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Even without bright lights, BC's Dudley lighting it up

Go figure.

Jared Dudley plays the game of his life in Boston College's 67-66 Big East victory over Villanova Wednesday night before a Conte Forum sellout crowd of 8,606. The slender 6-foot-7-inch sophomore forward scores a career-high 36 points, including 25 in the first half to top his previous career high of 24 (set at Miami Feb. 11, 2004). He also grabs 6 rebounds, and makes 4 assists (with no turnovers) and 3 steals.

He sinks 4 of 5 crucial free throws in the final 28.5 seconds, including two with 5.5 seconds left, to help the ninth-ranked Eagles improve to 15-0 overall (4-0 Big East) and remain one of four undefeated teams in Division 1.

And yet, for all he did to help the Eagles stave off Villanova, no one outside the friendly confines of Conte Forum saw Dudley's show-stopping performance because the game was not televised. So there was no evidence for ESPN's ultimate highlight reel on "SportsCenter." Go figure.

Still, it mattered little to Dudley. His moment in the spotlight was not diminished one bit by the absence of the TV cameras. He was as exuberant in victory as though the game were carried by all the major networks. He was simply content his 36 points didn't go to waste after missing the third of three foul shots that would have tied the game at 66.

But Dudley is used to being overlooked. He's used to being underrated. He's used to having his vast array of basketball skills go unappreciated. It would seem fitting Dudley, who went virtually undetected by national recruiters out of Horizon High in San Diego, would emerge as a vital cog on a BC squad that started the season beneath the radar.

Dudley gained some recognition after pouring in a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds in BC's 73-53 romp at West Virginia last Sunday, garnering Big East Player of the Week honors. Against Villanova, Dudley had 21 points after hitting a pair of foul shots with 4:56 left in the first half.

"He got to about 15 points really quick and once I had seen that, I just tried to run a lot of post-up plays," said junior guard Louis Hinnant. "Playing with him, I already know what type of plays he likes and where he likes to get his shots."

So now that the Eagles have finally registered on the radar, has Dudley succeeded in doing the same? Has he emerged from Craig Smith's shadow to gain billing on BC's marquee?

"You know, I'm thinking I'm edging my way up there, slowly but surely," Dudley said. "I just got to keep playing my game. Throughout my whole career I've been under the radar, but eventually I think I'm going to shine and that's what I did [against Villanova]."

Dudley did the same in high school, but he drew lukewarm interest from the schools out West. San Diego State wanted to keep him home. The University of Oregon was also interested.

"If it wasn't for Oregon, I don't know there's another school in the West I would go to," Dudley said. "Even if UCLA had recruited me, I don't think I would've gone there because of the politics of me not getting playing time. I thought I could fit in on the East Coast. I think, really, my style is more East Coast than West Coast, anyway."

But questions lingered about Dudley's ability to adapt to the collegiate level.

"Sure, but he was a kid who won an awful lot of games in high school and was on a terrific AAU program that had competed against the best," said BC associate head coach Bill Coen. "So we knew he was a good player, but, obviously, you never know that you're getting a guy who is as mentally tough and as intelligent as Jared.

"When you talk about him, you've got to talk about his toughness and his basketball IQ."

It was those traits that made Dudley feel his game was better suited for the rough-and-tumble Big East. So he planned to attend a prep school in Connecticut in the hopes of getting a look. But his career took a detour to The Heights when a scholarship became available after incoming freshman Dan Coleman decided to return to Minneapolis two months before the start of the 2003-04 season.

"It was an opportunity to have the chance to play," said Dudley, who started 34 games as a freshman and was the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder behind Smith, averaging 11.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. "Even if I didn't start my freshman year, I'd definitely get a lot of minutes, especially in the Big East. Now that we're going to the ACC, playing Duke and North Carolina, you can't ask for much more than that."

"It's worked out perfectly for Jared and for Boston College," Coen said. "We're so thankful that he decided to make BC home." So, too, are his teammates.

"I think well before our run in the open gym his first year, you could see he had the personality to fit in on any team," Hinnant said. "He's always energetic and you'll never catch him on a bad day. He's a fun guy to be around. He just enjoys life.

"But he really didn't come in and wow us with his jumping ability, or his jump shot, or his ballhandling, or anything like that. He just came in and worked hard. He came through on the first day and just worked hard on the court and did all the little things that don't get much notice."

But now they are. And Dudley's reaping the attention now that the Eagles are 15-0 and soaring among the elite teams in the nation.

"It's really a dream come true," Dudley said. "All the dedication and all the hard work we've put in is starting to pay off. We're getting all the benefits, and now that it's here, it's amazing. We just have to keep rolling with it."

Even if the cameras aren't. 

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