One scene summed up the entire Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, and it wasn't North Carolina coach Dean Smith joyously hugging assistant Dick Harp after the Tar Heels' 77-74 final-round victory over Duke at the Omni in Atlanta.
No, the telling moment came six minutes into Sunday's final, with Carolina leading 16-6. The Tar Heels' Kevin Madden grabbed a rebound and fell to the floor with the ball. Smith thought Madden had been fouled. Referee Dick Paparo disagreed and called Madden for traveling. Smith raged at Paparo, then turned, and almost quicker than the eye could see, he kicked a chair.
That's right, kicked it. He even used his left foot, perhaps in honor of his old friend Lefty Driesell, who once destroyed a chair with a swift kick during this same tournament. But Driesell attacking a chair was dog bites man. This was the opposite. There was a simple message in Smith's impromptu punt: "I'm tired of all this Duke stuff."
In fact, that feeling ran through the North Carolina team. "Deep down we all wanted to play Duke today," said forward J.R. Reid, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in the final and was voted the MVP. "They beat us last year, and we kept hearing they were the best team in the league. We wanted to prove today that we were the best team by beating them in a big game."
North Carolina's title was Smith's 10th in 28 ACC tournament appearances, but his first since 1982, the year he won his only national championship. Since then Duke has won the tournament twice and been to the Final Four twice; it had also won four of its last five meetings with the Tar Heels, including last year's championship game.
"I thought this game was just like the game last year," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, his voice nearly gone afterward. "Both teams played their hearts out. We just couldn't get the shots to drop. They were good shots, they just didn't go in."
A lot of shots didn't drop during the tournament. It started at high noon last Friday, when North Carolina State, the top-seeded team, played as if it had to get out of Atlanta before Sherman and the Union Army showed up. Facing a Maryland team that had gone 1-13 in league play, the Wolfpack expected a one-sided blowout. That's what happened, but somehow the roles got reversed. Maryland, using its bench for a total of six minutes, spread the floor, used Driesell's old double-low-post offense and thumped State 71-49.
"Nightmare on Peachtree Street," said North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, though the Omni is on Tech-wood Drive. "I guess we had trouble figuring out their substitution pattern."
Maryland became the first team in conference history to win a game as the eighth seed, but the Terrapins did little celebrating. About 20 minutes after the game, Maryland coach Bob Wade was talking to several reporters when he suddenly grabbed his left side, excused himself, walked into his locker room, sat down and asked to see his trainer. Moments later he was taken on a stretcher to Georgia Baptist Medical Center, where he was treated for dehydration. The following morning he was given a cardiac catheterization to ensure that there was no blockage in his arteries. Wade was released from the hospital later that day, too late to coach his team in its semifinal game against Carolina.
Missing that 88-58 debacle may have been the best break Wade has had all season. The Terps, who finished at 9-20, have been wracked by dissension; they are also under investigation by the NCAA for allegations that assistant coaches illegally drove recruiting prospect Rudy Archer to his community college classes. They have also been torn by rumors that Wade, who is 36-50 at Maryland, may be fired with two years left on his five-year contract.