CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Today might be the last appearance by Bobby Cremins in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Regardless whether the rumors are true that he will return after the season to his alma mater, South Carolina, Cremins hopes to win his third ACC championship for Georgia Tech.
Cremins, whose Yellow Jackets teams have won two ACC titles in his 12 years, will get that chance against top-ranked, top-seeded North Carolina at 3 p.m. today at the Charlotte Coliseum. Georgia Tech advanced to the final with a 69-61 semifinal victory yesterday over Clemson.
"This team did not quit on us, and we did not quit on them," said Cremins, whose sixth-seeded Yellow Jackets upset Duke, 69-66, Friday night to reach the semis. "When we started to fall apart and lose some games that we shouldn't have lost, these guys didn't want to be part of a losing team, a team that didn't go to the NCAA Tournament."
For the second straight game, Georgia Tech (18-10) didn't make things easy for its already white-haired coach. As they did Friday against Duke, the Yellow Jackets again nearly frittered away a 10-point lead.
Leading by eight, 57-49, on a breakaway layup by freshman forward Martice Moore with 5:59 remaining, Georgia Tech saw its lead cut to three, 64-61, on a long jumper by Tigers guard Malcolm Mackey. Originally ruled a three-point shot, it was changed to a two-pointer during an ensuing timeout.
"From where I was, I didn't have such a good view," said Clemson coach Cliff Ellis, whose team will likely get an NIT bid. "If his foot was on the line, I wouldn't contest it. I'm sure they wouldn't reverse a call unless they saw it."
"I saw it," said official Sam Croft.
The Yellow Jackets, who were next-to-last in free-throw shooting during the regular season, made 12 of 14 free throws down the stretch to hold off Clemson.
After upsetting second-seeded Florida State Friday night, the Tigers failed in their bid to reach the school's first ACC final since 1962. Sophomore forward Devin Gray of Baltimore, coming off a 23-point, nine-rebound performance against the Seminoles, had a particulary disappointing afternoon.
"A rough day at the office," Ellis said of Gray, who was 0-for-15 from the field after shooting 10 of 14 against Florida State.
Said Gray, who played 34 scoreless minutes, "It was very frustrating. My points were the difference in the game."
So were James Forrest's. The sophomore forward, who had 27 points on 13 of 15 shooting against Duke, scored 26 yesterday on 11 of 17 from the field to go over 1,000 points in his career. Chris Whitney led Clemson (16-12) with 21 points.
Georgia Tech, which was on somewhat shaky NCAA Tournament ground coming into this weekend, won titles in 1985 (over North Carolina) and again in 1990 (over Virginia) while losing the 1986 title game (to Duke). The Yellow Jackets lost twice to the Tar Heels during the regular season, by 13 in Chapel Hill and by 11 in Atlanta.
"We have to play a great basketball game," said Cremins.
Cremins has declined to discuss his situation regarding South Carolina -- informed sources said that he is leaning toward taking the job -- and yesterday requested that his players not be asked about it either.
But one thing is certain: if the rumors are true, he could certainly get a pretty good going-away present.