26-3 Second Half Irish Surge Dooms Tar Heels

Up 63-54 with 9:59 remaining, the rug was pulled out from under the Tar Heels.

The No. 5 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team fell to third-seeded Notre Dame, 90-82, Saturday night in the ACC Tournament championship game at the Greensboro Coliseum.

***Listen to the story***

Justin Jackson struggled to recapture his Friday form (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson struggled to recapture his Friday form (Todd Melet)

A 26-3 second half run from the Fighting Irish turned the tables in the league newcomer’s favor – giving them their first ACC title and leaving the Tar Heels the disappointed runner-up for the third time in the last four years.

“I love how fearless we are when we step up and take big-time shots. We’ve done that all year though. We really have,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey says.

Tournament MVP Jerian Grant finished with 24 points and 10 assists to lead an overwhelmingly balanced offensive attack for the Irish.

Fellow senior Pat Connaughton tallied 20 points, including four pure shots from behind the arc.

“That was a big-time game for about 30, 32 minutes, and then after that it was a big game if you were a Notre Dame fan. It wasn’t for us,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

As for the Tar Heels, junior guard Marcus Paige did all he could, posting 24 points, including five of UNC’s seven made three-pointers.

Paige says despite leaving Greensboro without a trophy, his teammates  aren’t going away empty-handed.

Paige did his best to keep the Tar Heels in it (Todd Melet)

Paige did his best to keep the Tar Heels in it (Todd Melet)

“I think we showed a lot of heart this week. We battled four straight times. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to today. You know, we were going after 50-50 balls with everything we had. So people can say what they want, but the proof is in the fact that we competed at the highest level this past week,” Paige says.

But what may have been the most decisive factor to the outcome was the foul shooting discrepancy. The Irish got to the free throw line for a whopping 32 attempts while the Heels managed a mere seven shots from the charity stripe.

In the first half, the three-point shooting discrepancy told the tale. The Irish knocked down five of their eleven attempts while the Heels only managed to connect on one of their eight tries.

Additionally, getting to the free throw line was a factor in Notre Dame’s 39-34 lead at intermission. The Irish shot 11 foul shots to Carolina’s measly 2 attempts.

Brice Johnson finished with 20 points and four rebounds (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson finished with 20 points and four rebounds (Todd Melet)

Things were going smoothly for the Tar Heels early in the second half. UNC led 63-54 with 9:59 remaining. But from there, the rug was taken out from under them. Carolina froze. Notre Dame rose.

The Irish left the Heels in the dust with a 26-3 run that seized full control of the contest and in turn, earned the program’s first ever conference championship.

The Carolina faithful were sent home to various corners of the Tar Heel State unhappy. The few Notre Dame fans were left to bask in their team’s historic performance, becoming just the third program to ever beat both Duke and Carolina on the way to an ACC Tournament championship held in North Carolina.

Notre Dame (29-5) and Carolina (24-11) will now await their NCAA Tournament placements Sunday evening.




Oakes’ Outlook: Heating Up In Greensboro

It was quarterfinal Thursday. All the big boys (top 4 seeds) were in action with a spot in the primetime semifinals Friday night on the line. Would any of the top dogs be knocked off their pedestal? Plenty of intrigue always awaits. We’re heating up at the ACC Tourney! Who survived the pressure cooker?

TEAM OF THE DAY: Duke. Complete and utter dominance. The Blue Devils took the Wolfpack to the woodshed and are clearly the team to beat. Enough said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Look over your shoulder the rest of the friggin’ night, okay. Let’s understand that. So if we shoot a poor percentage tomorrow your butt better not come in here.” – Roy Williams sounding off at a reporter’s attempt to jinx his team’s good shooting


The Cavaliers stamped their authority early, jumping out to a 7-0 lead and forcing Leonard Hamilton’s hand with a quick timeout. The Coliseum was more than speckled with a little orange – it was littered with Wahoo fans armed with rested lungs.

But the real story of this game was the anticipated return of Justin Anderson from injury. He didn’t start, but when he finally got into the game, he was met with a standing ovation from the Virginia faithful. Although I didn’t stand with them, boy, it’s nice to see Anderson back playing basketball.

