It was a rough afternoon for favorites in the opening session of the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament today.
Second-seeded Duke scored only one field goal in the final 12 minutes, blew a 14-point lead but got two free throws from Jim Spanarkel with two seconds left and upended last-seeded Wake Forest, 58-56.
Third-seeded Virginia was not nearly as fortunate. The Cavaliers shot horrendously against North Carolina State's zone and suffered an 82-78 defeat. Only some awful ball-handling by the Wolfpack made the final score that close.
Duke and N.C. State will meet Friday at 9 p.m. in the second semifinal.
The N.C. State-Virginia game was marred by an injury to State star Charles (Hawkeye) Whitney during the frenetic final minute of the game.
Whitney and Virginia's Mike Owens collided as Owens made a layup to cut State's lead to 79-74 with 43 seconds left.Ownes was called for a charge and Whitney shot an air ball from the free-throw line.
At first it was feared that Whitney had broken the middle finger on his shooting hand. But after an examination by a State team physician, the injury was described as a sprain and Whitney was listed as probable for action in the semifinals.
State (18-11) will play Friday because Virginia (18-9) shot 40 percent against the Wolfpack zone, with star forward Jeff Lamp going 10 for 22 and second-leading scorer Lee Raker hitting just five of 19. State was led by Kendal Pinder with 20 points. Tony Warren had 16 and Clyde Austin 15.
"I thought we had good movement against their man to man. But when they went to their zone we just couldn't get the shots to drop against it," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland. "Our kids kept trying, though.We almost came back at the end."
The Cavalier comeback -- which left Sloan disgusted with his team -- started with 1:36 left and State holding a seemingly insurmountable 77-64 lead. Bobby Stokes made a jump shot, Pinder missed a free throw for State and Owens made two foul shots to cut the lead to 77-68 with 1:01 left.
Tommy Hicks then stole an inbounds pass, was fouled and made one shot to cut the lead to 77-69. Pinder's two free throws made the lead 10 again before State really fell apart.
"We kept telling them don't foul, don't get careless, and that's just what they did," a disturbed Sloan said. "The only good thing about this game is that we won. It was our carelessness that got Hawkeye hurt."
A three-point play by Garland Jefferson and Owens' steal and layup made it 79-74 leading up to the collision with Whitney.
After Whitney's foul-line miss Lamp broke free long enough to make a jump shot from the corner, cutting State's lead to 79-76 with 38 seconds left.
But when State's Kenny Matthews threw the ball away, Lamp missed from the corner. He got one more chance when Virginia got possession off a jump ball with 19 seconds to play.
This time, Lamp took a pass from Stokes, drove to the left side and put up a short bank shot over Pinder, looking for a three-point play. But the shot rimmed out and Pinder got the rebound. He was fouled and made the two shots, ending Virginia's last hope.
"I just missed the crucial shot at the end," said Lamp. "I rushed it, I was trying to draw th foul. I wasn't on balance, I had my back to the basket. I had to pivot and shoot a turnaround jumper. You're going to miss shots, but it's a shame to miss one like that."
Virginia, after trailing by as many as 14 points, never was able to get even. Wake Forest, also down by 14 in the second half, against Duke, did come back.
The Deacons appeared headed for a quick exit when Duke's Eugene Banks hit a short bank shot with 12:16 left to play to give the Blue Devils a 50-36 lead.
But Duke made only one more field goal the rest of the game, while the young Deacons -- four freshmen started -- pecked away.
Duke constantly missed layups and foul shots and hardly resembled the nation's fifth-ranked team.
"Our players just never thought we were out of it," Wake Coach Carl Tacy said. "I thought things looked pretty bad when we got down by 14, but they just wouldn't give up."
"I don't know what happened," said Duke Coach Bill Foster, whose 21-6 team has had a tendency to blow leads this season.
"I didn't think we got tentative or anything. We just started missing some good shots. Then we got nervous or something and took some bad shots."
Even the normally steady Spanarkel, who finished as the game's high scorer with 20 points, missed three straight free throws.
The last miss came with 2:33 to play and Duke leading, 56-52. Wake center Jim Johnstone, who along with fellow freshman Mike Helms led the Deacons with 16 points, tipped in an Alvis Rogers miss to make it 56-54 with 1:59 left.
Duke then held the ball, appearing to wait to get fouled. But with 37 seconds left Banks inexplicably drove to the basket and missed a short shot.
Johnstone rebounded and Rogers' 20-footer with 17-seconds left tied the game for the first time at 56 all.
"We've sort of been like that all season, I guess," said Duke center Mike Gminski, who had 17 points. "We get ahead and then we seem to lose it. But I knew Jimmy (Spanarkel) would make the free throws. I never doubted it for a second."
Spanarkel was not so sure. He was fouled by Mark Dale as he drove to the right side of the lane (Dale said later the call was a correct one) and went to the line with a one and one.
"Foul shooting is concentration," Spanarkel said. "After I missed the last one, Rob Hardy ( a Duke reserve) told me I wasn't extendng my arms and following through. I just concentrated."
He concentrated hard enough to save his team the embarrassment of losing to the tournament's only sub. 500 team. Wake finished the year 12-15 after Rogers' 40-footer at the buzzer fell short.
"Nothing comes easy in this tournament," Foster said. "We all know that and we saw an example of that this afternoon. We're just lucky to escape with a win."