March 7, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- Ever since Boston College announced it was heading to the ACC, the naysayers talked about how the Eagles wouldn't fit in with their new league, how the Big East is where they belonged. The ACC game was different -- notably faster -- and BC would be treated as an outsider, and the adjustment would be huge.
When the Eagles started life in their new conference with three straight losses, the doubters had to be thrilled. Even those who favored the move had to wonder.
But after the 0-3 start -- two of those games lost on the road because of 15-for-34 free throw shooting, and the other a home blowout to N.C. State -- the Eagles went 11-2 during the rest of the ACC schedule. They lost by two to Duke at home and had their worst road game of the year against Virginia.
Three times, the Eagles went on the road for two-game ACC trips. In the first, BC went to Miami and North Carolina, after the 0-3 start, and won both. The next journey was to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest and produced two more wins. Then, after losing at Virginia (BC was never closer than 10 in the second half), the Eagles avenged the loss to N.C. State with a double-overtime win.
Those six road games may well have defined the BC regular season -- and got the No. 12 team in the country ready to go to Greensboro, where they wound up as the No. 3 seed for the ACC Tournament. The Eagles were picked second in the preseason media poll but lost that spot on the last weekend, when North Carolina upset Duke at Durham.
"We're definitely going down there," senior guard Louis Hinnant said, "with the intention to win."
Funny thing, though. Hinnant wasn't sure exactly where "there" was.
"I was like, You know, we're going down to New York and try to make some noise,'" he said. "Then they reminded me we were going down to North Carolina this year."
But all of these kids (except the freshmen, of course) knew they were going from something special at Madison Square Garden to something even more special in Greensboro. The ACC Tournament has a nice ring to it for BC.
"With the atmosphere that's going to be down there, especially in their home (state)," said Hinnant, once he was sure he knew where he was going, "I think we definitely are going to have our work cut out for us."
Hinnant and Craig Smith (and walk-on guards Tyler Neville and Ted Dunlap) were honored in pre-game ceremonies at the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech. Both starters were hailed for being major parts of the winningest four-year run in BC history.
Smith and Hinnant ended the regular season with a 92-33 record at the school, while also sharing in a pair of Big East regular-season championships.
Their coach, Al Skinner, called the pair, "What Boston College athletes are really all about," noting that both will "be a success whatever they do in life from here on."
Smith, only the second player in BC history with 2,000-plus points and 1,000-plus rebounds, is one of the great players in the history of the program. Hinnant will be remembered as a solid player who took care of the basketball at the point for four years.
"They've been very fortunate to win a lot of games here," Skinner said. "I'm just extremely happy for them."
After the win over Wake Forest in the next-to-last regular-season game, Skinner said, "This next game, I hope people appreciate the kind of careers Craig and Louis have put together here the last four years. Two players ... I would think they've had the most success of any players in Boston College history."
WORRIES: SLOW STARTS, FREE THROWS
The Eagles finished the regular season with three straight wins, eight in their last nine and 13 in their last 15. But as they entered the ACC Tournament, two things still were bothering this team: slow starts and free throw shooting.
Both almost combined to allow Virginia Tech to pull off an upset on BC's Senior Day. First, as is often the case on Senior Days everywhere, there was something missing at the start of the finale, but this happens often with this BC team and it happened again.
BC scored just 22 points in the first half against Virginia Tech, after starting off in poor fashion against Wake Forest the previous game and in so many other contests this season. In fact, it was the ninth time this season BC had been held to 10 or fewer field goals in the first half, including a season-low six against Miami (the Eagles won that game, too) on Feb. 16.
"Yeah, that has been us a little bit," said Smith, who missed almost half of this bad first half with two fouls. "We've always come out a little sluggish and then got into it and made things happen in the second half."
It doesn't take a hoops genius to realize that habit can be very damaging in a one-and-done format.
So can bad foul shooting, which was again quite foul in the finale. After going 28-for-35 from the line against Wake, including 10-for-10 by forward Jared Dudley, the Eagles were 9-for-21 in almost letting the Hokies walk away with the win. Virginia Tech guard Zabian Dowdell missed last-second shots that ended both losses to BC.
The foul shooting was at its most foul in the closing minutes, starting with Smith missing the last two free throws of his Conte Forum career. Dudley missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Hinnant rebounded and Tyrese Rice actually made a pair. But up by two with 2.3 seconds left, Sean Marshall barely hit the rim with his first shot and then missed it entirely on his second, allowing Tech to get the ball out of bounds with a chance to win.
If they continue, the slow starts and free throw shooting both will do the Eagles in during the postseason, regardless of the team's recently impressive level of play.