January 24, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- If Boston College doesn't make noise during its first year in the ACC, it won't be the fault of All-American forward Craig Smith.
The bulky power player, a senior who will get to play only one season in BC's new home, started his ACC "career" as if he was determined to leave a mark, even though he'd have only one season in the books. In his first five conference games, Smith had three double-doubles, three season highs for points and one for rebounds, while averaging 21.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
Smith started his ACC run with a season-high 23 points and 12 rebounds in a loss at Maryland. Then came a season-high 26 points and seven boards in a one-man show down the stretch that came up short at Georgia Tech. He and the rest of the team suffered through a terrible home loss to N.C. State. (Smith had 14 points, five rebounds and shot 6-for-18 from the field.) Then came 28 points and a season-high 14 rebounds in the program's first ACC win, over Florida State, then 18 points and 14 boards in a Jan. 21 victory at Miami.
Before the Miami game, Smith scored 19 points and had a career-high 17 rebounds in a non-league win at Holy Cross.
So, Smith and his teammates headed to Chapel Hill for the school's first game ever at North Carolina having turned an 0-3 start in the new league into a 2-3 cause for optimism, and the Eagles' main man was leading the way.
During the game at Holy Cross, on a night when Smith was 0-for-2 from the floor until there were about six minutes left, he cleared both the 2,000-point and 900-rebound hurdles, making him only the third BC player ever to achieve that combination. (Danya Abrams and Billy Curley were the others.) Smith, one of five 2,000-point men in school history, is well on his way to joining only Abrams with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for BC. Curley finished with 996 boards.
"It makes me feel special," Smith said of the milestones. "It's a great group of guys. Obviously, hearing about a lot of these guys and being able to meet them and being friends with (all-time BC scoring leader Troy Bell), it's just phenomenal. I'm happy to be part of that group, and I'm happy to be able to say, hey, I'm one of the five 2,000-point scorers."
Smith, who had 2,035 career points after the Miami game, figures to trail only Bell (2,632) and Dana Barros (2,342) on the school's all-time scoring list. Curley had 2,102 points and Abrams 2,053.
Meanwhile, Smith appeared dedicated to improving all areas of his game. After spending extra time on foul shooting, he was 27-for-31 in a three-game span heading to North Carolina, an important stat considering how much attention he gets in the paint.
Clearly, ACC teams are packing it down low against Smith, daring the Eagles to beat them in other way. At Miami, Smith had 12 points in the first half. BC coach Al Skinner, who normally has his players concentrate on getting the ball to Smith more down low in the second half, instead had the Eagles spread the floor. Smith took only one shot in the second half, but the plan worked well as the Eagles scored their first ACC road win.
HINNANT, RICE CAN WORK TOGETHER
Ever since Tyrese Rice arrived at BC, the talk had been that he would wind up playing the point guard spot while also on the court with senior floor leader Louis Hinnant, who has some limited ability to shoot and play on the wing.
Skinner was reluctant to jam the responsibility down the throat of the freshman, instead allowing him to slowly digest the spot that could be his for the next three seasons. Plus, Rice's ability to bomb away from outside -- he's much more dangerous than Hinnant from long range -- makes him a nice fit for the wing, at least for now.
When Skinner had Rice and Hinnant on the floor together for the important closing minutes in the Eagles' recent win at Miami, both contributed in a big way.
Rice hit an enormous three-pointer -- from NBA range, which is where many of his shots come from -- in a nine-point effort. Hinnant had a big three and wound up with seven points, six rebounds and seven assists. The trey was Rice's only success in five tries in the game, but it was his team-leading 34th long-range connection of the season in 87 tries.
HOME CROWDS DRAWING QUESTIONS
In an age-old battle around the school, the fire of the fans already has come into question in the early days of ACC play. The Eagles, who always announce an actual turnstile count instead of tickets sold, were less than 200 shy of a sellout for their opener against N.C. State, then had the banged-out 8,606 for Florida State.
The crowd at the N.C. State game was pretty much dead, but the team helped to make it that way. With the students on break, the house was older. It was loud at the start, but the BC performance wasn't worthy of much support. When the home team started to make a run in the second half, the place went nuts. Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek quickly called a brilliant timeout, though, then his team scored off the break and things settled down.
The Eagles, in short, basically never gave their supporters much to get excited about. Fans left early because it was just never a game. Some booed, leading Eagles voice Ted Sarandis to criticize the paying customers. It wasn't a pleasant night around Conte Forum.
There's no question that the attitude at Conte has been different this year, with better and louder crowds for the early games against weak opponents. But the holiday break always calms things down around The Heights.
With six home games left in the league, the Eagles should get the support they deserve. But it has to be remembered that the school's building was not created (because of hockey) in a pit style, and there are plenty of older fans in the crowd. Because of the very nature of its spot in Boston, which is clearly a pro sports town first, it's doubtful that the place will ever be confused with Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But the crowd for the Jan. 29 home game against Georgia Tech -- a revenge match for BC, with the students back on campus -- should be great. Then, of course, Duke comes to play. That should be a special night around here, even in a pro sports town.
FOND MEMORIES OF NORTH CAROLINA
Before BC headed to Chapel Hill for its Jan. 25 national TV game against North Carolina, fans were reminded of the last time the Eagles faced the Tar Heels. That came in 1994, when BC stunned No. 1 UNC in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
That win led to a Sports Illustrated cover that's still seen around these parts more often than anything except the world-famous Doug Flutie "Miracle in Miami" souvenirs.