It’s the battle of the one and two seeds for the ACC title tonight as North Carolina and Virginia square off with two completely different styles of basketball.
The Tar Heels balanced offense is quick and will try to beat you in transition. Marcus Paige found his rhythm in the Heels semi-final game against Notre Dame which opened things up in the inside for guys like Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
Carolina is a threat on offense but on Friday night they proved that they’re defense has taken the next step, holding the Fighting Irish to just 47 points and forcing 17 turnovers.
Virginia has been in control the entire ACC Tournament with their slow tempo and execution. The Cavs will try to stop the transition, keep the Heels out of the paint, and win the rebounding battle.
On February 27th Virginia edged Carolina in Charlottesville 79-74, and the biggest key to that game was offensive rebounds. The Cavs held a strong inside team to 13 offensive boards.
It will be a battle at the Verizon Center as UNC will look to create opportunities with a balanced, quick offensive attack from the perimeter to the inside, UVA will also try to do what they’ve done all year, take it a possession at a time and outlast the Heels by controlling the pace and the game.
Tonight, North Carolina looks for their first ACC Title since 2008, and its 18th Championship. Virginia has won the ACC Tournament twice, but goes after its third title in three years.
After UNC’s win over Pitt on Thursday Roy Williams was asked if his team was in the position they were because of an easier schedule than other schools.
The Tar Heel head coach purposefully defended his team by listing the challenging conference and non- conference teams they have faced this year. The Heels answered any questions regarding their ability in tournament play with a convincing 78-47 win in the semi-finals over Notre Dame.
Whether it’s Joel Berry driving down the lane, or Marcus Paige pulling up for back-to-back three’s, the Tar Heels have every piece of a championship caliber team.
In February Notre Dame played above its statistical averages to pull out the win over North Carolina; in the ACC semi-finals the Fighting Irish played well below expectations while UNC dominated in every area.
The Tar Heels advance into the ACC Championship behind a strong defensive performance that will play a significant role moving forward.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said Carolina’s defense was the best that they’ve seen in a while and his team just wasn’t prepared for it.
Carolina held Notre Dame without a field goal for 7 minutes and to just 30% from the floor while also forcing 17 turnovers, a season high for the Fighting Irish who prides themselves on being one of the best in the country at controlling the basketball.
Marcus Paige wasn’t in the shadows on Friday night; he was hitting three’s from outside the arc that were followed by the loudest cheers that have erupted from the Verizon Center all week.
“I guess you can say I got back to the old me, but I didn’t think I ever left,” said the senior about breaking out of his slump for 16 points and connecting on 4 of 7 three pointers. Paige also dished out seven assists with no turnovers. Joel Berry added four assists and controlled the ball just as well as his teammate with no miscues.
Paige also added, “It helps the team because we have to have balance. We shot 40% I think from the three as a team. That’s a lot better than what we’ve been doing. It opens up the inside for guys like Isaiah, Kennedy and Brice. I’m glad I did my part.”
The lane was opened the majority of the contest for Carolina who scored 40 points in the paint.
Carolina poured in 24 straight points to end the first half and start second half action, and with Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste getting into foul trouble the Fighting Irish struggled to defend anything.
The Tar Heels had their own foul trouble with Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks racking up fouls early. Even without Johnson, Carolina continued to make plays on both ends.
“I think it says a lot for our team. Isaiah has been pretty doggone good for us all year long. That’s the impressive part,” said Williams of the Heels 18-0 run while Brice Johnson was on the bench.
Isaiah Hicks came in off the bench and immediately made an impact with four points and an offensive board.
Williams was impressed with Hicks’ play, “Isaiah, 15 rebounds, was a big force, to say the least.”
Hicks also had 11 points to go along with his 15 boards.
When Marcus Paige was asked if the team was playing their best at the right time, the senior answered, “I think we’re getting better,” which earned a nod of approval from Roy Williams.
Virginia fell in the regular season to Georgia Tech, but got the victory when it counted the most; the 72-52 win in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. Two games are ahead of Virginia, they must first take care of business Friday night, but after their performance on Thursday, the Cavs look like the most consistent team remaining in the tournament.
For the third game in a row on Thursday the tone wasn’t set until the second half. After 20 minutes the Cavs held onto the 30-28 lead but got things going in the final half.
“I thought the second half was really key. We did what we needed to do. We talked a bit at halftime. It was pretty even in terms of both teams wanted to battle the way they wanted to play. You talk about imposing wills. Let’s get a little tougher offensively. We talked about staying with it offensively and we got our lifts from everybody, of course,” Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett said of his team’s second half performance.
