Thursday, January 20, 2005

Dudley's 36 Does Wildcats Wrong, As #9 Boston College Wins

Villanova put up a gallant effort, but ultimately fell just short of upsetting undefeated, #9 Boston College on Wednesday night at Conte Forum. On the eve of George W. Bush's second inaugural, the Wildcats were defeated like Massachusetts native and BC Law alumnus John F. Kerry - close but not quite enough for victory, by a tantalizingly close margin, after they thought they had it won.

Unlike Kerry, however, the Wildcats were not forced to endure exit polls forecasting a resounding victory all day Wednesday, nor stay up all night until Jay Wright called BC coach Al Skinner to concede the next morning. And instead of having to wait four more years for another chance, the Wildcats get to play again on Saturday against Kansas. Although it's entirely possible that once the undefeated, second-ranked Jayhawks arrive at the Wachovia Center, that Villanova will be sorry they came. The rematch with BC - which stayed one of just four unbeaten teams in America - will come on Wednesday, February 23 at the Pavilion. Nonetheless, just as it was for those who lost the last election, the bitter loss - Villanova blew a six-point lead in the final two minutes - will linger for a long time, especially if the Wildcats fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season.

Jared Dudley was the reigning Big East Player of the Week after wreaking havoc against imploding West Virginia a few days ago (the once-undefeated Mountaineers have lost four of their last five). Tonight, Dudley had a career game - but "career game" is a considerable understatement. Dudley finished with a shocking 36 points, including four of five free throws in the final minute, and singlehandedly led BC to victory. The sophomore had already surpassed his previous career best of 24 points by halftime after registering 25 points, and had 32 points just 24 minutes into the game. Dudley filled out the rest of the stat sheet as well, grabbing six rebounds and three steals and dishing out four assists while playing all but one minute of the contest. Craig Smith also scored a dozen points and collected seven boards for Boston College, the only other Eagle to have much of an impact.

For Villanova, Randy Foye was the clear-cut star with 22 points. But unfortunately, the fans will likely best remember the points Foye did NOT score: namely, the front end of the one-and-one he missed with 39 seconds to play, as well as the two shots in the final minute, including the would-be buzzer-beater which hit the rim. The same could be said for Mike Nardi, who continued his offensive renaissance with a dozen points, but who missed a jumper in the last minute and also missed the front end of a one-and-one with 25 seconds to play. Allan Ray, despite being saddled with foul trouble, also scored 12 points while being limited to just 27 minutes. The recently returned Curtis Sumpter played, but was not a major factor due to foul trouble. Sumpter logged just 17 minutes and six points before fouling out.

It was the second straight galling defeat for the Wildcats, who have lost their last two games by a total of three points - on Saturday, Villanova fell to Georgetown, 66-64. Villanova is now 2-3 Big East, 9-4 overall, and has lost two straight for the first time this season. Boston College kept its record unblemished at 4-0 Big East, 15-0 overall, in its Big East swan song. The Eagles rode a hugely lopsided advantage at the foul line to victory. BC went 21-27 (78%), while 'Nova went 4-7 (57%): the Eagles took nearly four times as many attempts. Villanova still could have won, had it cashed in on the rare ones it DID get at the charity stripe.

The loss of Jason Fraser was readily apparent from this game. Villanova had just 16 points from its frontcourt of four players (Sumpter, Will Sheridan, Marcus Austin and Chris Charles) and there won't be a lot of victories when your entire frontcourt is held in the teens.

This was the 75th meeting all-time between BC and Villanova, and Villanova now leads the series by a 51-24 margin. This was the diamond anniversary game, but it was a considerably flawed diamond. Nobody - at least not on Villanova's side - will be making ads with this game's highlights, with black-and-white footage, stirring classical music, and proclaiming that it means "forever". It certainly won't mean forever, with BC leaving the Big East after this year. It was Villanova's eighth loss in its last ten games against Boston College overall, and its fourth in its last five trips to Conte Forum.

