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Touring the Northeast

March 11, 2004 Columns No Comments

Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Get Momentum Before Big East Tournament

If there were any doubts about Boston College being in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday’s 63-54 win at Providence – the team’s fifth straight win to close out the regular season – put those to rest. It came three days after they came back from an 11-point first half deficit to beat St John’s in Uka Agbai’s final home game.

Wednesday night, the Eagles started out much like they did in the first meeting with St. John’s, not playing well and allowing Daryll Hill (13 of his game-high 24 points in the first 9:11 of the game) and the Red Storm to control the game early. At one point, they led 26-15 before an 18-5 run gave the Eagles the lead at the half. The Red Storm tied it on two occasions in the second half, but the Eagles went on a 12-3 run to break the second tie and finished the game on a 10-2 run.

Although the Red Storm shot below 40% in the first half, the Eagles were much better in the second half as they held them just above 24%.

“I was more disappointed about the way we played defense, because that’s effort, that’s attitude, that’s just getting after it, and we just did a better job in the second half,” head coach Al Skinner said after the game.

On Saturday, the Eagles jumped out to a 23-4 lead early and shot nearly 54% in the first half, making the early lead stand up to a late Providence run with late free throws. The Eagles won despite not making a field goal in the final five minutes of the game, and they also had more turnovers than assists for just the seventh time all season.

“The first time we played them, I didn’t think we were well-prepared, and I take a lot of fault in that,” Skinner said after the game. “I thought today, we were a little better prepared, and from there, our guys came out and executed pretty well on the offensive end.”

Boston College is now confident that they are in the NCAA Tournament, although there’s probably part of them that’s not sure after what happened last year. Skinner said after the game he doesn’t think they’re playing to get in now.

“I think we’re playing for a seed now, and most guys want to avoid that 8/9 game if they can possibly do that,” he said. “Once we beat St. John’s, I think we were just playing for a seed. Any success that we can have in the Big East Tournament is only going to help us and advance what we’re trying to do.”

The Eagles finish the regular season in fifth place in the Big East, and will take on Georgetown in the opening round. No one has won the Big East Tournament without having a bye before, but if there was ever a year where it could happen, this is it.

On another note, congratulations to BC Director of Basketball Operations Bonzi Colson, who was not with the team on Saturday to be with his wife as she delivered their second child.

Friars Lose Momentum To Close Regular Season

Providence put together an excellent regular season all in all, but didn’t look much like it in their two home losses last week to close out the regular season. The Friars had no life in the second half against Pittsburgh as the Panthers broke open a close game to win by 27 points, then they seemed to have a carryover into the first half against Boston College en route to losing on Senior Day.

The Friars were within six at halftime against Pittsburgh, but went to sleep in the second half. On five occasions, the Panthers made a long downcourt pass to an open play for an easy basket. When that happens once or twice, it’s one thing, but to happen five times in one half is another story and indicative of how the Friars were playing.

“I was just disgusted with that – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said head coach Tim Welsh, who was surely joined by the 12,993 in the sold-out Dunkin’ Donuts Center with that sentiment.

It wasn’t the way they wanted to head into the final game of the regular season, and Welsh wound up being a prophet.

“We don’t want to drop two in a row heading to New York,” he remarked in looking ahead to Saturday’s game. “We played an NCAA team tonight, we’re going to play another one on Saturday.”

The Friars had the carryover into the first half on Saturday, before their man-to-man defense came through. The Eagles had trouble moving the ball and committed some unforced turnovers in the active defense of the Friars. But the Friars’ inability to score on Saturday did them in; they shot just over 28% from the field on the afternoon. The shooting woes were shared; Donnie McGrath and Sheiku Kabba both shot 3-12, including a combined 2-14 on three-pointers; Ryan Gomes was 4-15.

But Welsh, who didn’t like the way they competed, is trying to take the positives out of it, and the most notable one is on the defensive end, much as they struggled with their 2-3 zone. He said the zone won’t go away.

“We can play man-to-man, we proved it today – we played pretty good man-to-man in the second half,” he said after the game. “We’re not going to scrap something because we lost two games.”

The Friars finished in third place, getting a bye in the Big East Tournament. They will play the winner of Seton Hall/Notre Dame, both of whom they have defeated during the regular season although they split with the Pirates. Both are dangerous teams. The Friars are playing for seeding at this point, and if they win the Big East Tournament, a No. 3 seed is a good possibility.

Rams Solidify Their Postseason Status

Rhode Island already looked to be headed to the NIT, but solidified their status for at least that with their 65-63 win at Dayton on Wednesday night. It puts the Rams at 18-12 as they head to the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Dustin Hellenga made the shot of the game, a three-pointer at the buzzer for the win, but he did more than that and looks to have broken out of a mid-season slump he had. He scored 18 points, leading a 16-3 second half run that was a key in getting the chance to win the game.

Baron moved Hellenga to the bench five games ago, and thus far it is working well. Hellenga is shooting the ball better, and the Rams have gone 4-1 with a starting lineup of Dawan Robinson, Brian Woodward, Jon Clark, Jamaal Wise and Terrence Mack. Wise has played well since moving into the starting lineup, save for a scoreless outing against Richmond (although he had 8 rebounds).

The Rams start the Atlantic 10 Tournament on Wednesday night against LaSalle, a young and talented but underachieving team this year.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

• A five-way tie atop Conference USA? What may be more amazing than that is that DePaul is the team that gets the top seed in the Conference USA Tournament by way of all the tie-breakers. The Blue Demons should be in the NCAA Tournament now, and Dave Leitao has done an excellent job of getting them turned around in his second season. What’s also surprising is the absence of two of the teams not in that mix – Louisville and Marquette. The Golden Eagles may still have a chance for an NCAA bid, but they likely need to win the tournament to get there, especially with Southern Illinois losing in the Missouri Valley. It would be a stretch for Conference USA to expect six or even seven bids.

Washington did more than end any hope Stanford had of an undefeated season on Saturday night. The Huskies are now 17-10 and have won 12 of 14 entering the Pac Ten Tournament, and may present an interesting case for the NCAA Tournament. But with their RPI (76), they might need to win it in order to get in. The aforementioned loss of Southern Illinois was not one that folks in Seattle were hoping for.

• In a day where home court advantage has meant a great deal, here’s a stat to keep in mind: Mississippi State finished its regular season 12-0 on the road. With winning on the road being important for the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs should get a No. 1 seed as long as they at least reach the SEC championship game, although just getting to the semifinals might be enough.


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