Virginia made a quick exit from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament tonight playing the way it has for the last month: flat.
The cavaliers, now 19-10 with losses in seven of their last 10 games, bowed out in the tournament's first round for the third straight year with barely a whimper, a 57-49 victim of Clemson.
The 20-7 Tigers won with ease on a night they shot 45 percent from the floor, missed enough free throws to sink a ship and committed 14 turnovers. They will aim to improve in Friday's 7 p.m. semifinal against Maryland.
The 9 p.m. semifinal will match Duke (20-8) and North Carolina (21-6) Both won easily on what was basically a desultory opening day.
The Tar Heels were never in danger as they romped, 75-62, over a Wake Forest team that looked ready for mothballs in the tournament opener.
The Blue Devils won as they pleased over North Carolina State in the evening prelude to the Virginia Clemson clunker, getting dominating performances from Mike Gminski and Eugene Banks in a 68-62 breeze that belied Duke's No. 6 seeding and the No. 3 status of the Wolfpack.
Few among the 15,735 in the Greensboro Coliseum seemed very surprised by Virginia's quick demise.
The Cavaliers have been a troubled team of late, on court and off. Coach Terry Holland last week suspended three players for negative comments to a reporter, at the same time banning reporters from the locker room.
That ban was lifted tonight by team vote. Reporters were granted 15 minutes with the Cavaliers.
"We played hard, we really tried to be intense," said Jeff Lamp, last year's ACC scoring champion who tonight shot six for 14, including one air ball, and totaled 14 points. "We just couldn't get it going. Clemson played well better than us. They deserved the win,"
Clemson was hardly overwhelming. Midway through the second half Virginia had scored 29 points -- less than a point a minute -- and trailed by only six. During the first 15 minutes of the second half. Virginia made five fild goals and 12 points. That kind of shooting -- 40 percent for the game -- enabled Clemson to build a 49-35 lead and coast home.
The only effective Cavalier was 7-foot-4 freshman Ralph Sampson, with 17 points and 18 rebounds although he shot just seven of 17 from the floor.
"I don't know what the problem was," Sampson said. "We just couldn't get the shots to fall. I have to look at the statistics, maybe they'll say something."
As for the rumors that he may turn professional after this one year in college, Sampson had little to say. "I'm definitely coming back," he said, but qualified, "If I got a pro offer I'd certainly listen.
"I'm coming back though.Right now."
Before Sampson does or doesn't go anywhere, he will probably play in the National Invitation Tournament with the Cavaliers. Settling for the NIT for the third straight year looked ridiculous when Virginia was ranked as high as second in some preseason polls but that indubitably is where the Cavs are headed.
"Right now I don't think I'd want to go," Lamp said. "But that's because I'm tired. It's been a long season. I'm disappointed.
"A lot of people made us out to be God's gift to basketball when we signed Ralph. I think maybe this team was made too much of in preseason. It put a lot of pressure on us."
Duke's success here clouds the NCAA tournament picture for the conference. Although State finished third in the league race and Duke tied for fifth, the Blue Devils won two of the three games from the Wolfpack (20-7) including tonight's neutral-court meeting.
Duke Coach Bill Foster, who will move to South Carolina after the season, said after the game that his tem belongs in the NCAA field, State's Florida-bound Norm Sloan said the Wolfpack does, too.
One team that nobody doubts will be in the NCAA is North Carolina.
The Tar Heels were never in danger against Wake Forest, leading by 10 at halftime and building on that behind forwards Mike O'Koren and Al Wood. a
O'Koren was particularly brilliant with 26 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals. Wood furnished 19 points and eight rebounds, Wake closing out at 13-14, its second straight losing season, simply had no answers for O'Koren and Wood.
Alvis Rogers led the muted Deacon effort with 14 ponts; Mike Helms scored 12. Wake never drew closer than five the second half, at 48-43 and Carolina answered with the next eight points. That took care of that.
"We got up by 10 pretty early," UNC Coach Dean Smith said, clearly groping for something polite to say, about Wake. "That's just a terrible position to be in. It's so dangerous.
If that position bothered the Tar Heels, they never showed it in spite of the fact that this was their first opening-round game since 1975. The last four seasons, in a seven-team tournament, UNC had the bye.
"No one seemed fired up, said Tar Heel backup center Rich Yonakor "Usually we come over here and the whole crowd is against us. "Today we came over here and everything was quiet."