played without one of its rotation players for the first time. An SEC team also lost at home to a regular giant killer.

ACC/BIG TEN CHALLENGE GETS STARTED

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge started with two matchups between unranked opponents. The two games earned splits among the two leagues with each of the winners getting solid non-conference wins in the process.

Nebraska (6-1) earned its biggest non-conference road win in two seasons as the Huskers held off Clemson for a 68-66 win. Getting 20 points and nine rebounds from senior James Palmer Jr., Nebraska might have just picked up a win they desperately needed for postseason implications.

The Huskers still have more opportunities to earn solid non-conference wins against Creighton and Oklahoma State, but the road win against a Sweet 16 team on the road is a huge confidence booster.

Boston College (5-1) pulled out a 68-56 win over previously-unbeaten Minnesota at home in the second game. Nik Popovic went for 18 points as the Eagles won even though Ky Bowman (13 points) didn’t have his best game from the field.

The Eagles have that loss to IUPUI. They’ve also earned back-to-back wins over Loyola and Minnesota to help themselves build some momentum for Providence and Texas A&M.

NO. 1 GONZAGA CRUISES TO WIN WHILE ALSO LOSING CRANDALL

New No. 1 Gonzaga earned a 102-60 non-conference home win over North Dakota State on Monday night as six players finished in double-figures. Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura both finished with 18 points while Corey Kispert had 17 points.

But perhaps the bigger news of the day for the Zags is the loss of senior backup guard Geno Crandall with a fractured right hand. Gonzaga has a tough stretch of non-conference games beginning on Dec. 1 that includes two matchups with top-15 teams.

We’ll have to see if Gonzaga can sustain like this with the loss of Crandall, and how it alters Perkins playing heavy minutes at lead guard.

TEXAS SOUTHERN STUNS NO. 18 OREGON

The last game of the evening saw the night’s biggest upset as Texas Southern shocked No. 18 Oregon with a non-conference road win. The Tigers scored 57 points in the second half as big man Trayvon Reed was a perfect 9-for-9 from the field to finish with 23 points and seven rebounds. Five Texas Southern players finished in double-figures as John Jones also added 20 points.

This is a stunning loss for Oregon, who had 32 points and 11 rebounds from freshman big man Bol Bol, as they couldn’t protect the rim following the loss of big man Kenny Wooten to a left knee injury. Reed scored all of his buckets on dunks as his interior physicality was an issue for the Ducks.

Oregon doesn’t have the most difficult schedule coming up, but this is a concerning loss to a team from a one-bid league. They need to fix the interior defense while also a consistent third scoring option behind Bol and Payton Pritchard. Freshman Louis King would at least help in the third scorer department for the Ducks, but they’ll have to hope the injury to Wooten isn’t anything serious.

WOFFORD CLIPS SOUTH CAROLINA

For the second straight season, Wofford earned a big road win over a high-major opponent. Although this season wasn’t quite as big as last season’s win at the Dean Dome over North Carolina, the Terriers knocked off South Carolina for another big road win.

The SoCon had 30 points and nine three-pointers from junior guard Nathan Hoover while senior Fletcher Magee only had eight points on 3-for-15 shooting. Wofford still has two more major opportunities to win at Kansas and at Mississippi State before conference season begins.

South Carolina (3-3) meanwhile dropped another one to a one-bid league at home as they’ve really struggled to win against lesser competition. The Gamecocks still have two games against top-ten teams (No. 7 Michigan and No. 4 Virginia) and an in-state game against Clemson before SEC play even gets started. Considering this team also lost to a Division II opponent, and this season could get ugly for South Carolina.