January 15, 2008
CHESTNUT HILL Two things about a young basketball team: One, it is going to make mistakes, sometimes driving a coach crazy. Two, said coach hopes his young team will learn from those mistakes.
Boston College, the aforementioned young team, played as if it was stuck in mud in a dreadful 57-51 loss at home to mid-major Robert Morris.
When the game ended, frustrated coach Al Skinner wondered aloud why his guys didn't move more, why the Eagles let the Colonials dictate the pace, why, even when the chance to run was there, speedsters such as Tyrese Rice and Biko Paris refused to push the ball up the floor.
BC may be known for its "flex" offense, and its patient willingness to work for the best shot available. But that doesn't mean Skinner wants his players to walk the ball up the floor when the chance to run is there. As the coach says, there's no Craig Smith or Jared Dudley inside to finish off those patient plays.
Skinner said the players weren't playing that way in practice and surprised him with the way they played in the games. He hoped he could change it.
Well, lo and behold, the Eagles came out and hung 112 points on Wake Forest in a very loud home win on Jan. 12.
"If (the Robert Morris loss) didn't embarrass them, it embarrassed me," Skinner said. "I think we were uncomfortable, and more so I think they looked at some of the efforts that we've given as a team."
The key to the whole operation, of course, is Rice. Against Wake Forest, he had 32 points (tying his career high), eight assists and six rebounds. He shouted at his teammates, screamed for them to shoot, pumped his fist, whatever needed to be done. All of this came days after a team meeting, the players having decided to get something done.
The players know how important Rice is to this thing. He's now the guy who has to do what Smith and Dudley did in the past.
"People would feed off Craig. It would become contagious," said senior forward John Oates, who had 14 points (with four three-pointers) off the bench in the 112-73 win. "It's the same thing with Tyrese. He's the floor general out there. He starts getting excited, screaming and yelling, I'm going to get into it."
The Wake win actually snapped a two-game losing streak the Eagles were clobbered, also at home, by No. 3 Kansas two days before the Robert Morris fiasco and lifted them to 11-4 on the year, 2-0 in the ACC. They were picked to finish eighth in the conference.
"We pretty much started to hold ourselves accountable," Rice said. "We had a team meeting, and things were said to some people. We pretty much started to hold ourselves accountable.
"Our practices have always been great, and I've never understood why it can't transfer over to games. It finally transferred over into a game, and (against Wake) we showed our best potential."
The 51 points scored against Robert Morris were the fewest tallied by a BC team since the Eagles had 50 in a loss to Pittsburgh on Feb. 28, 2005. The 112-point outburst against Wake was the largest by BC in either the Big East or ACC, and it marked the first 100-point outing in a league game since a 101-83 Big East victory over Seton Hall on Feb. 12, 1985.
How good were the Eagles in the win over Wake? Well, they shot 66.1 percent from the field and 68.4 percent (13-for-19) from three-point range.
In other words, they got the message. They went out and made a loud statement against a team that came to town with an 11-3 record.
"It was really kind of a turning point of the season," said Oates, apparently talking about both the meeting and the effort that followed.
Said Skinner: "We just needed a win. It didn't have to be quite like this, but obviously that makes it easier for everybody involved. We weren't looking for this type of effort or this margin of victory. We were just looking for a win."
But it was clear that the one game didn't guarantee anything down the road. That's just the way it is with young teams, too, especially when a ranked and high-flying Miami team was coming to town three nights later. The high of a win such as Wake could quickly get thumped against a quality team such as UM.
Skinner expected to take some lumps this season. He hoped Rice would lead the group of current freshmen (plus redshirting transfer Joe Trapani) to bigger and better things next year, during Rice's senior season.
But a rather funny thing happened to BC on the way to this rebuilding year. The Eagles had 11 wins in the first 15 games, and there were real signs of some sort of postseason play, in a season many thought would be lost.
"I think we can play with anybody in the ACC if we play like we did tonight," Oates said. "It's just a matter of bringing it every night."
Any postseason play for this team would be another notch on Skinner's belt, and another boost to his reputation for getting more out of a roster than was expected heading into the season.
CENTRAL FLORIDA SUBS FOR ARMY
Boston College and Central Florida have all but finalized a deal to play a two-game series, next season at The Heights and in 2011 at UCF.
The new opponent was needed to replace Army, which recently has approached several stronger foes and tried to get out of scheduled games because of its physical limitations. BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo was willing to oblige but was having trouble finding a game this late. Former Big East foe Rutgers was a possibility, but UCF seemed to be the frontrunner all along.
BC was supposed to go to Army next season, for what likely would have been an easy road win. This gives the Eagles an extra home game, albeit one against a tougher opponent.