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March 13, 2008

Miami too much for Hickson, N.C. State

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OVERVIEW: Miami breezed to the victory over what essentially was a one-man team. Freshman center J.J. Hickson did more than his share for N.C. State, but he received no help from his teammates. Hickson came off the bench to collect 27 points and 14 rebounds Thursday while the rest of his team combined to shoot 8-of-33 in the 12th-seeded Wolfpack's loss. Hickson's teammates didn't combine for their 10th point of the day until 8:11 remained in the game, and the Wolfpack needed a goaltending call to reach that plateau. North Carolina State's starting lineup finished the day with an equal number of points (13) and turnovers. Hickson didn't start the game after violating a team rule, but he still scored the most points he ever had tallied in an ACC game. Miami (22-9) sent North Carolina State (15-16) to its ninth consecutive defeat, which matches the longest losing streak in school history. The Wolfpack also lost nine in a row in 1991-92. UM rolled even though Jack McClinton, the first Hurricane to earn first-team All-ACC honors, matched a season low with just eight points. McClinton didn't score until 9:41 remained in the game.

THE BIG PICTURE: Miami probably sealed an NCAA bid with the victory. The Hurricanes entered the day with an RPI of 28th, but a loss to the bottom-seeded Wolfpack might have put Miami back on the bubble. "We didn't really think about it," Miami coach Frank Haith said. "We were just worried about winning the basketball game and trying to advance in the tournament." North Carolina State's season is almost certainly over. It's tough to imagine anyone wanting to reward the Wolfpack for ending the season on a nine-game skid.

TURNING POINT: Hickson led a first-half charge that allowed North Carolina State to tie the game at 14 after trailing 11-4, but the Hurricanes scored the next 10 points and weren't seriously threatened again. The Wolfpack missed seven consecutive shots during that 10-0 run.

WHAT'S NEXT: Miami plays Virginia Tech on Friday at 2:30 p.m. in a quarterfinal matchup that looks as if it's a do-or-die game for the Hokies' NCAA Tournament hopes. Although the Hokies went 9-7 in ACC competition and earned a first-round bye in the ACC tournament, they entered the day 58th in the RPI and owned an 0-6 record against Top 50 opponents. Miami won 74-71 at Virginia Tech on Feb. 9 in the only regular-season meeting between the teams.

NOTES: This represented the first time a player had scored more than half his team's points in an ACC tournament game since North Carolina's Al Wood compiled 32 points in a 75-61 semifinal loss to Duke in 1980. ... Miami's victory ended a recent tradition of successful performances by ACC tournament underdogs. The 12th seed had won at least one game each of the past two years. This marked the first time the Hurricanes and Wolfpack had faced each other in the ACC tournament. Hickson said he hasn't set a timetable on when he would decide whether to return to school for his sophomore year or enter the NBA Draft. How much have things changed in a year for North Carolina State forward Brandon Costner? As a freshman, Costner averaged 22.5 points per game in last year's ACC tournament while leading the Wolfpack to the championship game. Costner went scoreless Thursday. North Carolina State forward Gavin Grant, who ranks second on the team in scoring at 13.5 points per game, played only three minutes in the second half. "I didn't think he was playing well," NC State coach Sidney Lowe said. "We have other guys that we feel could get the job done, and we were down and trying to make a run."

Video Highlights: Miami 63, N.C. State 50


OVERVIEW: Florida State senior guard Jason Rich is capping his college career in style. He scored a game-high 22 points Thursday in the ninth-seeded Seminoles' first-round victory in the ACC tourney. He took over midway through the second half after a long scoring drought had allowed eighth-seeded Wake Forest to erase most of an early 13-point deficit. "Coach (Leonard Hamilton) told me before the season I need to step up and be a guy who makes plays," said Rich, who has averaged 21.5 points over his past four games. "I'm just understanding that and having confidence in doing that. I'd love to leave Florida State (by) leaving my mark there. To some degree I already have, but I want to do it in a much bigger way."

Florida State (19-13) led 41-38 when Rich stepped to the free-throw line with less than 11 minutes to play. He proceeded to score 16 of the Seminoles' next 18 points as the lead stretched to 10. Wake (17-13) shot 35.5 percent from the floor and was 5-of-12 from the line.