The Golden Girls!

The Golden Girls!

We also quickly discovered why Tony Bennett was named ACC Coach of the Year. He figured out missing shots was no good. And therefore, his Cavaliers promptly knocked down their first six shots. The Seminoles weren’t on the same page, however, struggling to find the basket and what’s more, couldn’t buy and offensive rebound. That hurts.

At the half, FSU was doubled up by UVA, 34-17.

Virginia’s Darion Atkins went down with some sort of leg injury early in the second half. It was a scare for sure, but after a quick respite in the locker room, Atkins was back on the UVA bench.

Meanwhile, the pace of play was grinding to a near standstill. So many timeouts. So many stoppages of play. But on a positive note, some good music was pumping through the Coliseum sound system.

FSU parted the waters so bad on a Cavalier drive to the basket that I almost lost my lunch. Thankfully, I didn’t. But it was a close call. That kind of Ole! defense isn’t in Virginia’s DNA though.

The referees grew some moans of disapproval from the UVA fans. I must say, a couple no-calls on Seminole players seemed to be questionable at best. And I’m not sure official Jamie Luckie knows a travel is not an offensive foul. But nevertheless, FSU cut the deficit down to five points at 39-34 with 9:455 to play. It was a new ballgame, folks!

And nobody knew that better than Leonard Hamilton. So much for his trademark composure. He came out of his shell down the stretch, barking out orders and giving an earful to officials and players alike.

Back and forth down the stretch they came. Both squads were suddenly coming up with enormous shots, trading blows. And would you believe it? With just under six minutes to play, Leonard Hamilton took it too far. The pinstripes got back at him with a technical foul. Can you say game changer?

But ultimately, with the help of a couple clutch makes by Malcolm Brogdon and steady free throw shooting to boot, the Cavaliers put away the Seminoles and booked their spot in Friday’s semifinals.

QUARTERFINAL 2: No. 5 UNC vs. No. 4 Louisville

The offenses wasted no time getting going. Just five minutes in, it was a 9-all tie. Marcus Paige opened proceedings with a three-pointer. Montrezl Harrell was doing his thing inside. JP Tokoto was out of control, settling for jumpers. Not his game.

WAY more toughness was being displayed by the Cardinals. Getting second, third and fourth chance opportunities helps out.

The Louisville dance team threw the gauntlet down as well. They went ALL OUT. No joke. They left the Greensboro Coliseum stunned and may have just created a blossoming rivalry in the ACC – the FSU Golden Girls vs. the Louisville Dance Team. Stay tuned.

Pitino faced off with Roy in an outstanding coaching matchup (Todd Melet)

Pitino faced off with Roy in an outstanding coaching matchup (Todd Melet)

As for UNC, they went stone cold. A six-minute long drought. Ouch. But a Joel Berry three certainly helped make things feel a little better – for the crowd, too, who was mostly wearing Carolina blue.

But it wasn’t enough for Roy. The jacket was off at the 7:34 mark with his Tar Heels down six.

The Tar Heels had clouded vision of offense. Doubt. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were operating with 20/20 vision – drive to the basket. Confidence.

A nasty ‘shake and bake’ cooked up by Louisville’s Terry Rozier helped earn the Cardinals the 37-32 halftime lead.

Out of the locker room. UNC three. Carolina steal. Brice Johnson dunk. Roar. Rick Pitino timeout. Game tied at 37-all.

The highlight came when Harrell nearly jumped out of the gym to jam one home. Man, that dude can elevate. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels continued to plug away. Paige hit a nasty three right in front of me.

Nothing was separating these two teams for the third game this season. Brice Johnson was putting together a productive half of basketball for UNC, keeping his team in touch with the anticipation and intensity building in the Coliseum.

Harrell continued to fly, and I mean FLY, around the floor down the stretch. He’s a freak of nature. He makes the Cards go. Emotional intensity and physical prowess. Deadly combo.

QUARTERFINAL 3: No. 8 NC State vs. No. 2 Duke

Something big was coming. There was a buzz in the air. Like a prize fight. The build-up is half the fun. There was no doubt Duke vs. N.C. State was the main event Thursday in the Coliseum.

