Gunshots? Dean Smith in a fight? The weirdest moments in ACC tournament history

Chip Alexander
·7 min read

It has been a year since Florida State was presented the ACC championship trophy at the 2020 ACC Tournament — without there being a complete tournament.

The threatening advance and spread of the coronavirus caused John Swofford, then the ACC commissioner, to shut it down. Swofford gathered the FSU team and members of the media together in fairly close quarters on the Greensboro Coliseum court to hand out the trophy and explain that it was too dangerous to proceed, what with a novel virus that was so easily spread. Everyone quickly scattered.

There has never been an ending like that in the ACC tournament, and this year’s re-do in Greensboro will be with a restricted number of fans and the mostly empty coliseum, another first for the tournament. The pandemic is still with us.

But the ACC tournament has had its other moments of unpredictability and happenstance. Some have been bizarre, others a bit wacky. Here’s a look back:

Nose to nose

Rick Barnes vs. Dean Smith, in a bare knuckle fight. Who you got?

For a few fleeting seconds in the 1995 tournament in Charlotte, it seemed like it might come to that between the UNC and Clemson coaches. Smith said something to a Clemson player on the court after a Clemson foul. Barnes, the Clemson coach, didn’t like it.

And then there they were during a timeout, Smith and Barnes nose to nose at the scorer’s table. They were seemingly one cross word away from someone throwing a right cross as referees Rick Hartzell and Frank Scagliotta struggled to keep the two separated.

“I told him, ‘You coach your players and I’ll coach mine. You have no right to talk to my players,’ ” Barnes said after the game, probably a loose translation of what was really said.

Clemson coach Rick Barnes (left) argues with an official during the Tigers’ loss to North Carolina in the 1995 ACC Tournament.
Clemson coach Rick Barnes (left) argues with an official during the Tigers’ loss to North Carolina in the 1995 ACC Tournament.

Both went back to their respective corners, um, benches. ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan later fined each coach $2,500, calling it a “regrettable incident.”

Not that the bad blood didn’t continue after the coaches’ spat. The two teams had to be held apart as the game ended.

Smith and Barnes did shake hands as they left the court, Barnes getting in a few more words.

Stackhouse (42) shoots technical foul shots after Clemson coach Rick Barnes was assessed the foul for arguing with an official near the end of the game.
Stackhouse (42) shoots technical foul shots after Clemson coach Rick Barnes was assessed the foul for arguing with an official near the end of the game.

Making a big shot

It happened quickly and unexpectedly.

BAM!

Was that a gunshot? Inside the Greensboro Coliseum? During the 2004 ACC Tournament?

Sure sounded like a gunshot. That’s what many believed that night.

And it was. Darren I. Sanders, an off-duty Baltimore police officer, had accidentally fired a Glock 40-caliber pistol just a few rows from the court during Maryland’s game against Wake Forest. He later told Greensboro police he had the gun holstered, stood up during a Maryland play, and then was sitting back down when ...

BAM!

Sanders shot himself in the hip. Greensboro police described it as an “accidental discharge” and charged Sanders, who accompanied Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to the game, with unlawfully carrying a pistol into an assembly where admission is charged, a state misdemeanor.

Sanders initially did not move after shooting himself, later telling the Greensboro News & Record, “I was just trying not to cause a scene.” He was taken away on a stretcher; it was quite a scene.

Where is Sanders today? The Baltimore Ravens’ website lists him as vice president of security for the NFL team.

And the Sanders shooting incident wasn’t the only unusual one in 2004 ...

Technically speaking

Maryland would win the 2004 tournament but only after a semifinal game against N.C. State and a controversial, dubious technical foul that remains a part of the tournament’s lore.

The Terrapins, after trailing by 19 points at halftime, were staging a comeback in the second half. During timeouts, the Pack’s team managers would set up folding chairs a few feet away from the main bench, then quickly collect them as the timeout ended and clean up the area.

After a second-half timeout, an NCSU manager noticed a bit of water on the court near the bench after timeout. He bolted off the bench, hurriedly wiped up the moisture and ran back.

Technical foul, said referee Larry Rose.

Later, Rose would say that the Pack had been warned about being tardy in their cleanups after timeouts, thus the technical. Maryland scored four points on the possession, went on a 10-0 run and won 85-82.

Rose told the News & Observer the following week he had issued an apology to everyone at N.C. State, saying, “Legally, by the [rule] book, I was right. But if I had to do it all over again, I would not do it.”

Rose was scheduled to work the championship game but did not. He was sent home early by ACC associate commissioner Fred Barakat, then the league’s supervisor of basketball officials. Again, unusual.

Shooting the lights out

It was a game N.C. State very much wanted to win and the Wolfpack was winning big over North Carolina in the 1959 ACC Tournament championship game at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.

And then, darkness. For almost eight minutes, the lights went out in Reynolds.

The way the story goes, a Wolfpack fan, angry that UNC coach Frank McGuire had pulled most of his starters with seven minutes left in the second half and State leading by 13, somehow got to the basement of Reynolds and hit the master switch.

Lou Pucillo, the Pack’s All-America guard, said he told State coach Everett Case that it wasn’t a problem.

“I said I’d just dribble around in the dark and no one could find me,” Pucillo, who was a 5-foot-9 senior at the time, told the N&O on Friday.

With N.C. State on NCAA probation and unable to play in the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels would represent the ACC, win or lose in the finals. McGuire later said he decided to rest some of his guys for the NCAAs, which started in a few days.

During the regular season, when the Pack was ranked No. 1 in the nation, McGuire called timeout with a few seconds left in the game and the Tar Heels ahead, as if prolonging the celebration, rubbing it in. That irked the Pack.

With four seconds left in the ACC tournament game and State leading 80-56, Pucillo said Wolfpack reserve Harold Atkins was in the game and suddenly signaled for a timeout.

“We called him ‘Country’ Atkins because he was really country, and he called the timeout on his own,” Pucillo said, laughing. “The little country boy from Kernersville was going up against McGuire, the Madison Square Garden, New York guy.”

A rested UNC team lost to Navy a few days later in the NCAA Tournament, at Madison Square Garden.

Let it snow, and it did

Can you play the tournament in a blizzard? Yes, you can.

In 1980, it began snowing heavily on Leap Day, when the semifinals were held at the Greensboro Coliseum. On Saturday, so much snow had fallen that the ACC announced if fans could somehow make their way to the coliseum for the championship game, they’d be let in. Some 7,000 did.

Duke beat Maryland 73-72 in the title game. It ended with Terps coach Lefty Driesell steaming over what he believed should have been a foul called on Duke’s Kenny Dennard. Maryland’s Buck Williams was trying to rebound a missed shot by Albert King just before the final buzzer, and Dennard got under Williams and ... Lefty was left hot.

The winter storm eventually would dump 12 to 22 inches on much of Eastern North Carolina.

Another big winter storm would disrupt the 1993 tournament in Charlotte. Snow, sleet and rain were falling and the wind howling, and power went out twice in the Charlotte Coliseum during North Carolina’s semifinal game against Virginia.

The Tar Heels won, causing then Virginia coach Jeff Jones to muse about the Cavaliers’ “own power outage.”