THE BIG PICTURE: FSU hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1998 and isn't even getting mentioned as a bubble team these days, but the Seminoles would enter the conversation by upsetting North Carolina in the quarterfinals Friday. The Seminoles entered Thursday ranking 64th in the RPI, a figure that would move up significantly with an upset of the top-ranked Tar Heels. Florida State is 4-5 against RPI top-50 teams and has won five of its past six overall. Hamilton refused to speculate on his team's NCAA hopes. "If you try to come up with a theory where you understand all the criteria the selection committee is using and they've changed it like three or four times in the last two or three years that could give you a headache," Hamilton said. "We can't worry about any of those scenarios. What we have to focus on is what we can control." Wake probably has played well enough this season to earn an invitation to the NIT or the new College Basketball Invitational.

TURNING POINT: Wake ranked last in the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage at 32.0 percent, but the Demon Deacons had shown an uncanny knack for making shots from beyond the arc while beating Florida State twice. The Deacons went 5-of-7 from 3-point range in the second half Jan. 20 while turning a halftime deficit into a 74-57 victory over the Seminoles. They made their first eight 3-pointers Feb. 14 on their way to a 78-70 triumph at FSU. Their luck from long range ran out Thursday. Wake didn't make a 3-pointer until the final minute of the first half and ended up going 3-for-17 from beyond the arc.

WHAT'S NEXT: Florida State faces top-seeded North Carolina on Friday at noon. UNC swept the regular-season series and has beaten the Seminoles eight consecutive times overall.

NOTES: Florida State forward Matt Zitani, who had a brain tumor removed in October 2003 while playing for Indian River (Fla.) Community College, received the Bob Bradley Spirit & Courage Award before the game. The Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association hands out the award to a male or female basketball player, coach or administrator who has overcome a significant injury or illness. The Seminoles led the league in free-throw accuracy for the second consecutive season and went 15-of-19 from the line on Thursday. The Seminoles won despite making just one basket and scoring only three points in the final 6:11 of the first half.

Video Highlights: Florida State 70, Wake Forest 60


OVERVIEW: Anthony Morrow returned to his hometown and scored 18 points all on 3-pointers to lead a balanced scoring attack as No. 7 seed Georgia Tech pulled away in the second half for a first-round victory over No. 10 Virginia. Morrow, one of five Yellow Jackets to reach double figures, went 6-for-9 from 3-point range while attempting just one shot from inside the arc. "It feels great," said Morrow, a graduate of Charlotte (N.C.) Latin High School. "It's a blessing to play in front of my family and all my friends. Hopefully we can get the same kind of effort and intensity tomorrow." In a game that included seven ties and 16 lead changes, the Yellow Jackets pulled ahead for good on Alade Aminu's layup with 11:24 remaining. Both teams shot extremely well from long range in the first half, but only Georgia Tech stayed hot the rest of the night. Virginia went 8-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half before going just 1-for-6 after the intermission, while Georgia Tech was 6-for-12 in the first period and 7-for-12 over the last 20 minutes.

THE BIG PICTURE: Georgia Tech (15-16) needs to win the ACC tournament to earn an NCAA invitation and probably won't earn any kind of postseason invitation unless it advances to the ACC championship game. Virginia (15-15) will have to hope that a .500 overall record is good enough to earn a spot in the NIT or College Basketball Invitational.

TURNING POINT: After a fast-paced first half that featured 14 lead changes, Virginia had grabbed a 51-49 lead early in the second half when Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt used a media timeout to ask his players to step up the pace. "The game slowed down to a crawl," Hewitt said. "That's not what we wanted." Virginia would go on to extend the lead to five points, but Georgia Tech turned up the tempo and outscored the Cavaliers 43-20 over the game's final 14:25.

WHAT'S NEXT: Georgia Tech faces No. 2 seed Duke in an ACC quarterfinal Friday at 7 p.m. The Yellow Jackets lost 71-58 at Duke on Feb. 27 in their only regular-season meeting. Duke has won seven of its last eight games with Georgia Tech.

NOTES: The high-scoring nature of this game shouldn't have surprised anyone. Virginia was 11th in the ACC in scoring defense during the regular season, with only Georgia Tech ranking lower. Virginia guard Sean Singletary received a standing ovation as he left the game with 36.3 seconds remaining in what may have been the final game of his college career. Singletary and former Duke stars Danny Ferry and Johnny Dawkins are the only ACC players ever to have 2,000 career points, 500 career assists and 400 career rebounds. "Nobody wants to go out losing," Singletary said. "It's tough, but I really appreciate all the support folks have given me my whole career. It's time to move on. Singletary recorded 20 points and 10 assists Thursday despite shooting just 4-for-14, which continued his career-long shooting struggles against Georgia Tech. Singletary shot 25-for-97 in six career games against the Yellow Jackets.

Video Highlights: Georgia Tech 94, Virginia 76

MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Drive for 65: Forecasting the Field | Play Tourney Pick'em

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