The inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge came down to the wire.

Literally.

It took a buzzer-beating basket by Georgia’s Justin Hill against Florida State to decide the outcome. And even then it didn’t really decide anything.

The leagues split the games right down the middle, 7 wins apiece. But it sure felt like a loss for the ACC.

Not only did 2 of its top teams, Miami and Duke, lay eggs with losses on the road, but the Seminoles squandered a 14-point lead on their home court with 8:38 remaining in a game that could have clinched the series.

Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia and Wake Forest were the ACC’s winners, with the Eagles beating Vanderbilt, the Tigers taking down Alabama, the Yellow Jackets upsetting Mississippi State, the Tar Heels running past No. 10 Tennessee, the Orange taming LSU, the Cavaliers shutting down Texas A&M and the Deacons rallying to beat Florida.

In addition to Miami, which got smoked by Kentucky, Duke (which lost at court-storming Arkansas), Florida State, Notre Dame (at South Carolina), NC State (at Ole Miss). Pittsburgh (against Missouri) and Virginia Tech (against Auburn) also lost.

As was the case with the ACC’s former in-season competition with the Big Ten, the Challenge against the SEC has no real meaning other than giving the winning conference an opportunity to pound its chest a little bit.

But for the ACC, whose stature has taken a nosedive over the past few seasons, this was an opportunity to prove to the college basketball world that it’s ready to be taken seriously again. While it did succeed in showing that the middle and bottom of the league are improved, the book is still out on its overall quality.

To be continued in March.

Here are 5 takeaways from an entertaining and (sometimes) competitive 2 days of head-to-head competition:

Top dogs tamed

Miami is coming off a Final Four, was undefeated and ranked No. 8. Duke, as former Virginia coach Pete Gillen used to say, is Duke. They were 2 of the teams the ACC was relying on most heavily to carry the league’s flag and help pull it through in 2 of the marquee matchups against the SEC.

And both responded with a resounding thud.

Granted, both games were on the road with the Hurricanes facing the unenviable task of facing Kentucky at Rupp Arena and Duke making a rare November trip into somebody else’s arena against Arkansas. But more disappointing than the losing results was the thoroughness with which they got beat.

Miami was especially bad. After trailing by only 5 at halftime, Jim Larranaga’s team totally fell apart over the final 20 minutes. Defense was only a suggestion as they allowed Kentucky to convert on 20-of-30 field goal attempts while building as much as a 29-point lead.

The offense wasn’t much better, either. Miami was held to its lowest point total of the young season in a 95-73 blowout.

Duke wasn’t much better at Arkansas, although a late run made the 80-75 final score look much more respectable. The Blue Devils were outrebounded and outhustled while falling behind by as many as 14 midway through the 2nd half.

While their veterans held up their end of the bargain, with Kyle Filipowski posting 26 points and Jeremy Roach adding 22, Jon Scheyer’s 4 highly-touted freshmen wilted in the hostile environment. Jared McCain, Caleb Foster, TJ Power and Sean Scott combined for only 13 points on 3-of-14 shooting.

The Blue Devils are clearly still a work in progress.

Motivated ‘Mando

Armando Bacot said he’s lost a lot of sleep in the week since he and his North Carolina teammates returned from the Bahamas last week. The graduate center was just 10-of-27 from the floor and averaged only 9 points in the Tar Heels 3 games in the Battle 4 Atlantis. And he held himself responsible for his team’s overtime loss to eventual champion Villanova in the tournament semifinals.

His motivation to make amends for those subpar performances showed against Tennessee on Wednesday. He made 6-of-8 field goal attempts and added a career-high 10 free throws on the way to a 22-point, 11-rebound, 3-assist performance that rubbed off on his teammates and set the tone for UNC’s 100-92 victory.

“I think today we were just trying to put the world on notice,” Bacot said. “I’m just glad I was able to go out there and perform. I knew once I came back to my kingdom, I’d be good.”

Bacot wasn’t the only one on a mission. With RJ Davis putting up 27 points and Harrison Ingram adding 20, the Tar Heels erupted for 61 1st-half points against a team that came into the game ranked No. 1 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. UNC’s 100 points marked only the 2nd time in coach Rick Barnes’ tenure at Tennessee that his Volunteers allowed an opponent to reach the century mark.

The letdown in the Bahamas wasn’t the only fire that was burning under UNC, especially Bacot and Davis. Two years ago at the Hall of Fame Tipoff in Connecticut, Tennessee put an 89-72 hurting on the Tar Heels.

“We knew who we were playing,” Bacot said. “And we were ready for it.”

New coaches contribute

Syracuse’s Adrian Autry and Georgia Tech’s Damon Stoudamire have been on the job for less than a month each. But already, they’ve both made positive contributions to their conference’s effort to rebuild its national reputation.

Autry’s Orange used a strong 2nd half and a 3-point blitz to take down LSU 80-57 at the Dome. Stoudamire’s Yellow Jackets took the opposite approach, starting strong and hanging on late for a 67-59 victory against previously undefeated Mississippi State in Atlanta.

Syracuse went 11-of-21 as a team from beyond the arc, with Chris Bell contributing 6 of the 3-pointers. Star guard Judah Mintz led the scoring with 33 points as the Orange outscored the Tigers 47-29 over the final 20 minutes.

Tech used a 22-point, 12-rebound double-double from Miles Kelly to take down the 21st-ranked Bulldogs to give the ACC an unexpected notch in the win column.

Roaring Tigers

Brad Brownell and his Clemson Tigers got left out of the NCAA Tournament last season despite winning 23 games and finishing tied for 3rd in the ACC. And they’re determined not to let it happen again.
They took their 1st step toward building a resume the selection committee can’t ignore earlier this month by squeaking past UAB and Davidson and avoiding the kind of bad loss that plagued them in 2022-23.

Tuesday, they did themselves one better by notching a signature Quad 1 victory by going to Alabama and taking down the 23rd-ranked Crimson Tide 85-77. They did it in impressive fashion, outscoring the home team 52-45 in the 2nd half and holding on to win despite being called for 7 more fouls and shooting 11 fewer free throws.

While Clemson continued to serve notice that it will be a serious ACC contender, senior center PJ Hall strengthened his credentials as one of the ACC’s top players by filling his stat line with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks.

One opportunity gained, another wasted

Like Clemson, Wake Forest also has a bad Selection Sunday memory. The Deacons were left out of the field under similar circumstances in 2022. Having already lost to Georgia, Utah and LSU, Steve Forbes’ team is running out of chances to score a significant nonconference victory.

The urgency showed on Wednesday, especially during a 2nd half in which Wake outscored Florida by 15 points to come from behind, then pull away for a badly needed 82-71 victory. Gonzaga transfer Hunter Sallis led the way with 24 points and Andrew Carr added 22 for a Deacons team that figures on getting a boost soon with the return of injured sharpshooter Damari Monsanto.

While Wake was taking advantage of its opportunity to pick up a quality win, NC State never gave itself a chance to do the same in its road test at Ole Miss.

The Wolfpack, coming off a loss to BYU last week in Las Vegas, came out flat and never recovered in a 72-52 drubbing at the hands of the Rebels. Kevin Keatts’ team made only 3-of-25 3-point attempts and shot just 31% overall, leaving only an upcoming neutral site date against Tennessee as its last-best chance to add a resume-building win.