But sometimes, the show doesn’t live up to the hype. This one was a prime example. It was a dud. A stinker. A good memory if you’re a Duke fan. An awful nightmare if you’re a State fan.

Duke shot out of the gates in a hurry, using smart defense and overwhelmingly sharp offense to claim a 26-11 lead with 9:48 to play in the opening half.

Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

Jahlil Okafor was able to rest comfortably on the bench for long stretches. That was scary. Justice Winslow joined him as well. Their services weren’t necessary as Grayson Allen, Quinn Cook and company were doing the deed themselves.

The ‘amoeba zone’ of Duke was frustrating the Wolfpack. In particular, it seemed Cat Barber was completely befuddled. Coach K had not forgotten the loss put on the Devils by NC State earlier in January. I don’t think he forgot about the butt slap either. This was war.

Heck, we even witnessed the ‘Plumlee Air Show’. It was a surprising addition to the night’s events, but it was that kind of night for the men in dark blue.

Mercifully, the halftime buzzer did finally come. The damage, and it was catastrophic, was done. In a dominating performance that took your breath away at times, Duke amassed a 49-22 lead.

I won’t bore you with the second half details. I’ll be honest. I zoned out. Game over. Duke moves on and oh by the way, looks like a legitimate national title contender.

Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3


Tar Heels Clip Cardinals, Advance To ACC Semis

The game started with a Marcus Paige three. A warning shot.

The No. 5 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team overcame a five-point first half deficit to defeat the No. 4 seed Louisville Cardinals, 70-60, Thursday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum.

***Listen to the story***

In the second half, Carolina got the ball inside early and often and rode the bootstraps of Brice Johnson’s 22 points to a spot in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

UNC came on strong down the stretch (Todd Melet)

UNC came on strong down the stretch (Todd Melet)

Johnson says his manhood was challenged by the Cardinals. He defended it admirably after a halftime pep talk.

“Just be a man. That is the biggest emphasis throughout the entire halftime. Coach Davis pointed it out and Coach Williams pointed it out too. He said he doesn’t care when it comes to anybody’s manhood, so I had to step up and be a big-time player,” Johnson says.

Tokoto played well with four fouls late in the game (Todd Melet)

Tokoto played well with four fouls late in the game (Todd Melet)

UNC head coach Roy Williams, who passed Phog Allen with 747 career wins, says Kennedy Meeks delivered more quality minutes than he had anticipated going in. After all, it was doubtful whether Meeks, who’s been battling a fever all week, would even suit up.

“Got more out of him than I thought I was going to get. But I think he did some good things. His passing is important to us,” Coach Williams says.

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 23-10 on the season while the Cardinals dropped to a 24-8 ledger overall.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says the zone defense employed by UNC in the second half gave his team fits. The Hall of Famer was none too pleased in his postgame presser that lasted all of two questions.

“We had a lot of good looks; we just couldn’t put the shots down, and sometimes it’s very simple when it comes down to that,” Coach Pitino says.

Rick Pitino couldn't come up with the answers (Todd Melet)

Rick Pitino couldn’t come up with the answers (Todd Melet)

With the game hanging in the balance, the Tar Heels were able to hit big-time shots and come up with defensive stands in the clutch. After so many close calls going the other way, Paige says this win meant a lot to UNC.

“We’ve been in so many of those games that it’s good we’re starting to figure out how to be more poised in those games. So we’re not rushing quick shots any more as much, and we’re taking care of the ball for the most part. So those are the two biggest things we’re doing differently down the stretch,” Paige says.

Brice Johnson was fired up Thursday afternoon (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson was fired up Thursday afternoon (Todd Melet)

The rebounding department was deadlocked at 38 apiece, but it was Carolina who was able to convert more points in the paint in the topsy-turvy affair.

Louisville’s Terry Rozier finished with a team-leading 20 points and Wayne Blackshear followed suit with 18 points of his own, but it wasn’t enough to overcome 35-percent shooting as a team. That didn’t match up well with UNC’s 42-percent afternoon.

Next up for the Tar Heels on semifinal Friday will be a meeting with the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, who dispatched Florida State Thursday, 58-44.




