Installment #13: March Madness 2021
It might only be the opinion of me and lots of other hardcore college basketball fans, but this is the best month in American sports. It is now March, 2021. For us, that means March Madness! March Madness simply refers to the literally hundreds of men's and women's college basketball games almost everyday this month. All of these games will be played until God willing, a champion will be crowned four Mondays from now as the best college basketball team in the nation. Us fans were sold short last year when COVID shut everything down including sports. So I'm hoping to really get to enjoy it this year and get that Sports Christmas feeling back.
Some of the smaller conference tournaments have already been decided, but most of the major conferences play this week. Being from North Carolina, I focus heavily on the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 68th ACC tournament began yesterday in Greensboro, NC with three first round games.
The Miami Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Panthers started things off yesterday afternoon at 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time. It was a good first game, with the No. 13 seed Miami Hurricanes outlasting the 12th-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers 79-73. Pittsburgh forward Justin Champagnie put back his own missed shot to make the score 66-64 Panthers with 3:36 left in the game. Pittsburgh would not score again until a Champagnie dunk with 44 seconds remaining. Champagnie led the way for Pittsburgh with 11 points and 10 rebounds but he struggled from the floor, only making five of twenty field goals.
Meanwhile, Miami went on a 9-0 run over a period of more than two minutes. This spurt was capped off by a three-point play conversion by center Nysier Brooks which made the score 73-66 Canes with 53.8 seconds left. Then sophomore guard Isaiah Wong (who led the Hurricanes with 20 points) scored four consecutive free throws in the final 29 seconds to seal the victory. Miami will advance to take on the No. 5 seed Clemson Tigers in the second game this afternoon.
The Duke Blue Devils enter this year's ACC tournament sporting the worst team since the 1994-95 squad. That team posted a record of 13-18 overall and 2-14 in the ACC. They missed the NCAA tournament and this year's team coming into the tourney at 11-11 will most likely need to win five games in five days in order to continue to play for another NCAA title.
The Blue Devils looked very good as they took the court as the No. 10 seed. They will try to be the first team to win five straight ACC tournament games as they thrashed the 15th-seeded Boston College Eagles 86-51 in the second game. Guard DJ Steward led the way for the Devils with 17 points and center Mark Williams added 13 points and Duke ran off 41 points in the first half. Guard Jordan Goldwire hit a three-pointer to close out half No. 1, then he hit threes on back-to-back possessions during a 11-2 run that put Duke up by twenty-two points with 12:38 left in the game. Boston College, (who ends their season at 4-16) did not have a single player score in double figures and the Blue Devils run away winning by 35. Duke will move on to play the 7th-seeded Louisville Cardinals in the third game this evening.
The best game was the last game of the night in Greensboro. The No. 11 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish closed the game on a 17-2 run and guard Trey Wertz hit a deep three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the 14th-seeded Wake Forest Demon Deacons 80-77. Notre Dame drew first blood, taking a 2-0 lead on the game's first bucket. Then, it was Wake Forest most of the way with the Demon Deacons leading by as many as 16 points in the second half. But the Irish, behind 16 points from Trey Wertz and 16 points and 10 rebounds from forward Juwan Durham, just kept chipping away at the Wake Forest lead. Notre Dame guard Prentiss Hubb had nine points and Wertz hit a step-back three during a 14-0 run that lifted Notre Dame to a 77-75 lead with 1:55 remaining. It was their first lead since going up 2-0.
With the game tied at 77 in the closing seconds, Demon Deacons guard Davien Williamson, (who led Wake Forest with 21 points) drove the lane for a floater. But his shot was blocked by Cormac Ryan, who dribbled until he found Trey Wertz for the winning shot. Afterwards, Wertz found Ryan in a corner for a celebratory chest bump before he was mobbed by his teammates. Notre Dame will advance to take on my 6th-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the late game tonight. North Carolina beat Notre Dame 66-65 on January 2 in Chapel Hill. This was the only meeting between the two schools this season.
So, today's next round action is set. Clemson and Miami at 2:00, Duke and Louisville at 6:30 and the nightcap and one of the more interesting games I believe of the day will be North Carolina and Notre Dame. But right now, the 8-9 game NC State and Syracuse is live. Let's get to it!