Plugged In: Newcomer Boston College is Playing to Win
March 11, 2006
By DAVID DROSCHAK
GREENSBORO - Out with the barbecue, in with the chowder.
ACC newcomer Boston College was battling more than North Carolina in the tournament semifinals Saturday. The Eagles were taking on a basketball program steeped in tradition and a partisan Tobacco Road crowd.
In the end, the Eagles, with stars Craig Smith and Jared Dudley leading the way, didn't blink and will face mainstay Duke in the ACC Championship game in their first season in the conference.
Can Boston College add a championship to a city still buzzing over the recent titles of the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox?
"You might as well get used to it, there are some new people in town," said Boston College coach Al Skinner, whose team shot a sizzling 61.1 percent against the third-best defense in the ACC, snapping North Carolina's season-long eight game winning streak and the hearts of more than 15,000 Tar Heel fans in the Greensboro Coliseum.
A possible Duke-North Carolina rematch ended when the veteran Eagles (26-6) took a 14-point lead with 8:38 left and withstood a furious North Carolina rally down the stretch.
"I know everybody wanted to see that because Duke and North Carolina go way back, but we're the new team in the league and we're playing to win this thing, we're not going to give it up to anybody," said Dudley, who played all 40 minutes.
The top-seeded Blue Devils beat upstart Wake Forest 78-66 for the program's ninth straight trip to the ACC title game. Duke beat Boston College by two points on Feb. 1.
"We want to get some payback. We'll be ready," said Smith, who saved one of his best games of the season for the ACC semis, getting 23 points and 15 rebounds.
The second semifinal game was the more anticipated Saturday, pitting two of the nation's hottest teams against each other. The 10th-ranked Tar Heels had won eight in a row and 11 of 12, while the 11th-ranked Eagles had won nine of 10.
The intensity and closeness of the game didn't disappoint.
"I didn't think the crowd affected our free-throw shooting or (that) the crowd affected the way we played," said Dudley, who made 8-of-11 shots for 21 points. "It was just North Carolina fans who love their team and wanted to come and support them. I wish one day we have that."
"Our being new to the ACC and being in Carolina country we knew everybody in the gym was going to be against us," added freshman Tyrese Rice. "But we feed off that and came out and play harder."
Few teams play harder than Boston College, a team that can grind you into the ground with physical play and a deliberate offense. The Eagles did it to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Jan. 25 and again this time.
And few teams feel more at home in close games. The Eagles are now 9-2 in games decided by six points or less.
"This is how we win every game," said senior Louis Hinnant. "We never blow anybody out. We're used to it."
It seems like eons ago that Boston College was welcomed into the ACC with a rude 0-3 start. But after a few team meetings, the Eagles rebounded and have gone 16-2 since that miserable opening in their new conference.
"It is a little dream come true for us to be in the championship after starting in such a hole," said Rice.
Like Greg Paulus for Duke in the opener, it was the freshman Rice who was clutch down the stretch for the Eagles. Rice hit a 3-pointer with 2:03 left to give Boston College an 83-74 lead, then followed his own missed shot with a tip in with 27.6 seconds remaining after the Tar Heels closed to 83-78.
"I knew where the shot was going to go, so I just tried to jump back up and tip it as fast as I could," said the 5-foot-11 Rice. "It might be my first one."
Smith, Hinnant, Dudley and Sean Marshall have now played 96 games with each other. Each said they were stung by last year's postseason display in which the top-seeded Eagles lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament, and bowed out in the second round of the NCAAs.
"It is extremely motivating," Marshall said. "We have high expectations on this team and we're trying to live up to them. Now we know it takes hard work."
"We know what to do and what not to do because of last year," added Smith. "That's why we're in this position right now."
Smith, who is one of the few players in the nation strong enough to neutralize super freshman Tyler Hansbrough, was talking about omens outside the Boston College locker room after the important victory.
"It is kind of funny," Smith said. "We started 0-3 in the ACC, we ended up the No. 3 seed, we're 3-0 in North Carolina, we won this game by three points and now we're in our third game."