Oakes’ Outlook: Greensboro Games

It’s that time of the year. A return to Tournament Town. My drive down I-40 was met with springtime sunshine filtering through a thin layer of wispy clouds. I pumped out some country songs on the local radio station.

Driving past Stamey’s BBQ and the Natty Greene’s beer garden across the street, I knew I was in the right place.

I pulled into the Coliseum parking lot and was greeted with a live golden oldies concert in full swing on the Fan Fest stage. Fans decked out in red, garnet, orange and Carolina blue bustled about. This was 11 a.m. mind you. Anticipation was in the air. Everything felt right.

Perhaps its the purist in me, but it’s too bad the Tournament will depart for its northern tour next year. Sweet tea. Hospitality. Warm weather. This is ACC country. The Barclays Center in New York? Eh. Not so much.

Photo courtesy of axs.com

Photo courtesy of axs.com

So I’ll try to savor my time down south even more this year. We won’t get another southern swing until 2019 in Charlotte and 2020 back here in Greensboro.

But the spotlight should be on the hoops. That’s why we’re all here after all. Big-time contests in the nation’s premier college basketball conference are on tap. For some, the stay in Greensboro ends. But for the lucky ones, the trip continues.

TEAM OF THE DAY: North Carolina. Paige seems healthy. Tokoto is dialed in on defense. The Heels look formidable. Of course, that could all change in a hurry tomorrow.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.” – FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton. Well said, Coach. Well said.

GAME ONE: No. 9 FSU vs. No. 8 Clemson (12 p.m. tip)

First of all, let’s get this straight FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton is the definition of cool. You can’t outcool the King of Cool. He stands on the sidelines, expressionless, one hand in pocket. Sometimes, I wonder what he’s thinking. ‘What am I going to have for dinner? How did we turn the ball over there? I swear, if I have to say something to one of my guys…’

We may never know…but the action on the hardwood was heating up to keep me distracted any way. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored like 30 points in four minutes a few weeks back, was back to his usual tricks, bursting out of the gate for nine points in the first nine minutes.

Another storied ACC tradition continued with a strange twist. The world-famous FSU Golden Girls returned to the Coliseum floor…WITH PANTS. Many folks in attendance were severely disappointed.

Clemson, meanwhile, struggled to find any semblance of an offense for large stretches of the fist half, but as it turned it, only trailed by a mere seven points at the half.

FSU has a special weapon in Xavier Rathan-Mayes (NoledOut.com).

Out of the locker room, it was the FSU perimeter shooting that came to life, giving the Noles some separation from the Tigers at 44-33 with 15:28 to play.

In a touching timeout tribute, a military veteran and his family were recognized at midcourt. He received a standing ovation and then received keys to a new home. Pretty cool stuff!

Back to hoops. The game dragged on for well over two hours and twenty minutes. The last five minutes seemed to last for an eternity. No joke. Timeouts were pulled out of their holsters. The Seminoles, though, despite a serious effort down the stretch to do otherwise, were able to hang on and take the matinee opener, 76-73. XRM finished with 30 points.

GAME TWO: No. 5 UNC vs. No. 12 BC (2 p.m. tip…yeah, about that.)

A Marcus Paige three gave UNC its first lead. The crowd erupted.

The Tar Heels, getting offensive production early and often from a smorgasbord of players, set a quick tempo early on. That’s always to Carolina’s liking.

The Eagles were no doubt motivated to prove a point. They were riding a four-game winning streak into this one after all.

Marcus Paige for three! (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige for three! (Todd Melet)

The all-important ‘points in the paint’ stat was dominated by UNC in the first half with a 20-8 edge.

In a surprising move, Stilman White was even thrown into the fray by Roy Williams, receiving his first meaningful minutes since…well…the Elite Eight a few years back.

Carolina got out in transition. That helped. The Tar Heels also fought relentlessly for second chance opportunities. They converted on a ton of them and were rewarded with a 43-30 halftime lead.

Out of the second half gates, Carolina continued to coast. Nate Britt showed comfort with his shot. Jackson Simmons contributed a beautiful ball screen. Roy continued to toy with his lineup.

