Welcome to ACC Tournament Wednesday – where the weak outlast the weaker and disappointing seasons go to die unceremonious deaths.
There is no glory on the first Wednesday in ACC tournament history, in front of a half attentive crowd and a television audience consisting of only the die-hards and the bored. There is the end – of seasons, careers and possibly coaching tenures. Then there is survival – of getting one more day to put on a uniform and keeping the smallest ray of hope alive. There are no winners.
The emotions that are so intrinsically linked with March Madness – the sunken-heart despair and the untamed joy – they do not exist here. There is nothing to gain on this day. This is just step one of a five-step mission with astronomical odds against them (of the teams playing in the opening round, Miami’s 0.7 percent chance of winning is the highest according to Ken Pomeroy’s log5 estimates).
Garrius Adams, who has been part of the Miami program since 2009, also staved off the end for another 24 hours in large part thanks to some terrible late-game free-throw shooting by Virginia Tech. The Canes made four free throws themselves in the final minute of the game to secure the win, but Adams – who watched as his team won the ACC tournament last year from the No. 1 seed -- knows it’s a long uphill battle.
"It’s a different feeling for a senior than for an underclassman," Adams said. "Just having another shot at playing tomorrow. We found a way at the end, and that’s what’s important today."
When Wake Forest actually showed up for an ACC tournament game for the first time since Skip Prosser was their coach, it made that ray just a little brighter for seniors Travis McKie and Coron Williams. But there was nothing close to joy in the Wake Forest locker room, not with the constant questioning of Jeff Bdezlik’s job status hanging overhead every game, just a sense of relief.
"It’s just relief to win a tournament game," McKie said. "It’s a relief to break the streak. Now we have to turn right around at noon tomorrow and play a really good Pitt team."
The Yellow Jackets had to go to overtime to survive the day – something that the senior trio of Trae Golden, Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey were consistently conscious of during the game. Golden’s three-point play with 35 seconds left in overtime gave the Jackets the lead, and Holsey sank four straight foul shots in the final 10 seconds to seal it.
"I know me and Dan and Kamm, we talk to each other a lot during the games, like come on, man, it’s our last game," Golden said. "You do feel a great sense of urgency just knowing that it could be your last college game, and you obviously don’t want to go out in a negative way."
For the losers, this is it. Notre Dame played flat for 40 minutes and rarely seemed in danger of challenging Wake Forest. The Fighting Irish did very little fighting and were the first team to pack their luggage and head home. Virginia Tech actually did fight but the poor end-game execution that has plagued them all season reared its head again – the Hokies went 1-4 from the line in the final seconds and lost. Boston College continued its season-long tradition of being the worst defensive team in the ACC, falling to Georgia Tech in the nightcap. Steve Donahue is one of two coaches, along with Tech’s James Johnson, who might have coached his final ACC game on Wednesday night.
"But it’s not like, wow, you guys just totally fold at the end," Donahue said. "It’s not that. It’s a combination of a lot of things, and I don’t think you can just put one swipe of the brush and say that’s why [we lost]."
For some players, this is the last time they’ll be considered a basketball player first during their lifetimes. Patrick Crowley, a senior walk-on guard for Notre Dame with all of 49 career minutes to his credit, watched his career as a basketball player end on Wednesday afternoon.
"Freshman year I was like a regular student, and since then I’ve been a [basketball player]," Crowley said. "It’s terrible that it’s over."
"We thought we could turn it around [this week], but obviously we came up short."
Others like Jarrell Eddie are done as college players but will try to keep playing basketball in some capacity. But a potential future in basketball didn’t stave off the disappointment of a season being over – even a season that featured many more bad moments than good ones for Virginia Tech. The Hokies ended the season with a 2-17 record in games against conference opponents, setting a record for ACC regular season losses in the process.
"It didn’t’ go our way most nights," Eddie said. "We gave it as much effort, as much heart, as we could. The ball just didn’t roll our way."
Thursday will bring higher stakes – more hope, more disappointment – as several NCAA tournament bubble teams take the court all trying to avoid a resume-crushing loss. Pittsburgh needs to avoid losing to feel secure, while Florida State, Clemson and NC State are all holding out hope for the kind of run that pushes them into the Big Dance.
Three seasons ended on Wednesday. For the three teams that won, Thursday becomes another chance to survive.
"If we just keep running – keeping playing well and sharing the ball," Adams said. "We can try to make a run."