Februrary 7, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- The atmosphere was electric -- and every bit as loud as the Cameron crowd the visitors from Durham were used to hearing. Celebrities were all over courtside. TV trucks were all over the sidewalks outside.
For one night, Conte Forum was the sports place to be in Boston, a renowned pro town. For one night. Duke was in town, this time for an ACC game. The place went nuts.
But deep down, it was hard for many long-time Boston College observers not to get the feeling that it all was fleeting -- that if the Eagles lost, which they did (barely), things soon would return to normal.
At Duke, it's crazy every night. At BC, it's crazy when Duke comes to town. In the Big East days, it was Syracuse. The place was loud when Connecticut visited, too, but that was almost always half UConn fans who had snapped up tickets from lethargic BC types.
BC fans, who were allowed into the building more than two hours before the Duke game, were greeted with gold T-shirts -- reading "Solid Gold" -- on their seats as they entered. They were loud long before the game and never stopped. Still, there was that feeling that the only way this ever would matter long-term was if the Eagles won.
They didn't. They lost by two points. Now everyone is wondering: When is the next time the place will sound like this?
The Eagles went on the road after Duke, to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. They were set to return home to play Clemson on Feb. 11. The rest of the home schedule read Stony Brook, Miami, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
The folks who said the Eagles shouldn't have left the bosom of the Big East, shouldn't have left the rivalries, will smile when the building isn't all that alive for any of those five games. What they won't admit is that it would have been the same if the list of games included Rutgers, Miami, West Virginia and Seton Hall.
In other words, it has little to do with the opponent -- unless the opponent is Duke or, from the Big East days, Syracuse. Or any No. 1 or No. 2 team that might come to town.
In fairness to BC fans, things have been better on a game-to-game basis this year. The students are closer to the floor, and they're showing up and making noise, even for the Harvards and Sacred Hearts of the world. But the Duke game? That was something special, a happening, a real event. And the next such event might not come until Duke or North Carolina is the visitor.
FREE THROWS HAVING HUGE IMPACT
The Boston College coaches were never really thrilled with the whistle they got in the Big East. They're less excited about what's going on so far in the ACC.
For instance, the Eagles shot 13 free throws in the loss to Duke. The Blue Devils shot 37, with Shelden Williams (16) having more attempts than the entire BC team. At Virginia Tech, Jared Dudley went 8-for-9 from the foul line. His team was 8-for-12, although Tech shot only 15 times in that one.
After the Duke game, BC coach Al Skinner, asked about the lack of whistles for his team, said, facetiously, "We got a couple." He added, "All I'm saying is that tonight, with the type of team we have, we only shoot 13 free throws and they shoot 37 is hard to believe."
The Eagles were particularly irate over a non-call against Williams late in the game, when freshman guard Tyrese Rice drove to the basket and appeared to get hammered, a fact noted by Dick Vitale on the ESPN broadcast. Skinner also couldn't understand how his power forward, Craig Smith, didn't go to the line yet fouled out himself.
"Craig Smith plays 35 minutes, and it's difficult to believe that he does not go to the free throw line once," Skinner said. "There was as much done to him as their post players received."
For Smith, who spent a lot of time in the high post (and thus away from the high-contact low-post area) against Duke, it was the first time in 50 games he didn't step to the foul line at least once. It was the sixth time in his career that happened, the first since his sophomore season. Then, at Virginia Tech, Smith shot just one free throw.
"We got a tough whistle, but we've gotten a tough whistle all year," BC wing Sean Marshall said. "But it's up to us to take care of the ball and take the refs out of the game."
As far as the new kids on the block thing, in its first nine ACC games, BC actually shot more free throws (184) than its opponents (181). The Eagles lost at both Maryland and Georgia Tech in part because of poor foul shooting (15-for-34), and forward Akida McLain missed two huge free throws down the stretch against Duke. Dudley won the Virginia Tech game with two foul shots with 5.2 seconds left.
ROAD WARRIORS SAVED UGLY START
Smith talked recently about the Eagles going "back to being road warriors," after BC basically saved its season with wins at Miami and UNC. The wins helped the Eagles complete a comeback from an 0-3 league start to rise to 3-3 (and later 5-4) in their first ACC season.
Then, after the tough and emotional loss to Duke at home, the Eagles went to Virginia Tech and survived a wild one, with the Hokies having a clear look at what would have been a winning field goal.
So, after five league road games at their new address, BC, which could have won at both Maryland and Georgia Tech, was 3-2 as it headed to struggling Wake Forest. The Eagles also have a two-game trip to Virginia and N.C. State coming up.
RECRUITING MOTTO: GET 'EM EARLY
If there was a motto for the Boston College football staff during the 2005-06 recruiting cycle, it was this: Get Em Early. The Eagles wrapped up much of their new group well ahead of time, as 17 of their 20 signees committed even before the team began its 2005 season.
This BC class, which wasn't highly rated in the inexact science of football recruiting but was seen as more than solid in many circles, is loaded with locals. They include six players from Massachusetts, 10 from New England.
The Eagles also added some familiar family names. Quarterback/kicker Bill Flutie is the nephew of former BC great Doug Flutie, and defensive back Chris Fox is the son of former New England Patriots safety Tim Fox.
Sizing up the class, BC coach Tom O'Brien said, "What stands out to us is that there's speed in this class, not only at the normal skill positions, but there's speed at all positions. We think we've upgraded ourselves. Also, there's size in the class, and not just your ordinary-like spots where you think of size. A lot of skill kids, the receivers and secondary kids, are taller kids."
There also was size in the spots where you'd expect to see size, including 6-8, 315-pound offensive lineman Richard Lapham (Amherst, N.H.), 6-3, 340-pound lineman Thomas Claiborne (Wellesley, Mass.) and 6-6, 230-pound tight end Jordan McMichael (Minneapolis). The class also included a 6-6 quarterback, Ross Applegate (Marietta, Ga.).
In one negative note from signing day, O'Brien announced that the club had lost a couple of pretty important names for next year's depth chart, as he read off the list of players who declined their fifth years of eligibility. Normally, this news doesn't matter much, but BC lost wide receiver Jason Lilly (35 receptions in three seasons and, at 6-2, an inviting target) and defensive end Jake Ottolini, a valuable backup for the past three seasons.