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ACC tournament much like everywhere else this weekend: Surprises all around

Bedlam ruled in the Big East, chaos in Conference USA, mayhem in the Mountain West. And here at the ACC, anarchy beckoned.

There was last-place and 12th-seeded Miami advancing to Saturday's semifinals. And there were the Hurricanes leading top-seeded Duke at halftime.

With 11th-seeded North Carolina State also in the semifinals, this already was an historically whacked 12-team conference tournament, only the second nationally in the last 15 years to see the teams with the two worst regular-season records claw to the semis.

And that wasn't all.

In Friday's quarterfinals, Georgia Tech toppled regular-season co-champion Maryland despite committing a ghastly 25 turnovers. Also Friday, the three unanimous first-team All-ACC selections — Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney, Duke's Jon Scheyer and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez — combined to shoot 14-of-53, a sterling 26.4 percent, 3-of-25 on 3-pointers.

Only one team remaining could lend some sanity to the proceedings Saturday. Duke.

But the Blue Devils had squandered a 12-point lead as Miami closed the first half on a 17-2 binge. Hurricanes guards Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant were abusing defenders off the dribble, and official Roger Ayers had saddled Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski with a technical foul.

Top seeds already had fallen at the Big East (Syracuse), Mountain West (New Mexico) and Conference USA (Texas-El Paso) tournaments. Improbable finalists had emerged in the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference.

Were the Devils doomed? Was all this lunacy a precursor to the NCAA tournament?

Thirty seconds into the second half, Kyle Singler, Duke's all-conference forward, hit a 3-pointer from the left corner. A half-minute later, he made a right-wing trey from NBA range, followed by a well-defended fadeaway in the paint off an inbounds play.

Singler's burst gave Duke a lead it would not relinquish en route to a 77-74 victory. A 15-0 surge later in the period ended the suspense, kept the Devils in line for a No. 1 NCAA regional seed and sent them into this afternoon's final against Georgia Tech.

The seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets dispatched N.C. State 57-54 in the other semifinal and will attempt to become the first team to win four games in as many days at the ACC tournament.

Regardless, after a disappointing 7-9 conference regular season, Georgia Tech has played its way into the NCAA tournament. This despite a backcourt that somehow fails to feed freshman power forward and future NBA lottery pick Derrick Favors in the low post.

Favors scored a game-high 17 points Saturday but attempted only 10 shots in 34 minutes, far too few for someone of his varied talents.

Even as Duke attempts to win a second consecutive ACC tournament and its 12th in Krzyzewski's 30 seasons — North Carolina won 13 in Dean Smith's 36 years — the most compelling story here has been Miami.

The Hurricanes were 14-0 against a putrid non-conference schedule, 4-12 versus the ACC. Plus, they are without their leading scorer and rebounder, senior Dwayne Collins, who's sidelined with a leg injury.

Yet Miami trounced Wake Forest and defeated Virginia Tech to reach the semifinals. Long and athletic, the Hurricanes defended effectively in a 2-3 zone, much like Syracuse, and shot well from inside and out.

Why it took until now for Miami to "get it" is a mystery. But with Scott, power forward Reggie Johnson and Grant, two freshmen and a sophomore, the Hurricanes could be a load next season.

"I thought that in the first half we played just about as well as we could," Miami coach Frank Haith said. "I thought in the second half, which Duke always does, they came out with a lot of fire. … Singler just kind of took the game over in the second half."

In the tournament's best contest, Singler had game-highs of 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He made all six of his free throws and 5-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Conversely, Georgia Tech-N.C. State was as grim as most of this weekend's fare, including Javier Gonzalez's late, back-of-the-jersey takedown of Favors. The teams combined to miss 22 free throws and shoot 8-of-36 from 3-point range.

Finalists Duke and Georgia Tech split their regular-season meetings, each winning at home. The Devils rate as clear favorites, but this event has confounded from the opening tip Thursday, when Virginia defeated Boston College to end a nine-game losing streak.

Describing his team Saturday, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt accurately summarized the entire tournament.

"We're kind of imperfect sometimes."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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