BROOKLYN — The ACC tournament made its New York debut when it tipped off at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn this week.
It’s the highest profile event the conference has ever held in The Big Apple and the centerpiece of commissioner John Swofford’s strategy to increase the league’s presence in the nation’s media capital. But it’s hardly the first time ACC players and coaches from North Carolina have taken center stage in New York.
Here are a few of their most memorable moments in the big city:
K’s coaching milestones
Madison Square Garden has always been something of a home away from home for the Duke basketball team. The Blue Devils have played 39 times at the world’s most famous arena during Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure, winning 29 of those games.
Two of those victories stand out above the others.
The first, on Nov. 16, 2011, was a 74-69 victory against Michigan State that made Coach K the winningest coach in college basketball history. Junior guard Andre Dawkins scored 26 points to help his coach move past Bob Knight on the all-time list with his 903rd career triumph.
The accomplishment was made even more special because Knight, Krzyzewski’s former coach and mentor, was courtside broadcasting the game for ESPN.
The next came three seasons later, on Jan. 26, 2015, when freshman guard Tyus Jones and senior guard Quinn Cook sparked a decisive second half run that lifted Duke to a 77-68 victory against St. John’s. The victory made Krzyzewski the first coach in college history to reach the 1,000-win mark and served as a springboard to the Blue Devils’ eventual national championship run.
‘Don’t ever give up’
On March 3, 1993, terminally ill with bone cancer, former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano was helped to the stage at Madison Square Garden to receive the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. Once he got there, he delivered one of the most powerful and famous speeches in sport history.
During the speech, Valvano announced that he would be starting The V Foundation for Cancer Research in hopes of finding a cure for the disease that would eventually take his life at the age of 47. The motto of the foundation, and the centerpiece of its founder’s emotional remarks, was the phrase “Don’t give up … don’t ever give up.”
Valvano told the audience both at the Garden and watching on national television that they should “laugh, think and cry” at least once every day. He then turned on his trademark charm to evoke all three of those emotions with stories from his youth, his coaching career with the Wolfpack and his battle with cancer. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time he finished.
“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities,” he said. “It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”
Valvano was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the New York Yankees’ season opener a few weeks later, but he was too weak to do it. North Carolina coach Dean Smith stepped in and did the honors for him. Valvano died on April 28, 1993.
An All-Star in the Citi
Former UNC right-hander Matt Harvey, who struck out 263 and won 22 games in three seasons with the Tar Heels, was taken by the New York Mets with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. He made it to the majors two years later and was so impressive with a fastball that reached 98 mph that by 2013, he was named as the starting pitcher for the National League in the midseason All-Star Game at Citi Field.
Harvey was so popular in New York that he made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon before the game. Then, pitching in his home stadium, the former Tar Heel overcame a rocky start in which he allowed a double on the first pitch of the game and hit the next batter, to work two scoreless innings. He struck out three while allowing just the one hit, earning a loud ovation from the Mets fans.
A rivalry Garden party
Saturday’s game between UNC and Duke at the Smith Center will be the 244th basketball meeting between the neighboring rivals. There’s a chance the two could also meet this week at the ACC tournament, something that’s happened 20 times since 1954.
Although the Tar Heels and Blue Devils were once at the same Final Four together, in 1991 in Indianapolis, they have never played in an NCAA tournament game. They have, however, gone head-to-head in the NIT. It happened on March 25, 1971, in a semifinal matchup at Madison Square Garden. UNC got 21 points from George Karl on the way to a 73-67 win. Coach Dean Smith’s team then went on to beat future conference rival Georgia Tech 84-66 to claim the ACC’s first ever NIT championship behind 34 points from tournament MVP Bill Chamberlain.
Four other ACC teams have since won the title at what has become college basketball’s consolation event, which is still technically considered a national championship.The most recent was Wake Forest in 2000, with point guard Robert O’Kelley winning MVP honors. Coincidentally, the Deacons followed a similar path to the title as the 1971 Tar Heels by beating ACC rival NC State in the semifinals before claiming the title with a win against a future conference member, Notre Dame.
ACC teams have also won the NIT’s preseason tournament, which also holds its Final Four in New York, seven times. Duke has the most titles with four, followed by UNC. Wake Forest and Georgia Tech have one each.
Devils in Pinstripes
Duke won a bowl game for the first time in 54 years when it went to Yankee Stadium and outlasted Indiana 44-41 in overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27, 2015.
Ross Martin kicked a 36-yard field goal on the Blue Devils’ first extra possession to provide his team with its margin of victory. But that wasn’t the kick everyone was talking about after the wild, back-and-forth game. A 38-yard attempt by the Hoosiers’ Griffin Oakes, which would have tied the game and sent it into a second overtime, was ruled to be wide right — despite protests from Oakes, his teammates and coaches.
The overtime drama punctuated a game in which the teams combined for more than 1,200 yards and 56 first downs. Shaun Wilson had 282 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including a 98-yard kickoff return. Quarterback Thomas Sirk accounted for 318 yards and three touchdowns, including one on a 73-yard run, to lead the Blue Devils to their first postseason win since the 1961 Cotton Bowl.