The biggest surprise of the game was the relative silence of BC star Olivier Hanlan, at least for the majority of it. After dropping 25 points in the first round, the junior misfired a bit Wednesday, especially from behind the arc. A lot f that had to do with J.P. Tokoto’s fine defense.

Roy Williams called Tokoto the ‘riverboat gambler’ in his postgame press conference. Well, the gamble paid off on this day.

Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3


Tar Heels Take Down GT in First Round of ACC’s

Stephanie Mavunga led the Tar Heels to the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Thursday night with a game-high 23 points over Georgia Tech in an 84-64 win in Greensboro. Carolina is a No. 6 seed in the tournament and is lifted to a 24-7 overall record.

Mavunga also finished the night with 16 rebounds and 8 blocks. She said she felt tonight was one of the best night’s to make a statement.

Stephanie Mavunga gets double-teamed often.

Stephanie Mavunga gets double-teamed often.

“I really had to step up big,” Mavunga said. “Especially after having such a bad game last game at Duke, I felt like I had let my team down and needed to step up tonight.”

Just before halftime, UNC thought it would take a break with a 13-point lead, until Tech guard Antonia Peresson shot an impressive half court shot at the buzzer to bring them behind the Heels 37-27.

Carolina went through a short scare at the beginning of the second half when Allisha Gray went down hard on the court with an apparent right ankle injury.

“During the game when Allisha got knocked down, I didn’t like that,” Mavunga said. “And seeing her like that made me furious, it ticked me off and actually motivated me.”

When Gray checked back in after a quick trip to the locker room, UNC found their sync and took over on the court in the final minutes – never letting Georgia Tech get back in within seven points.

Jamie Cherry played well at point in limited minutes.

Jamie Cherry played well at point in limited minutes.

Coming behind Mavunga in scoring was Gray with 14 points and three assists alongside Latifah Coleman with 10 points on 40 percent three-point shooting.

UNC shot 50 percent from the floor and scored 21 points off of the Yellow Jackets’ 18 turnovers.

Georgia Tech was led by Kaela (KAY-luh) Davis and Zaire (Z-eye-AIR) O’Neil with 14 points apiece while Aaliyah Whiteside added 13.

On Friday, UNC will meet Louisville as they make their ACC Tournament debut. The Tar Heels are hoping to redeem themselves from the 75-66 loss at Louisville in February.



ACC Tourney: Championship Chat

#1 UVA vs. #3 Duke

This matchup was a tantalizing one. The Blue Devils staved off a game Cavalier attack earlier on in the season, but it was in the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor. This time, the venue was Greensboro Coliseum with an ACC title and a potential one seed in the NCAA Tournament on the line.

Additionally, a win would give Virginia its first ACC Tournament championship since 1976. That’s a really, really long time ago. As for Duke, a victory would mean a 20th championship. Ho hum.

But man. The atmosphere was electric. The Cavalier fans came out in force. It was impressive. And they had a lot to get excited about early. Malcolm Brogdon was connecting early and the Cavaliers jumped out to a 9-2 lead. The Cavalier defense was a treat to watch.

The Blue Devils started to settle in a bit, but SHOCKINGLY, with 11:57 to play in the first half, Duke had yet to attempt a three-pointer. Something is just flat out wrong with that statement, but it’s truth.

But Duke’s defense had arrived. They held Virginia without a field goal for eight minutes. Granted, UVA couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean from the beach, to steal a Roy Williams saying.

Coach K was called for a technical foul that rallied the crowd into a frenzy. K was pleading his case to the refs, unsure why he received the foul.

At the half, it was Virginia holding the 28-25 advantage over Duke. The Blue Devils were shooting 30 percent from the floor while the Cavaliers were firing at 35 percent as a team.

Brogdon was leading the scoring charge for UVA with nine points. Jabari Parker scored a team-leading eight points for Duke.

The second half was underway and with it, more monstrous defensive plays by Akill Mitchell. The guy is an absolute terror to try to shoot around.

Another thing I noticed was that Duke was going to the rim A LOT more in the second half. The aggression was certainly paying off. The Blue Devils tied the game with 12 minutes to play in the contest.

