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BC saves its strength for stretch run

Rust or relaxation. Those were the choices.

Rutgers chose to avoid the rust at the expense of the latter while Boston College chose to take a five-day hiatus at the risk of the former. As a result, the well-rested Eagles will host a well-oiled Scarlet Knights squad that romped to a 102-52 victory over Northern Colorado Tuesday in a tuneup for today's important Big East game.

"We had been playing really well before our break and I didn't want to disrupt that," said BC coach Al Skinner, whose Eagles improved to 17-8 overall (6-6 conference) with a 67-63 victory at Seton Hall last Monday night. "But we really needed the time off."

No one needed it more than Craig Smith. Playing with an aching back he injured in a loss to Providence last Saturday, the sophomore power forward showed some spine in an inspired effort against the Pirates: a game-high 21 points, 8 rebounds (7 defensive), 3 assists, 2 blocked shots, and 2 steals in 40 minutes of gritty play.

"Craig's fine," Skinner reported. "He practiced [Thursday], but we didn't go that hard. We've gotten banged up pretty good here this year, but we've still been playing some really great basketball."

While the Eagles enjoyed a little R-and-R, Rutgers (15-8, 6-5) staged a glorified scrimmage in posting its largest margin of victory in nine years. Rutgers, led by guards Ricky Shields and Quincy Douby (21 points each), also tied a school record by hitting 14 of 28 shots from the 3-point arc.

"We would have had a period where we would have been off for a week," said Rutgers coach Gary Waters, explaining why he scheduled Northern Colorado, a provisional Division 1 program in its inaugural season at that level. "And you don't want that at this point of the season."

Rutgers will have to ratchet it up today in a game that not only will break a logjam in the middle the Big East standings but also will have implications on the NCAA Tournament hopes of both teams. The winner will breathe a little easier while the loser could very well have its bubble burst on Selection Sunday.

Skinner knows that feeling, which is why he was reluctant to predict what an 18th win would mean for his team.

"I don't know what's the formula [for making the NCAAs]," said the BC coach, mindful of how his team won 18 games (10 in conference) last season only to get bypassed by the selection committee. "For us, it's changed based upon what happened to us last year. There's no magic number. This year, we're just trying to do whatever it takes."

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