December 7, 2005
CHESTNUT HILL -- Still not knowing for sure that sophomore Sean Williams would be brought back from a school suspension after his May marijuana arrest, BC passed the first of its three big early tests but was facing two straight very difficult contests without their talented big man.
The Eagles, who improved to 6-0 with a win over Sacred Heart on Dec. 3, beat Oklahoma State the previous Saturday in the final of the Las Vegas Invitational, rallying from a 13-point second-half deficit to record the victory. Junior forward Jared Dudley, a staple of the team's early success, walked off with MVP honors.
But with a Williams return -- assuming it happens -- still a few weeks away, the Eagles, who had moved up from No. 10 to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll, were set to play No. 13 Michigan State in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. Then, in a Sunday night (Dec. 11) game of the week, BC will visit Maryland for its ACC debut.
Williams, who attended classes at Houston this fall, was set to meet with BC coach Al Skinner and athletic director Gene DeFilippo -- either in person or via conference call -- to start the ball rolling toward a return later this month. The general feeling was that the school would have cut the young shotblocker loose a long time ago if there was no hope of his reinstatement. Instead, it appeared as if Williams, who spurned transfer offers after returning to Texas following his arrest, was doing everything he had to do to re-join his old team.
"We've just got to wait, and he's got to finish up his classes," said Skinner, who has been optimistic from the outset that he would get Williams back.
While Williams' matter remained up in the air -- and don't be shocked if BC challenges for the ACC championship if he returns -- Skinner cleared up the status of another suspended player.
Skinner said that forward Akida McLain, who has been serving time on the BC bench in street clothes for passing a couple of counterfeit $20 bills back home in Pittsburgh this spring, would return after the Michigan State game. That means McLain will have served a seven-game suspension, dealt by his coach. The whole thing officially was described as the old "violation of team rules," which left many wondering exactly which rule is violated when a player runs around passing counterfeit bills, or at least hanging with a buddy who gives them to him to pass.
McLain, also a sophomore, had been penciled in prior to the season as the likely sixth man, someone who could use his athleticism to spark BC off the bench. His addition, while not nearly as big as the return as Williams, will provide much-needed depth.
Meanwhile, with Williams out, John Oates, who hardly played as a freshman, stepped into the starting lineup. After scoring five points in his entire rookie year, he had 15 in the first half of the Sacred Heart win.
"John Oates is the man," BC All-American Craig Smith said. "It's the new Nate Doornekamp (BC's graduated center)."
With Skinner noted as a coach who doesn't like to go more than eight deep, it wasn't known how much time Oates will get if Williams returns. But by contributing the way he did -- even hitting three-pointers -- you'd have to think there will be some time for the product of the same New Jersey high school (Don Bosco) as BC linebacker Brian Toal.
"He's doing a good job for us," Dudley said. "Obviously, he's not the shotblocker that Sean is (Williams set the school record for blocks last year), but he's helping Craig out down low. He's playing with confidence right now. He's improving. That's the key with him."
Despite being held to a season-low 11 points (one-for-nine from the field) against Sacred Heart, Dudley hit a free throw in the second half to become the 33rd player in BC history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Dudley did have a team-high 12 rebounds in the game, which saw Smith record a 20/10 double-double.
The previous weekend, the offense of Dudley and freshman guard Tyrese Rice carried the Eagles to wins over Drake (and former BC coach Tom Davis) and Oklahoma State. Dudley led BC on a 20-4 second-half run that turned the OSU game around in front of a Vegas crowd loaded with Cowboys fans.
One of the things Skinner and his staff were looking for this season was consistency from junior swingman Sean Marshall. Last year, Marshall finished with four straight double-figure scoring efforts, and he opened the 2005-06 campaign with six double-figure performances in a row, including a high of 18. The six-game run eclipsed Marshall's previous best of five straight, set last year.
For the first six games of this season, Marshall, who averaged 11.1 points per game last year, was at 14.3. He also was hitting at a 46.5 percent clip from the field, while grabbing an average of 4.8 rebounds per game.
SELECTION PROCESS AGAIN COSTS BC
With their team's entry into the ACC, BC football fans will have to get used to at least one more thing: The Eagles don't figure to be a priority for southern bowls any time soon.
While it's easy to look at the Northeast school as foreign in the North Carolina-based ACC -- heck, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams once said College Park was like Anchorage to the rest of the league -- this problem isn't new in Chestnut Hill. The fact is, the conference championship games that lead to late bowl announcements make it even tougher for people from Boston to travel to faraway postseason games.
It becomes a chicken-or-the-egg thing. It's tough for the fans to travel, so the bigger bowls don't want the Eagles, whose fans aren't as excited about the smaller and longer-distance bowls, which reinforces the perception that BC fans don't travel well. When bowls do invite the Eagles, they tend to be playing virtual road games, as they will this year when they take on Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho.
BC coach Tom O'Brien, whose team was co-champion of the Atlantic Division in its first year in the ACC and had the third-best regular-season record (8-3) of the league's 12 teams, has noted on more than one occasion that his team has had less-than-tasty bowl bids. The Eagles spent Y2K in San Francisco, played Georgia in Nashville (a four-hour drive from Athens) and took on North Carolina in Charlotte last year.
DeFilippo and ACC commissioner John Swofford lobbied heavily for more respect for the Eagles' record and division co-championship, but a series of games that went against BC's wishes and the questionable attendance resume dropped the team down the ladder.
One can only wonder what would have happened had the Eagles not suffered a 16-14 loss at North Carolina on Nov. 5. With that win, and if everything else had played out the way it did, BC would have played Virginia Tech in the inaugural ACC title game. Making it that far, even with a second loss to the Hokies, likely would have improved BC's bowl situation.
In the end, both the Music City (Nashville) and Emerald (San Francisco) bowls were interested in a BC return, but MPC officials had the right to the No. 6 ACC pick (over the other added bowls) and insisted on the Eagles.
Needless to say, most BC fans lacked the same excitement over the idea of spending Dec. 28 in Idaho, where their favorite team will play -- on a blue football field, against a little-known, hometown opponent (Boise State) from a little-known, faraway conference.
Happy Holidays? Not exactly.