And the Duke team started to turn into a one-man band. The ‘Jabari Show’ had taken over. The man is a beast – tomahawk jams and athletic steals and blocks. And if this was to be the freshman’s final ACC game, wow, he put on a display to remember.

One of the troubling aspects of the game for the Cavaliers was at the free throw line. Virginia had already missed 11 foul shots at the 5:49 mark to go.

But all in all, it was a TEAM effort from the Cavaliers. And it carried them to the finish line and the championship trophy to the delight of the Wahoos in attendance. Now, that’s both an ACC regular season and tournament title for UVA. Think they’re deserving of a NCAA one seed now? Respect.

FINAL: UVA 72 – Duke 63


No. 15 Tar Heels Embark on ACC Title Quest in Greensboro

The No. 15 North Carolina basketball team will begin its quest for an 18th ACC Tournament title Friday afternoon at approximately 2:30 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.

***Listen to the story***

Head Coach Roy Williams speaks on his March Madness mentality.

“I’m one of those guys that operate on dreams and goals. That’s what I do. I don’t operate on sorrow. I do have big-time dreams and goals all the time. At tournament time, that’s where you can reach those dreams. Be led by your dreams, not pushed by your problems. We’ve all got problems, but this time of year I think you should be really enthused about your hope – what you might be able to do,” Coach Williams says.

Before Carolina gets to the Big Dance, the ACC party beckons.

Coach Williams says there’s really no tried and true predictor when it comes to equating ACC tournament success with NCAA runs. But he does believe good preparation always helps.

“My teams have taken me to seven Final Fours, and we’ve run the conference tournament one time out of those seven. I don’t think there’s a great correlation between winning, but I do think there’s a great correlation between playing well – that you gained some confidence. I think playing well does help,” Coach Williams says.

Sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto says he thinks this nearly week-long break since the regular season finale at Duke, has allowed his teammates to get healthy and regain the winning mindset back.

“Our guys will be back healthy. Our mindset should be set back to where we want it to be,” Tokoto says.

The Tar Heels will certainly be gunning for a fast start in the quarterfinal round. UNC is a perfect 17-0 when leading at halftime this season.

Tokoto soars (Todd Melet)

Tokoto soars (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson has been playing well of late on both sides of the floor. He hopes to continue his upward trajectory this weekend in Greensboro.

But Johnson says the key for the Tar Heels to regain their ‘mojo’ begins and ends with defense.

“Just remember how we started it at the beginning of that winning streak. We were clicking on all cylinders. We have to remember how we did that. […] It starts on defense – everybody getting to the right spots and doing the right things,” Johnson says.

Carolina has been to the ACC Championship game a record 32 times. Number 33 on Sunday would definitely do wonders for UNC’s seeding on the NCAA Selection Show later that evening.

But it all starts with Friday’s quarterfinal round. The Tar Heels own a 41-12 overall record in that stage of the Tournament.


Recharged Tar Heels Hoping To Save The Best For Last

The No. 15 Tar Heels have been busy recharging and refocusing for the stretch run that is March, full of tournament action that begins this week with the battle for the conference title.

***Listen to the story***

Sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto, who was named to All-ACC Defensive Team earlier this week, says the Tar Heels need to get back to the form they displayed in their 12-game winning streak.

“Ending out the regular season at Duke is pretty tough. No one wants to lose that game. But we did go on a 12-game winning streak before that. Leading into the ACC Tournament, we kind of look at those 12 wins and get back to what we were doing in those 12 wins and not so much in the Duke game,” Tokoto says.

Head Coach Roy Williams says he hopes his team isn’t satisfied with its recent regular season success and is instead, saving its best for last.

“Generally speaking, kids do get more enthused at tournament time. I’m pretty straightforward with them. I say, ‘Hey, we turned it around, but let’s not look back and say the highlight of our season is a three to four-week period in February,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams addressing the crowd (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams addressing the crowd (Todd Melet)

The offensive firepower of this year’s Carolina squad hasn’t been nearly as potent as in year’s past. Tokoto says that’s why the defensive side of things has become such a high priority.

“We don’t have as many offensive weapons as last year, but we still have guys that can put the ball in the basket when needed. Our defense has been way better than it was last year. We did lose some firepower, but I feel like we gained a lot of defensive intensity,” Tokoto says.

