By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001
ATLANTA -- Even though he earned first-team all-conference honors, Georgia Tech senior center Alvin Jones believed he had something to prove in Friday's quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
During the past couple weeks, the former Lakeland Kathleen star hadn't been playing all that well, which is one reason the Yellow Jackets were precariously poised on the NCAA Tournament "bubble."
Neither is true now.
Jones turned in one of his best all-around performances against Virginia -- 20 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks and a crucial assist on a Darryl LaBarrie three-pointer -- to lead his team to a 74-69 win before a raucous 40,083 at the Georgia Dome.
"We knew what was on the line tonight," Jones said. "We were fighting for our (post-season) life."
The No. 5-seeded Yellow Jackets (17-11), who face top-seeded North Carolina in today's semifinals, appear to be a NCAA Tournament lock. They have wins against UCLA, Kentucky, Maryland and three against No. 12-ranked and fourth-seeded Virginia.
"People keep asking me, "Why are you good? What are you doing this year? What's the magic formula,' " first-year Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "There's no magic formula. We have a guy in the center who I think is the best center in the ACC. People have suddenly discovered that he's a good offensive player. He's always been a great defensive player and rebounder."
But throughout his first few collegiate years, folks questioned Jones' desire to win.
That's not true now.
After sophomore guard Roger Mason Jr. hit a tough fadeaway to give Virginia (20-8) a 67-66 lead with 2:01 left, Jones took control. He assisted on a three-pointer, followed with a block of senior guard Donald Hand's drive, then banked in a short turnaround for a 71-67 lead with 49.8 seconds left.
Jones wildly pumped his right fist and high-fived his giddy teammates on the sideline, a sharp contrast to his fire, and productivity in his past few games, including two points and nine rebounds against Clemson and 11 points and nine rebounds in a loss at Florida State.
"I guess I was just hungrier and more focused," he said.
"Alvin Jones is a handful," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. "He's 6-11, 265 and Travis (Watson) is a 6-7 power forward. He does a great job, but it's tough for anybody to guard him. He made some big plays down the end. He's a good player."
NO. 6 UNC 99, CLEMSON 81: Junior forward Jason Capel usually doesn't shoot before warmups, but he opted to alter his pregame ritual and might just stick with it.
Capel hit 8 of 9 field goals, including all six from three-point range, to finish with 23 points as the Tar Heels blew open a surprisingly close game, avenging an embarrassing Feb. 18 road loss.
"The shots just felt good," he said. "My teammates did a great job of putting me in positions to have good shots. I got it and I just shot it with confidence."
Clemson junior guard Will Solomon, who scored 23, hit back-to-back three-pointers that cut a 12-point deficit to 76-70 with 9:01 left, but the Heels, and Capel, answered. His lob led to a Kris Lang layup and then he hit his final three, shaking his head "because every shot felt good."
NO. 11 MARYLAND 71, NO. 22 WAKE FOREST 53: Sophomore point guard Steve Blake, not known for his shooting, especially from long range, hit back-to-back three-pointers in a 23-second span early in the second half for the Terrapins that blew open a close game.
Third-seeded Maryland (21-9) held a 33-28 edge when Blake hit just his 29th and 30th three-pointers of the season. That ignited a decisive 16-2 run.
"I think I can shoot the ball," said Blake, a Miami Lakes native who also had nine assists. "I got the open looks and knocked them down. I just did what I had to do to help my team."
The Terrapins face Duke in today's semifinals and, for a change, could be favored.
NO. 3 DUKE 76, N.C. STATE 61: Seldom-used freshman guard Reggie Love and senior forward Nate James came off an oft-maligned bench to provide a key spark in a decisive 25-8 run to close the first half.
James, a third-team all-conference pick who had been struggling (12 points in his past three games combined), finished with 13 points and "made a big step toward becoming the old Nate. And we need that," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
"We've stayed pretty confident," said senior forward Shane Battier, who has won a league-record 123 games.