April 4, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- Boston College was the last ACC team standing. But the feeling everyone connected with the BC basketball players had to experience as they watched the rest of the NCAA Tournament had to be that the Eagles gave away their chance at the Elite Eight and perhaps beyond.
BC was playing well enough heading into its Sweet 16 matchup against Villanova that you had to think the only way the Eagles could lose was either by handing it away or by the opposition just playing a great game.
The former happened in Minneapolis. Villanova was by no means great, but the Wildcats won anyway. Thus, BC's first Sweet 16 game in 12 years turned sour.
The Eagles shot just 8-for-17 from the foul line, missing the front end of three one-and-one opportunities. (That's 15 potential points down the drain.) They also turned the ball over a whopping 21 times -- 13 of those by normally sure-handed forwards Craig Smith and Jared Dudley -- while falling in overtime. Many of the turnovers were unforced.
The foul shooting, which had been foul far too often throughout the season (the Eagles were a combined 15-for-34 in dropping their first two ACC games), really hurt against Villanova, in a war of a game that saw neither team get into any kind of flow.
When it was over, so were the careers of Smith and point guard Louis Hinnant, the winningest seniors in the history of the program. The pair finished a combined 96-35 in the four years they shared at BC, three in the Big East and one in the ACC.
Smith, projected as a second-round pick in this year's NBA draft, suffered a torn ligament in his left wrist in the overtime of the final game. The injury required surgery the week after the season ended, and he was expected to be out of action for six weeks as he prepped for the draft.
Smith never missed a game at BC because of injury, sitting out just one contest (for illness) over four years that left him as the school's all-time leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer. That's pretty good work for a chubby high school kid few wanted out of Los Angeles, before he put in a year at a Boston area prep school and moved on to the Eagles.
Hinnant was a steady four-year player who emerged as an offensive force in the final games of his career. It was a meeting he called for the players after an 0-3 ACC start that helped pull things together. The team went on to finish 28-8, posting the most wins ever by a BC basketball team.
"They took this program to new heights, as far as number of wins in a year and number of wins throughout their career," BC coach Al Skinner said. "They raised the bar as far as Boston College basketball is concerned, and that's a tremendous credit to those two individuals."
Earlier, Skinner credited both with being exemplary individuals who really are what student-athletes are supposed to be. Neither Smith nor Hinnant finished with his best game, though.
Smith had his sixth straight double-double of the postseason -- 14 points and 14 rebounds -- but he also had a career-high seven turnovers. (He and Dudley, averaging a combined 4.2 turnovers per game, had 13 against Villanova.) Hinnant was just 2-for-9 from the floor, 1-for-6 from three-point range, and had four turnovers for only the second time in his last 13 games.
Hinnant's career ended with him taking a desperation three-pointer that missed everything at the buzzer, after Villanova took advantage of a BC defensive lapse to get the winning basket with three seconds left. The loss was BC's first in OT in three years, snapping a nine-game, extra-session winning streak.
With Smith and Hinnant gone, Dudley will become the primary go-to guy, and he's surrounded by a cast that should get the Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament. Freshman guard Tyrese Rice, who mysteriously didn't play after halftime against Villanova, will take over at the point. The team should benefit from having both Sean Williams and Akida McLain (both suspended at the start of this season) from the beginning next year.
Williams, clearly rusty after he returned from his school suspension for marijuana possession, flashed signs of brilliance during the postseason, taking over defensively at key times. Keeping him clean and a part of this team for next season is vital.
BC fans were angered even before the Eagles lost to Villanova. The athletic department had announced that it was catching up with the times by demanding a $1,000-per-seat donation to the school's Flynn Fund for people holding seats in the lower section of Conte Forum. The fee, tax-deductible as a donation, affects some 600 ticket-holders, most with multiple seats. It's designed to help generate revenue for a department that fields the most teams in the ACC but has a home basketball seating capacity of just 8,600.
Fans flooded the message boards with complaints, but the more reasoned voices understood that it's something that's going on throughout the conference and the country.
FOOTBALL OPENED PRACTICE QUIETLY
With all of the excitement created by the BC men's and women's basketball teams advancing to their respective Sweet 16s, and the hockey team skating to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee, football mostly was overlooked as spring camp began.
The football Eagles, who will be trying to replace several key players, including four (led by defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka) who could get drafted, held their first spring scrimmage on April 1. The team is working in preparation for the annual Jay McGillis Memorial Spring Game (April 22), named in honor of a former BC defensive back who lost his battle with cancer.
Starting quarterback Matt Ryan was 11-for-22 for 101 yards and a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Purvis (three catches, 42 yards) in the first scrimmage. Backup Chris Crane went 11-for-17 for 105 yards, including a 44-yard TD pass to wide receiver Brandon Robinson (three catches, 61 yards), in the same game.
Kicking, a major problem for the Eagles last year, didn't look great in the scrimmage. Ryan Ohliger made field goals of 30, 31 and 32 yards but missed from 38 and had a 29-yarder blocked by safety Jamie Silva.
"I was happy with the intensity and enthusiasm," BC coach Tom O'Brien said. "I think the kids competed hard, although we understand it's only a start. With some of our younger players, there's a long way to go. What's most important is to progress this week and next, as we prepare for the spring game."
One of the positions most up in the air is center, where O'Brien has to replace the steady Patrick Ross. Ty Hall and Kevin Sheridan are listed on the roster as the centers. There has been talk that returning guard Josh Beekman, considered one of the best linemen in the ACC, could move over to center, but that's not considered likely at this stage.