The subtext to the games this year is the imminent departure of Boston College to the Atlantic Coast Conference after this season. Miami and Virginia Tech were able to leave this season but BC was unable to, for legal reasons, forcing the Eagles to play a final lame-duck season.

BC broke faith with its fellow Northeast Catholic schools, and long-time BE members, Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, and Georgetown, and opted instead to throw in its lot with football and the expansion of its geographical horizons to the Southeast. It likely has just signed itself up for a lot of horrendously expensive travel for all non-revenue sports (the closest ACC member will be in College Park, Maryland, outside Washington), a permanent status as misfit among big state schools, and geographically isolated with no major rivalries.

Of course, teams shift conferences all the time and I don't have a problem with them doing it, per se. Miami and Virginia Tech are better fits for the ACC anyway, given their Southern locations and powerhouse football programs. But my major problem with BC was the fact that BC had made a good-faith agreement when the other two left that it would stay - and then simply reneged upon the agreement.

VU shot 50% from the floor (14-28) in the first half, and in a statistical oddity, Boston College posted an identical 14-28, 50% from the floor, also. Which makes it unusual that BC went 11-14 from the foul line, while 'Nova went just 4-5 from line, accounting for BC's 40-34 halftime advantage.

Dudley (17) and Smith (8) scored all of BC's first 25 points while taking 17 of BC's first 19 shots, with Sean Marshall the other 2 - Dudley was 8-10 and Smith 3-7 from the floor. Dudley had 25 at the half and 30 of BC's first 45 points, less than three minutes into the second half. He had 32 out of 49 at the 15:08 mark, the under 16 timeout. Sumpter picked up his fourth foul with about 16 minutes left, banishing him to the bench and probably fatally sinking any chance 'Nova had at victory. Some hope was given, when Dudley picked up his own third foul on the next possession, but it was dashed when Ray picked up his own fourth foul shortly after. Wright really had no choice but to leave Ray out there, as 'Nova wouldn't have much offense without the injured Jason Fraser, Sumpter, OR Ray on the floor at any given time.

BC extended its lead to nine at the 14:15 mark, 52-43, and was on the verge of knocking the Wildcats out of the gym before 'Nova launched a stirring comeback. Villanova went on a 13-2 run and seized the lead, but it was nip-and-tuck for most of the rest of the way. BC's Sean Williams tied it with a layup at the 5:45 mark, 60-60. The Wildcats made what should have been a decisive 6-0 run after that, due to a tip-in from Austin and consecutive jumpers from Foye, the second coming at the 2:08 mark and boosting 'Nova's lead to 66-60. But Villanova would fail to score a single point the rest of the game, sealing its fate.

Nate Doornekamp converted an "and-one" off Kyle Lowry to cut it to 66-63 with 1:31 to go, and then Nardi and Foye kept missing shots. Dudley made two of three free throws with 28 seconds to play to close to within 66-65. After Nardi's miss of the front end immediately after, Dudley was fouled by Austin with six seconds to play. He made both when it counted, giving the Eagles the victory, after Foye's last gasp hit the rim at the buzzer. BC had five come-from-behind victories this year, and now has six.

Foye Watch: Foye entered the game with 961 points in his Main Line career, just 39 shy of the millennial milestone. After 22 points at Conte Forum tonight, he is well-positioned to reach the mark at the Wildcats' quasi-home floor at the Wachovia Center over the next two games. He will return to Philadelphia with 983 points. Foye will be the 47th player to eclipse 1,000 or more points. Allan Ray and Ricky Wright were the two most recent players to make it.

The Wildcats' fortunes will now shift to the Wachovia Center in South Philadelphia for the next two contests. Villanova will take on the national powerhouse Kansas Jayhawks, ranked #2, on Saturday afternoon. Wednesday night, they will attempt to avenge their earlier loss to Notre Dame.

No comments: