Two things seemed out of whack in the Atlantic Coast Conference final Sunday: the game clock in the last 14 seconds and the minds of most of those who chose the most valuable player.

All else was brilliant and classy.

Georgia Tech completed a touching worst-to-first stretch of four years by winning the championship over a North Carolina team that shot better and got more rebounds.

Tech was a no-talent urchin when Bobby Cremins arrived; this season the coach and the new bully on the ACC block excelled at exactly the critical moments against exactly the appropriate team.

To grab best-in-show from Carolina and Dean Smith is the dream of nearly all coaches, though they will settle for it against less brilliant programs.

Sunday was four years compressed into 40 minutes for Tech. From possibly being blown out early on, it staggered and counterpunched to a dramatic decision.

Cremins works to affect the image of an innocent dolt out of his element against masters such as Smith. It's a con that no longer will play.

"I don't know what's going on," Cremins cooed during the postgame hugging and crying. Goofy as he often acts, Cremins knows the score whenever he must make a decision about his creation.

His talent -- this season -- was as good as Smith's; so was his mind. Twice Tech beat the Heels, home and away, during the regular season. And when Smith tried to pull a familiar stunt in the last 14 seconds Sunday, Cremins was equal to the challenge.

Ahead by a point, the Yellow Jackets had the ball under the Carolina basket. When they showed their inbounds formation, Smith called time.

Maryland fans this season, and so many others throughout the country over the years, know how Smith crawls into the heads of opponents during such tense times and creates chaos.

In a similar situation in Chapel Hill, Smith called time after surveying Maryland's defense -- and Curtis Hunter stole the inbounds pass as though it were meant for him all along.

So Cremins was forced to think hard and long during that timeout: should he change to a different, though possibly less effective, play?

"I started to," he admitted.

Cremins and his staff huddled so long, off to themselves, that an official had to all but drag them back onto the court for yet another test of imagination and will.

There would be no switch after all, Cremins had decided. The idea was to get the ball to his best ball handler and foul shooter, Mark Price, and that happened in an instant.

What wasn't working, as Scott Petway quickly flicked a pass to Price, was the clock. The fellow whose thumb was to start it evidently was mesmerized by the tension and froze for several seconds.

Matrons could have knitted a sweater for Lefty Driesell during the time Price was zig-zagging through Carolina players, dribbling, passing the ball and getting it back.

When Price finally was fouled, the clock said only four seconds had elapsed. Wisely, the officials ordered two more struck.

And Tech won in Carolina-like fashion, burying pressure foul shots at the end.

Somebody asked Cremins if this victory will be helpful in the NCAA tournament.

"I wish this was the NCAA tournament," he said.

Smith, his players and staff were correctly gracious in defeat, clapping as each Techman received his trophy. Smith also had gone to the Tech dressing room and shaken the hand of each player after the loss in Chapel Hill.

The game's afterglow on the court was interrupted by the announcement of the tournament's most valuable player. Nearly everyone assumed it would be sophomore guard Bruce Dalrymple. Tech fans even were chanting, "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce," when all over the Omni could be heard:

"Mark Price." What?

Dalrymple had seemed this game's pivotal player, and the tournament's commanding presence. Whatever Tech needed when trouble suddenly was at hand Dalrymple provided.

Publicly, the MVP balloting is said to be done by a panel of the eight losing coaches. But all but the two coaches in the final are hours away before the championship tipoff.

What happens is that a representative of each of the losing schools makes an MVP choice in the name of his coach.

This one smelled, especially since the only two coaches who voted, Smith and Cremins, chose Dalrymple.

Price had seven more points and two more assists for the three games; Dalrymple had 14 more rebounds, four more steals, a much better field-goal percentage and one fewer turnover. In the subjective category of "pressure production," which is loosely defined as anything uplifting at especially low points, Dalrymple seemed the clear winner.

Cremins thought so, too.

"I'm sure Mark won't mind," said the coach, squeezing Dalrymple during a press conference, "but this is my MVP right here."

Coaches cringe at MVP awards, for they tend to detract from team play. And without someone as smart as Cremins, a Price-Dalrymple fuss could be harmful in future games.

As the announcement of Price was echoing through the arena, Dalrymple's chin was sagging to his chest. From being animated and bouncy, he became dazed and distant.

Without a gigantic jolt of flattery, such frustration could not only drag down Dalrymple's play in the NCAAs but also the entire team's. That's a major reason Cremins chose between his stars.

Price has his trophy; Dalrymple might have the more meaningful prize.

Cremins knows he needs both inspired to keep on winning. He's no fool.