Wolfpack Rookies Will Get First Taste of ACC Tourney
March 5, 2002
By Tony Haynes
NC State's freshmen have played at Syracuse's cavernous Carrier Dome. They've sweated their way through a game at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. And they've gone up against Maryland in the final season at Cole Field House.
Now their journey is about to take them to the grandest conference tournament of them all. When the Pack squares off against Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Friday at the Charlotte Coliseum, every one of the arena's 23,000-plus seats will be occupied. Julius Hodge, Ilian Evtimov, Josh Powell, Jordan Collins and Michael Bell have played in front of sellout crowds before. But this will definitely be different because it's March and because it's the ACC Tournament. Not to mention the fact that the spectators lucky enough to hold those precious tickets will be representing all nine conference schools.
"It's definitely a different feeling," said NC State senior guard Archie Miller, who will be playing in his fourth and final ACC Tournament. "It's not like an ACC regular season game or anything like that. It's an unbelievable atmosphere. I think [the freshmen] will be surprised to see that the arena is full for every game and it doesn't matter who is playing. It's a big time atmosphere for every game. You get nervous in warm-ups and it's obviously different because you're playing a team that you've already played twice on a neutral floor."
Some would call it a 'Final Four-like' atmosphere. Although the tournament was staged in a domed stadium for the first time last year, the demand for tickets was unwavering. The 2001 tournament at the Georgia Dome was the most attended conference basketball tournament in NCAA history as 182,525 fans (average of 36,505) streamed through the turnstiles to witness the four-day event.
"I've just been amazed at the ACC Tournament," said NC State head coach Herb Sendek. "Last year, to go out on that floor and look up at that crowd that had gathered for that tournament was incredible. That wasn't a whole lot different from a Final Four atmosphere."
Thus far, the Wolfpack's young players have responded favorably to just about every new challenge that's been thrown their way. But how will they handle their first ACC Tournament?
"I think they'll be excited," said Wolfpack senior Anthony Grundy. "Our young guys pretty much love all the environment's that we've been playing in. Especially Julius, he's the catalyst. When he shows his flair and his competitive nature, it trickles down to the other guys."
That was apparent when the Pack visited Syracuse back on December 8. Hodge, who considered joining the Orangemen before finally settling on NC State, was the target of numerous barbs and verbal jabs from the Syracuse students. But that didn't stop the 6-6 forward from putting together one of the best games of his young career. With Hodge thriving on the atmosphere, the Pack pulled off an 82-68 upset win.
Tourney Tidbits:NC State enters the 49th ACC Tournament with a 51-38 all-time mark in the event, which started in 1954. The Wolfpack is the third-winningest team in tournament history behind North Carolina and Duke. NC State and Virginia have met 12 times in the tournament, with the Pack holding a 10-2 advantage in those games. State's .833 winning percentage over Virginia in ACC Tournament play is the best of any of the Wolfpack's opponents.
NC State has gone 6-5 in the ACC Tournament since Sendek took over as the team's coach in 1996-97. Last season's first round loss to Duke marked the first time that the Wolfpack lost its opening game in the tournament under Sendek.
Broadcast Note: The Wolfpack Radio Network will broadcast every single game of this year's tournament, beginning with Thursday night's first round game between Clemson and Florida State. Airtime for game one is 6:30 p.m.