In its first foray north into this strange land, the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament brought its own pressures and dramas along for the ride. The venerable event’s inaugural day in Brooklyn featured, among other subplots, the farewell of the North Carolina State coach and probably his best player.
Mark Gottfried’s team never really was in its game against Clemson on Tuesday at Barclays Center, losing, 75-61. So it was a wan swan song for the coach, who was fired last month but was allowed to finish the season.
“N.C. State is a wonderful place, different from every other job in this league. Nobody else is compared daily, the way our guys and our program are, to North Carolina and Duke. They’re just not,” he said. Summarizing his own tenure, he added, “Six years, four (NCAA) Tournaments, two Sweet 16s, two years missed the Tournament and they’re hunting for a new coach. I’m not sure that’s happening at about 50 or 60 percent of the rest of the league, quite honestly. I’ve said it many times: Tough neighborhood.”
The Wolfpack (15-17) did have raised expectations this season with freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr., a likely NBA lottery pick this June. But Clemson (17-14) stifled Smith, holding him to seven points and 3-for-12 shooting, with four turnovers.
“I thought we kept him out of transition a good bit. He’s dynamic in the open floor,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. He added that the strategy extended even to the Tigers’ own offensive approach — attacking the rim “so we didn’t have long misses that led to run-outs and open-court play for him.”
In any case, it was a landmark game in that it was the first one in the tournament’s 63-year history to be held so far north.
“Definitely a good feeling,” fifth-year senior forward Jaron Blossomgame said after scoring 22 points for Clemson. “It’s my second time coming to New York. It’s a great venue to come play basketball at. It’s a very good basketball city. Guys were excited about it.”
Well, not all the guys. Sophomore guard Shelton Mitchell, who also scored 22, said, “I’ll be honest. I was kind of disappointed. I grew up in North Carolina. I’m just so used to seeing the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.”
Brownell, caught between a smile and a grimace, said, “Oh, we didn’t make any fans there. He’s young, he’s young.”