January 29, 2008
CHESTNUT HILL Boston College's impressive start had people thinking about more than just an NIT bid as the Eagles got into late January. But two games you would have to regard as swing games turned out to be harsh reality slaps for a team that still has a lot of work to do.
After all, a rebuilding year is just that. And while coach Al Skinner, who lost Sean Williams at mid-year last season and then sent Jared Dudley into the NBA (a year after Craig Smith) and also lost veteran Sean Marshall (both were perennial four-year starters), has the reputation of being able to get more from less, this was a tall order.
The aforementioned swing games at Virginia and home against Virginia Tech marked a chance for BC to get to either 13 or 14 wins. But serious breakdowns in both contests produced two straight losses (the latter in overtime) and a 12-6 record with a serious schedule staring the team in the face.
The Eagles had a two-game trip south to first face North Carolina and then Clemson. After that, there's a home rematch against Maryland. BC beat the Terrapins in the conference opener, but the Terps turned around and beat UNC. Just for laughs, the Eagles also have Duke in Durham on Feb. 9.
While the stretch appears ominous, this BC team already has proven it can play well against good teams ... and poorly against softer foes.
Again, that's a rebuilding year.
In the game at Virginia, the Eagles hung with the quicker Cavaliers by controlling the tempo in the first half. They then let Sean Singletary run wild, and the game became a late blowout. Against Virginia Tech, the Eagles were beaten up on the defensive boards (24 second-chance points by the Hokies) and lost to a team playing without one of its best players (Jeff Allen).
The results were four losses in the last six games.
At Virginia, BC shot 11-for-24 from the foul line. Against Tech, it was 20-for-31, a 31-for-55 two-game total. The Eagles yielded 13 offensive boards at UVa, and a whopping 20 against Tech. They shot 7-for-24 from three-point range in the first game, 5-for-15 in the second.
Little things all, but they added up to a team in some trouble.
One thing that was becoming more and more obvious and it was no great mystery coming in was how much this BC team relies on Tyrese Rice, one of the best players in the ACC but also one of the streakiest. It seems that the Eagles are relying on him too much. Remember, this kid is barely 6-1.
Rice, the junior leader of this club but a player who has to be led himself at times, shot 6-for-16 and was outplayed by Singletary at Virginia. Rice scored 20 points and had six rebounds, six assists and four turnovers, but the real problem was finding someone else to score.
Freshman wing Rakim Sanders, the No. 2 option, hit a three-pointer to start the game, then went 2-for-13 the rest of the way, missing his remaining five three-point attempts. As a result, there was just too much pressure on Rice.
Sanders scored 17 points against Virginia Tech, but Rice, while scoring 27 points in the first 28:24 of the game, was scoreless for the rest of regulation and through the overtime. He finished 9-for-20 from the field and was guilty of a careless turnover that almost cost BC the game.
OT SUCCESS: THING OF PAST?
The Virginia Tech loss was BC's second in as many overtime chances this season.
Last year, the Eagles had a nine-game OT winning streak snapped by, of all teams, Duquesne. But BC still had 10 overtime wins in its last 11 tries, dating back to the 2002-03 season, entering this year.
Again, you have to think that the lack of an experienced roster had a lot to do with that streak coming to an end.
The Eagles came up just short of a sellout in the Virginia Tech game, played late on a Saturday afternoon. If BC was an after-thought on the Boston sports scene before, it's worse now with the Red Sox coming off another World Series win, the Patriots going to the Super Bowl again, and the Celtics with the best record in the NBA. All things considered, a crowd of 8,062 for a non-draw such as the Hokies wasn't all bad.
By the way, that win was the first ever for the Hokies at Conte Forum, where they had lost six times.
Senior center Tyrelle Blair blocked six shots against Tech, giving him 77 for the season, a new BC record. Williams had 75 blocks in 15 games last year.
RYAN EARNS MANNING HONOR
Most national awards slipped away with the late-season dip by his team that produced a Champs Sports Bowl bid instead of the Orange, but departing BC quarterback Matt Ryan was rewarded for a great senior season by the Manning family, who gave him the fourth Manning Award.
Ryan joined Matt Leinart, Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell as Manning winners and now hopes to follow those three into the NFL.
"In an exceptional season for quarterbacks, Matt Ryan's performance rose above our most talented class of finalists ever to win this year's award," said Archie Manning, whose sons have had some success in the NFL.
Ryan completed 59 percent of his passes and threw for 4,507 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2007, as BC went 11-3 and posted its eighth straight bowl win.