Opportunity knocks in ACC tournament

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina State guard Anthony Barber has replayed the turnover time and again. The Wolfpack had Syracuse all but beaten in the Carrier Dome when Barber’s deflected pass led to C.J. Fair’s game-winning layup with 12 seconds left.

Syracuse had just two baskets off turnovers in the second half of its 55-54 win over the Pack. That’s why Barber kept telling himself he shouldn’t have thrown the ball.

“I should have just held it because they were either going to foul or time was going to run out, but it was something that I [saw] Kyle [Washington]] was open and was trying to get him the ball, but they deflected it and went down and scored the ball,” Barber said. “I was kind of hurt behind it, but there’s nothing you can do about it but move forward.”

Barber and the No. 7 seed Pack will get their chance to avenge the loss to the No. 2 seed Orange in the ACC tournament quarterfinals Friday. Based on the regular season, the quarterfinals present intriguing matchups on what has historically been the tournament’s best day of action.

No. 5 seed Pittsburgh lost last month at No. 4 seed North Carolina. The Panthers had a chance to tie the game with seven seconds left but Lamar Patterson missed a 3-pointer and the Tar Heels won 75-71. Top-seeded Virginia did sweep No. 9 seed Florida State with identical 12-point wins, but both those games were played before Jan. 18 in a bit of a scheduling quirk. No. 6 seed Clemson -- not Kansas, not Arizona, not Carolina -- handed No. 3 seed Duke its worst loss of the season 72-59.

Florida State, NC State, Clemson and Pitt are still trying to fight their way into the NCAA tournament. That’s why NC State coach Mark Gottfried said the regular-season loss didn’t matter.

“It’s not about payback, it’s about opportunity,” said Gottfried after NC State’s 67-58 win over Miami. “And we’ve got an opportunity [Friday] that’s golden -- couldn’t ask for a better one.”

The Panthers are the closest thing to a lock. Although they haven’t beaten any of the league’s top four teams, they pounded the lower tier, including their 84-55 win over Wake Forest Thursday. A win over Carolina would solidify any doubts that they are worthy of an NCAA bid.

The Pack boasts ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren, who is capable of carrying a team stringing together upsets -- starting with the Orange, since none of the NC State players have forgotten how bitter their loss was in the Carrier Dome.

“It was a tough way to end it at their place,” Warren said. “But moving on, the best time to play them is in the ACC tournament, so we’re looking forward to that.”

The Seminoles are on bubble watch, which makes their 67-65 escape against Maryland all the more crucial. A win over the Cavs would be one step closer to earning a bid, but coach Leonard Hamilton said he wasn’t thinking about the NCAA.

“Bracketology has become sport that we all love to talk about and try to speculate, but that’s for conversation,” Hamilton said. “The only way we’re going to have some postseason opportunities is to tune everything else out and try to go out and win as many games as possible. That’s what the game plan will be as we move forward to Virginia.”

Pitt players didn’t want to talk much about their bubble status either. Forward Talib Zanna said the focus was on Carolina, particularly because he didn’t feel like they were locked in during the teams’ first meeting.

“Everybody’s mind wasn’t there; we weren’t focused, we were carried away,” Zanna said. “We had foul trouble from Lamar and [Cameron Wright] and that kind of took our offense away.”

Lost in the promise of a new day was the end of an era for Maryland in the ACC. The Terrapins, who were a charter member of the league, played their final game, losing on Boris Bojanovsky’s dunk with 0.4 seconds left.

“We knew what the ACC meant to our fans, and we just weren’t good enough to get the win today,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “… We knew what it meant to our people. We’re going to miss it. It’s a great league, great coaches. We’re going to miss Greensboro. It was a great tournament, well run. We’re going to miss that part of it. But the good thing is we're going to another great league, great coaches, great tournament.”