Tokoto says he’s hoping Carolina’s double bye into the quarterfinals will give the Tar Heels the fresher legs against a possibly fatigued opponent on Friday.

“I think it’s nice not to play as many games. Whoever we’re playing probably has played a game or two. They probably have some banged up guys or some fatigue. It will be interesting to see how that plays out,” Tokoto says.

Carolina sports a 90-42 all-time record in the ACC Tournament, but has only a 4-5 record as a No. 4 seed. UNC will be aiming to improve that record as a No. 4 seed this year and hoist up its first ACC championship trophy since 2008.


Washington, D.C. To Host 2016 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament

GREENSBORO – The 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament will be held at Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center, ACC commissioner John Swofford announced Wednesday.

“We are excited to bring the ACC Tournament back to the nation’s capital in 2016,” Swofford said. “Verizon Center is a tremendous showcase for our event, and the Washington, D.C. area is an appealing tourist destination for our member institutions, as well as the alumni and fans of our teams. We received a lot of positive feedback after our 2005 Tournament in Washington, and we look forward to duplicating that success in 2016.”

The 20,000-seat Verizon Center previously hosted the 2005 ACC Tournament. The Washington metropolitan area also welcomed the ACC in 1976, 1981 and 1987, when the tournament was held at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. The 14-game 2016 tournament will open Wednesday, March 9 and continue through Sunday, March 13.

“Verizon Center is thrilled to once again host the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Washington D.C.,” said David Touhey, Verizon Center SVP & General Manager. “The nation’s capital serves as the perfect site for the championship tournament of such a prestigious conference. We thank the ACC for selecting us and look forward to hosting another successful tournament in March 2016.”

Located in the heart of downtown Washington, D.C., Verizon Center serves as home to the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the NCAA’s Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball team.

The arena has hosted a multitude of high-profile events in its history, ranging from the 1998 Stanley Cup Final to the NBA (2001) and WNBA (2002, 2007) All-Star games to the 2003 World Figure Skating Championship, the 2005 ACC Tournament, the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament (1998, 2002, 2008) as well as the second and third rounds (2011), the Washington Regional Round (2006, 2013) and the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four men’s hockey championship.

Verizon Center also hosts a variety of concerts and family shows ranging from all-time greats to current-day chart-topping artists. In the 15 year history of the arena some of the artists who have mastered the stage include: U2, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Coldplay, The Three Tenors, Barbra Streisand, Bon Jovi, Prince, Beyonce, the Dalai Lama, Tina Turner, Keith Urban, Disney on Ice and WWE.

Amenities within the arena include 106 luxury suites, a high-definition center-hung scoreboard, an indoor basketball practice facility and 10 dressing rooms. The arena offers a variety of concession stands and restaurants, including kosher, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

The ACC Tournament has been held in seven different cities and 11 venues since the inaugural event in March of 1954. The Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum is set to serve as host in 2014 and 2015.


ACC Excitement Runs High On Franklin Street

CHAPEL HILL- Downtown Partnership Executive Director Meg McGurk says the energy level is high on Franklin Street during the ACC tournament.

“I think that the biggest thing that happens is that people want to be out and celebrating when the Heels are playing in the Tournament,” says McGurk. “In the evening people want to go out and eat and drink downtown before and they want to get a good spot for watching on TV, and that’s a great boost for our downtown businesses.”

And she says that enthusiasm extends beyond restaurants and bars.

“People also like to get new Carolina gear, a new t-shirt, a sweat shirt or a hat. That’s a boost for our Carolina fan gear shops as well.”

McGurk says fans come downtown seeking more than just a spot in front of the many flat-screened TV’s broadcasting the game. They come for camaraderie.

“I think when it is a tournament like this, there’s a little more excitement. People want to be on Franklin Street when the Heels win, because that’s where the celebration is that’s where the camaraderie is, and that’s where you find the stranger who becomes a friend because they’re also a Carolina fan.”

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Men’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Semi-final games tip off Saturday at 1 p.m and 3 p.m. Sunday’s championship game gets underway at 1 p.m. You can catch the Learfield Sports pre-game coverage on WHCL starting at noon.