Back on December 11th, the Boston College Eagles went down to College Park and lost to the Terrapins in their first-ever ACC regular season game. At the time, the conference newcomers looked like they didn’t belong.
On Friday night, the Eagles met them once more in their first-ever ACC Tournament game and sent a message to the rest of the conference by overpowering the Terps in almost every aspect of the game. The result was an 80-66 victory and a chance to play North Carolina in the semifinals.
Last weekend, BC senior captain Craig Smith said the Eagles planned on making some noise when they got down to Greensboro for the tournament. Led by the preseason All-American’s unstoppable interior game and point guard-like passing ability, the Eagles jumped out to a 27-6 lead that silenced a crowd dominated by Maryland fans. Smith ended up with a stat line that very few players in the country could even think about producing: 21 points (7-11 from the field, 7-8 from the line), 15 rebounds, seven assists, and four steals.
“I felt like it was all on me,” Smith said on the court after the game. “I told my teammates ‘give me the ball and I’ll make the plays.’”
Of all the teams in the tournament, BC had to wait the longest to play a game that didn’t tip off until about 9:45 p.m. They weren’t rusty, though. In fact, they played as close to perfect basketball as they’ve played all year. Smith and junior Jared Dudley combined for 17 points during the Eagles’ torrid start. Smith’s inside presence combined with Dudley’s precise shooting from the perimeter got BC out to a lead that Maryland wouldn’t come close to erasing the entire night.
The focus that Boston College showed from beginning to end went unanswered by the Terrapins, who needed to win if they wanted any hope of making the NCAA Tournament. BC held Maryland to 34% shooting from the field and 66 points, 12 points lower than their season average. The Eagles out-hustled and out-smarted Maryland all game, winning the battle of the boards 38-35 and snatching every crucial loose ball. Throughout the night, the Terps looked like the rusty team and the Eagles looked like the underdogs who had nothing to lose.
That might have been fueled by the disappointing loss the Eagles surrendered in their first meeting with Maryland this year. BC proved how far they have come since then by improving on all the areas of the game that hurt them the first time around. They hit 75% of their free throws and made six more than Maryland (compared to a season-low 33% in the first meeting). The Smith-Dudley scoring tandem got a great deal of help from their teammates; Sean Marshall had 14 points - including nine straight at one point in the second half – and freshman guard Tyrese Rice dropped 19 on 9-10 shooting from the stripe.
The Eagles’ uncharacteristically quick start (they’re accustomed to starting slow and catching fire in the second half) forced Maryland head coach Gary Williams to send out his infamous full-court press to try to get back into the game. BC, who struggled against the press in their last game of the season against Virginia Tech, easily broke it this time around, which led to a lopsided victory for the Eagles in the fast-break points department.
It was an impressive performance that was characterized by the veteran poise and experience that Eagles fans have come to expect from their players. BC isn’t done yet, however. On Saturday afternoon, following the first semifinal game of the tournament, the Eagles will take on #2-seeded North Carolina for a chance to advance to the finals. In the teams’ only meeting of the year, BC beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill 81-74. Craig Smith will be looking to make some more noise in that game…or maybe he prefers silence.
“It’s gonna be a road game for us, we know that,” Smith said about the game that will be played about 50 miles from the North Carolina campus. “There’s gonna be a lot of North Carolina fans, but we’ll be ready.”