It felt like a Virginia home game in the Verizon Center and it didn’t go unnoticed for Virginia as they continued to feed off of the energy throughout the game.
“It was an awesome crowd out there. Coming out of the tunnel, I saw those orange shirts, I was just stunned. It was a lot of people out there for us, a lot of support. The fans were just great tonight,” said Anthony Gill of the Cavs crowd.
Gill had 12 points, eight rebounds, a block, and a steal but Virginia’s success of course starts with ACC Player of the Year Malcom Brogdon who led UVA in the win with 26 points on 10 of 15 shooting, two points shy of his career high.
Virginia took advantage of the Yellow Jackets miscues, scoring 22 points off of Georgia Tech’s 14 turnovers.
Of the two previous winners before them, there was a different kind of point and quiet confidence for Virginia.
Carolina is a team that is tough to beat if the offense gets going in transition and the team is clicking on all cylinders, but the question still remains regarding their consistency.
Notre Dame is used to being the underdogs, despite being the defending tournament champs. They’re fight is exciting, and if Zach Auguste continues to crash the glass as he did against Duke with 22 boards, the Fighting Irish could surprise some people.
But Virginia, they seemed different in their post-game press conference. Malcom Brogdon’s focus, Anthony Gill’s looseness, and Tony Bennett’s steady confidence makes UVA an intriguing team. They of course dominated the Yellow Jackets, but they did it as a team with control. That’s the difference between Virginia and the others, the Cavs control the game. Every play that happened seemed like it was executed the way it was drawn up.
The Cavs will certainly need that execution to win the ACC Tournament.
Molly Cotten: ESPN730 Reporter
The afternoon game between Duke and Notre Dame looked very familiar to the way North Carolina defeated Pitt in the first game on Thursday. Like their rival Duke throttled down late in the first half and finished with a 13-2 run to lead 45-37 at the half over the Fighting Irish.
Duke’s exhaustion from the win on Wednesday over NC State seemed to set in about midway through the second half; although, the Blue Devils continued to do what they’ve done all season, rotate a small selection and continue to fight, despite the efforts, Duke’s 16 point lead was erased by the ACC defending champions.
Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey said he wasn’t surprised by his team’s come-from-behind win because his team makes plays when it matters the most.
“This nucleus of guys, they’ve been doing this for a while. That was reminiscent of us in the post-season last year of making a big shot, getting a big rebound, making big free throws. But proud of our group because we had to defend to get out of there.”
Against such an explosive offense like Duke it definitely came down to defending and making key shots in the final minutes. A lot of those plays down the stretch were ignited by Zach Auguste who had a big block, a bucket on the other side, and another block. Auguste pulled down 22 rebounds, which is tied for the second highest single game total in tournament history. The senior falls in pretty good company with his 22 boards, he’s tied with Tim Duncan and just one rebound short of Jim Ritcher’s record setter.
Coach Brey said, “I don’t think there’s a player in the country that’s playing better than Zach Auguste.”
When it comes to crashing the glass, there are not many who can compete.
“It was tough, got to give a lot of credit to them. Big bodies, physical, love to battle in the paint. I took that challenge upon myself individually. We talked about it collectively as a team to limit their second-chance opportunities. That’s what we did,” Auguste said of his performance.
Auguste and V.J. Beachem led the team with 19 points; five Notre Dame players scored in double figures while three Duke players scored in the double-digits. Grayson Allen led the charge with 27 points.
The Fighting Irish may continue to be the underdogs but they’ve gained a lot of respect in the state of North Carolina, winning 11 of its last 12 games versus conference schools from North Carolina.
Notre Dame will test their strength once again against a North Carolina opponent when they take on UNC on Friday night at 7. In the regular season the Fighting Irish edged the regular season champs, 80-76.
Molly Cotten: ESPN730 Reporter
The Verizon Center was filled with Carolina Blue for the first game on Thursday afternoon as UNC faced off against Pitt. The Panthers advanced to the 2nd round after edging Syracuse 72-71, despite giving up a 14 point lead Pitt was able to escape in their first game in Washington DC and got off to a strong start the following afternoon against North Carolina. Entering the game against UNC, Pitt was 20-0 when scoring 70 or more points, they are now 20-1 after the Heels overcame a slow start for the 88-71 victory. Pitt led the way during the first 18 minutes, but the Tarheels came alive late.
The last 2 minutes of the first half, the crowd exploded as North Carolina found its energy and rhythym to finish out the opening 20 minutes on a 10-0 run highlighted by a behind the back pass from Pinson that finished with a Tarheel dunk and capped off by a Marcus Paige block to solidify the 39-35 halftime lead.
