Thursday, March 16, 2006
Updated: March 22, 9:35 AM ET
Many have made long runs after early tests
By Ed Graney
Special to ESPN.com
SALT LAKE CITY -- It happens. Has for years and years.
The NCAA Tournament tips off and underdogs begin to stir and favorites sometimes need crazy things to happen in the first four days of play just to survive.
Just ask UCLA 1995 about Tyus Edney's coast-to-coast layup against Missouri. Or ask Kansas 1988 about Danny Manning's jump hook with 38 seconds remaining against Murray State. Or ask Georgetown 1984 about Patrick Ewing's tip-in of a missed free throw with 51 seconds left against Southern Methodist. Or ask Florida 2000 about Mike Miller's layup at the buzzer against Butler.
Or ask North Carolina State 1983 about winning four of its six NCAA games by two points or less on the way to the title.
There's a message in there somewhere about potential first- and second-round nightmares for higher seeds: If you're good enough, you don't panic and are better for it in the Sweet 16 and beyond.
Boston College is breathing a sigh of relief in a place where your lungs are stretched far more than at most NCAA Tournament sites, having survived Pacific 88-76 in double overtime of a first-round Minneapolis Regional game at the Huntsman Center.
There is enough historical evidence -- that listed above and far more throughout the archives of March Madness -- to believe the Eagles (27-7) might use this early scare as a catalyst for the deep NCAA run many have predicted.
That, or they won't have any legs come Saturday afternoon and will wilt in the nearly 4,500 feet of altitude against Montana, a team that followed through on its own upset bid by taking down Nevada 87-79 in the region's 5-12 game.
At this point, it's anyone's guess how BC responds.
"Pacific has [had] a tremendous amount of success in this tournament," Eagles coach Al Skinner said when explaining how his fourth-seeded Eagles nearly were bounced by a No. 13 seed out of the Big West Conference. "They have beaten Pittsburgh and Providence in past [tournaments]. They made shots and made plays. You have to give them a tremendous amount of credit. I thought this was going to be a great challenge for us, and that proved to be correct."
It proved to be a more-than-entertaining display.
Boston College is alive because it overcame its own mental lapses at the end of regulation, received two season-saving free throws from senior forward Craig Smith with 4.3 seconds remaining in the first overtime, and ultimately proved skill beats fatigue most days.
The second overtime began like this for Boston College: Lob to Sean Williams for a dunk; 3-pointer in the corner by Tyrese Rice; transition dunk by Williams. Seven-oh run. Nightmare avoided.
"[Williams] finally woke up," Skinner said of his forward, who had just four points and two rebounds in 24 minutes. "Timing is everything."
But victory did not arrive without countless anxious moments for the Eagles, many in the final seconds of regulation after BC had twice blown 13-point second-half leads. There was forward Jared Dudley (for some unknown reason) fouling Pacific forward Christian Maraker with 45.7 seconds left on a 3-point attempt and BC up four. Maraker went swish, swish, swish to make it a one-point game. There was Maraker being left alone (again, why?) for a 3 with 9.1 seconds remaining that tied the game. There was Smith needing to advance the ball across three-quarters of the court for a final shot and instead traveling with 3.9 ticks left.
Maraker finished with 30 points and nine rebounds to Smith's 25 points, 13 boards and those two enormous free throws that helped Boston College live to see another tournament day.
"I was thinking about my mother and what she said to me before the game," Smith said. "She gave me a little motivational speech. She told me that when put in this situation, nothing else matters. She knows I can do it, and just to have faith in God."
Pacific coach Bob Thomason said he believed his Tigers deserved to win, that his players brought toughness to the table, held the Eagles to just seven offensive rebounds and, for the most part, did what was needed to advance. But they didn't.
They just gave Boston College one of those early scares we have seen so often.
"The NCAA Tournament is about a Cinderella story," Eagles guard Louis Hinnant said. "People look forward to the underdog coming in and winning. Fortunately for us, we didn't let it happen. We put ourselves in a real bad situation, but I think our guys kept their composure."
"I am sure we will be prepared [for Montana]," Hinnant added. "We don't have time to be tired. We don't have time to worry about the altitude or how much oxygen we are getting or anything like that. We just have to continue to work hard because you never know
it could be the last game."
It might not be. History even suggests it could be the elixir Boston College needs to hang around a while.
Ed Graney of The San Diego Union-Tribune is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.