Carolina shot 56.7 from the field and 40% from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes. Roy Williams said it was Joel Berry who fueled the entire half for the Heels.
“Joel Berry was our offense. There’s no question about that. That’s a pretty impressive line, 7-8 from the floor, 4-4 from the line, four steals, Brice’s five blocks. All those things, they do help you defensively.”
Defense turns to offense and that’s exactly what Berry showed late in the first half with a steal and a basket on the other side of the court. Carolina stopped the Panthers on six straight possessions which produced offense and a late half surge.
Joel Berry couldn’t miss in the first 20 minutes as he went 6 for 6 from the field and also connected on one of Carolinas 2 threes for 13 points. Pitt Head Coach Jamie Dixon spoke about Berry’s performance following the Panthers loss.
“I thought Berry was the guy early on that really kept us from having a bigger lead. He to me was the guy then in the second half they really spread it around and hurt us inside.”
Brice Johnson took things over in the 2nd half and finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. It’s the seniors 20th double double of the season which leads the ACC. Johnson also had five blocks for just the second time in his carrer, and both of those performances came against Pitt.
Carolina shot 62% in the second half, 59% for the game and finished with 40 points in the paint to Pitt’s 26. The Heels have weapons from the perimeter to the inside, making them a big threat because of the created opportunities on offense that are difficult to defend.
“We were able to get the ball inside. Brice gave us a big life. Isaiah came in, gave us a big lift. Just having the balance of the inside-outside attack, that helped us out a lot. When Brice is scoring in the post, that helps us a lot. In the second half I think we got better movement than we did in the first half. That was a big key.”
Joel Berry said of the balance offensive attack.
The Carolina Tarheels will head to the semi-finals on Friday night at 7 in the Verizon Center.
Molly Cotten: ESPN730 Reporter
After a two hour rush hour bus ride from San Francisco to Opening Night in San Jose, jet lag, and no dinner I thought we had made it through the most eventful ( and tiring) night of Super Bowl week. For those who watched it on Television you may have seen the Broncos and Panthers grand entrance on a stage, Josh Norman’s wrestling mask, or Luke Kuechly and Vernon Davis on stage together. For the media and players it was a surreal experience with people from all over the world. Some people were dressed in costumes others were from other countries and have never seen football in person.
I was hoping that the 7:30 wake-up call on Tuesday morning would really feel like 10:30 because my body clock was still in Eastern time, but when my chimes went off from my phone, it felt like 6:00am; I was already feeling the effects of Super Bowl week and it hadn’t even been a full day.
In the morning Jeff and I were greeted by Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Michael Rosenberg who, like everyone else, wanted to write about Marty Hurney. Michael sat at our booth on radio row and listened to the first hour of Inside the Lines with Marty. You can find Michael’s interview here: http://www.si.com/nfl/2016/02/02/super-bowl-50-preview-marty-hurney-panthers-broncos
I then got on the media bus to San Jose to cover the Panthers media availability and the A-Team (Bobby, Chris, and Jeff) did the Pulse from 12-4 here in California. The first full “work day” was done, now what? The radio shows may have been done but the day was far from over, or as Chris says, “If we’re waiting for Christmas, this is Thanksgiving.” The activities weren’t over, but close. There was a media (the could have, would have, should have been, wannabe athletes) party that capped off the Tuesday in San Francisco.
The Exploratorium hosted the media event, the words “free” and “food” are guaranteed to draw media members from all over and we were the first ones in line.
Jeff may have said it best to describe our initial feeling, “A bar for fries? This is heaven.” Three different types of fries with cheese and sauces to go along with sliders, mini quesadillas, homemade chips, tacos, and a doughnut bar.
The event ended so we hopped on a bus that took us where the rest of the local Charlotte media was, or so we thought. We realized that after we got off the bus there were no familiar faces. Turned out they went to a local bar called Grumpy’s; we were actually supposed to end up there but found ourselves in front of a hotel. The outcome should be no surprise because we got on a bus without having any idea where it was actually going.
The adventure continued, this time in a Taxi Cab. The driver drove us to Grumpy’s despite Chris calling it “Groucho’s” four times.
It looked dark in a bar that was supposed to be filled with media members, Chris got back to the cab after checking the front doors, “It was an incomplete pass.” Grumpy’s was closed.
San Fransisco-1, ESPN730 - 0.
When the alarm goes off at 3:15 in the morning there’s first confusion and then irritation about the fact that the four hours of sleep was the equivalent of a nap. Some of us are used to getting home at that time, not getting up at that hour. The wake-up call gets easier once you remember you’re catching a flight to San Francisco for Super Bowl week and then you get a flood of anxious feelings because you remember you’re catching a flight for Super Bowl week.
You check and double check the night before making sure you have everything, then you recheck it all in the morning yet convince yourself you forget something or won’t have enough for the week. We’re currently 30,000 feet up in the air, over Salt Lake City, but at this point none of us have realized we’ve forgotten anything, stay tuned, that realization will come when the bags are unpacked at the hotel.
If all else fails one of us could borrow something of Bobby’s, he came prepared, 42 pounds prepared, for a five day trip- even with a female on the trip he packed the most.
The plan was for me to meet Bobby at his house around 4am, Caruso would drive himself to the office, and Chris and his wife would meet us all at the office so we could hop in their mini-van. A huge shout out to Chris’s wife who was already dressed for the day at 4 am and had to go home and get the kids off to school after dropping the “big-kids” off at the airport. Incredibly the plan went pretty well; bets were on Chris being late, but we made it on time.
Bobby, Chris, and Jeff looked sharp for the 6am flight, ready for business and to take on the long day ahead. I’ll need to work on my airport attire for the next trip because a hoodie doesn’t cut it with this group.
As a producer Jeff Caruso is always prepared- with one specific pen that no one can borrow because there isn’t any guarantee he’ll get it back- so as the prepared, get-things-done kind of guy he is, he got stuck lugging the equipment bag through the airport. He let out a sigh of relief once he saw the conveyor belt through the airport thinking he’ll just be able to drop it and let it roll. Better luck next time, Jeff, because another woman had something else in mind. She used that thing to train for her 40 time cause she hopped on the belt and sprinted, until she got stuck behind Jeff and the bag. Slowing down just wasn’t acceptable, even though Jeff tried to speed up for her. She finally just told him, “you get one side, and I’ll get the other so I can go around you.” Not even an hour into our trip and ESPN730 already wasn’t making friends.
“We were definitely drifting,” Jeff said after he was almost pushed off the conveyor belt. He puts up with the grief from Bobby and Chris everyday on the Pulse so luckily he can handle a woman in a hurry.
If there is ever a coffee shortage Chris had something to do with it, he had a different cup about every hour and I think he could’ve used more, maybe an IV. After about four cups he finally switched to orange juice, he may start twitching since he hasn’t had coffee in the last 30 minutes.
An hour and 45 minutes left of a 4 hour and 24 minute flight and you get that feeling. They’ve already passed out beverages, peanuts, and really delicious cookies (still craving more of those). Now what? We’ve had our snacks, we’ve played some games, and we’ve listened to music; we’re running out of things to distract ourselves and take up time. Just when we seem to be getting a bit antsy, Marty Hurney comes around to give us an extra boost, from Charlotte.
Because technology is as incredible as it is, Chris was watching Sports Center on the mini TV in front of him and saw, “up next former Panthers GM.” We shared headphones while Bobby and Jeff watched across the aisle, and we all saw Marty- live on Sports Center- from 30,000 feet in the air, halfway across the country while he was back in the studios in Charlotte.
None of us had any idea he’d be on because one, we’re a bit isolated up here in an airplane, and two he’s turned down multiple interviews because he doesn’t want to take any credit away from the people with the organization now. As a former GM he’s one of the most humbled and generous people I’ve ever met, but don’t tell him that, he’d just shake his head and say something self-deprecating.
As surprised as we all were to see Marty on Sports Center, I think the biggest surprise was that he used Skype, this is the guy who calls selfies “facies” and Twitter “tweeter.”
The final hour has arrived, 60 more minutes and we’ll be touched down in California. Maybe if I eat each individual pretzel really slowly it will pass the time away, and before I know it I’ll be done with the pretzels and landed in Santa Clara.
The trip was smooth, it was almost too smooth which is why it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that when we arrived at the baggage claim first came “big blue,” Bobby’s bag, then Caruso’s bag came down the belt,“Ol Faithful” and then it was mine. Chris checked every remaining black suitcase, but no luck. Turns out his bag never made it from our connection in Detroit to the plane headed for San Francisco. By later tonight his bag should (hopefully) be delivered to the hotel.
After an already eventful cross-country trip, our day has really just begun. Wrapping up the Pulse from radio row and then headed to San Jose for the Carolina Panthers media night, all worth it for Super Bowl 50.
“We’re going to win the Super Bowl this year, I can feel it.”
Mario Addison’s statement seemed like a bold prediction on the first day of training camp in July; players weren’t even moved in to their dorms and the defensive end was already talking about the final game in February.
Addison’s preseason remarks are becoming more of a reality.
After 18 games the Carolina Panthers are NFC Champions and headed to Santa Clara, California for Super Bowl 50 after their 49-15 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
The defense forced the Cardinals to 3-and-out on the opening drive after a Kuechly tackle, a Finnegan stop, and a Carson Palmer incompletion, Arizona continued to be pressured by Carolina the entire game.
The Panthers pressured Palmer and made him uncomfortable right of the gate and the secondary did their jobs as well, not allowing the Cardinals past mid-field the entire first quarter.
The Panthers came up with seven takeaways after three fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Tre Boston had a night in the backfield with an interception and a fumble recovery after Charles Johnson got to Palmer to force the miscue.
Kurt Coleman had two interceptions in the end zone and Luke Kuechly had his second pick-6 of the post season. The linebacker also led with eight tackles.
Game Changer: The Carolina Panthers went 3-and-out on consecutive drives and gave up a touchdown to Arizona after Thomas Davis left the game with a broken right arm. The Cardinals had cut the Panthers lead to 17-7 with about seven minutes to play in the second quarter. It looked like the momentum was with the Cardinals, especially after a short punt that would have set Arizona up with good field position. Patrick Peterson once again shifted the momentum, back to the Panthers, when we fumbled the punt return and Teddy Williams recovered at Arizona’s 46.
After last week’s win over the Seattle Seahawks there were some concerns- which is nothing new for this Carolina team that has challenged doubters every game- about the Panthers production in the second half.
Carolina didn’t get into hold habits of playing conservatively with a substantial lead, but to be honest Carolina couldn’t be further from conservative, from “Thieves Ave.” to a quarterback like Cam Newton the Panthers know who they are and embrace all of it. It’s been a formula of success for Carolina and it’s certainly worked for Cam Newton.
Newton threw for 335 yards with 19 completions and two touchdowns to Corey Brown and Devin Funchess. He also rushed for 47 yards and another couple of scores; touchdowns that will be replayed over this week to show why he really is the MVP.
Greg Olsen had six catches for 113 yards while Brown needed just four catches to match the tight end in yards, highlighted by an 86 yard touchdown.
“We’re paving our own story now, we’re not done,” said Cam Newton after the NFC Championship.
The Carolina Panthers have just four quarters left of their journey this season, and the Panthers “one game at a time” mindset couldn’t ring more true these next two weeks.
Molly Cotten: ESPN730 Digital Producer/Reporter
After losing 7 straight games, the Charlotte Hornets get back in the win column with a dominating 107-84 win over the Atlanta Hawks last night at Time Warner Cable Arena, also snapping a three game losing skid against Atlanta.
“It feels good to get a win. We started the game better. The last four we struggled in the first quarter but the starters set the tone with a good balance of offensive and defensive play. That was probably as complete of a game as we’ve played all year,” said Head Coach Steve Clifford following the win.
The success all started with a quick start from the Hornets, who got back to playing solid defense. Atlanta opened up with the first bucket of the game but Charlotte answered and went on a 17-0 scoring run, holding the Hawks scoreless during five minutes of the first quarter; although, they’d give up the lead which dwindled to just a 1 point edge at the end of the opening quarter.
Charlotte picked up the second quarter with a 12-0 run with Jeremy Lamb contributing six points at the start, his only points of the game.
Cody Zeller entered last night’s game against the Hawks averaging just under 11 points a contest in the last 10 games, he opened up with 7 points in the first quarter and finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, that’s his second double-double in the last 4 games and of the season.
Zeller has improved this season and looks comfortable as a center, taking the place of Al Jefferson who’s out recovering from a knee surgery. Coach Clifford said Zeller was the most consistent player during the west coast trip.
“He’s an organizer. He’s telling people where to be. He’s assertive and he’s finding ways to use his quickness to get to the basket, which is obviously his big advantage and he did it again tonight.”
Head Coach Steve Clifford said, “We’re a different team with him (Batum) out there. His presence and demeanor, there’s not too many guys that can make the type of plays that he makes.”
Batum dished out 10 assists, that’s his 4th game with 10 or more assists.
Kemba Walker led the team in scoring with 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting, he also connected on 4 three pointers.
The Charlotte Hornets are once again on the road for a Friday night tip against the New Orleans Pelicans before returning home to host the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.
Molly Cotten: ESPN730 Digital Producer/Reporter
Coming up today on Inside the Lines Marty Hurney and Molly Cotten open up the show with a recap of the Charlotte Hornets loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. They'll go around the NFL and talk about the Panthers secondary situtation with the loss of Charles Tillman. Guests today include John Clayton of ESPN (12:45) and C.L. Brown (1:30).