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It's a feat to shout about

Team's perfect start resonates at Heights

It will be different now for Boston College, at least until the Eagles lose a game, and some of the national respect they have slowly gained.

But then again, that might not happen. Last night's 64-49 victory over Georgetown at Conte Forum wasn't the Eagles' best effort of the season, but it was far from their worst. The major news was best told by the sellout crowd of 8,606, which with 56.1 seconds remaining serenaded the Eagles with the chants of "Undefeated. Undefeated."

Yes, folks, BC is 18-0, which makes it one of only two unbeaten teams in college basketball (Illinois is the other). The No. 8 Eagles also are 7-0 in the Big East, which, with Pittsburgh's victory over Syracuse last night, makes them the only unbeaten team in the conference.

But there is more to this story. From the opening tip last night, Conte Forum was buzzing, suddenly giving the Eagles a home-court edge. This was no longer the arena many critics have dubbed "Conte Morgue."

"This," said guard Jermaine Watson, "is college basketball. I can't remember Conte being like that. We've never had that before. It made me feel like it was Cameron [Indoor Stadium at Duke]. It was great."

It has taken a while for people to recognize what BC has done thus far, and even longer for people to appreciate it. But that will change now as the pressure begins to mount and the Eagles chase a conference title and historical milestones.

Reporters from around the country were in town last night to see what all the fuss was about. The highlights on "SportsCenter" will no doubt increase.

To understand the significance, you have to understand where BC has been. A year ago, the Eagles were 24-10 and took national finalist Georgia Tech to the final seconds in the regional semifinals before dropping a 57-54 decision. The Eagles returned four starters.

Yet BC didn't appear in any preseason Top 25 polls. It was picked to finish fifth in the Big East. If it were say Duke, North Carolina, or Kentucky, there would be no shortage of respect.

There's more. BC has yet to appear on "Big Monday", part of the Big East's TV package with ESPN. The Eagles are scheduled to appear for the first time Feb. 28 against Pittsburgh, which could decide the regular-season conference title.

There's more. BC knocked off St. John's, 79-73, last weekend in a game played at Carnesecca Arena on the St. John's campus, not Madison Square Garden, where most of the Red Storm's Big East home games are played.

The Eagles have heard excuses about scheduling from St. John's and the Big East offices, but the bottom line was they didn't feel BC was worthy of the bright lights in the big city.

Maybe that will change now. It's starting to change in Boston. The rest of BC's home games are sold out. The Patriots' season is a week away from being over. The Bruins are on hiatus and the Celtics are having a ho-hum season. BC should become a prime-time star.

BC coach Al Skinner has already recognized changes on campus. "There's no question there is more excitement about the basketball team," said Skinner, who has done a superb job of putting the pieces together, a foundation of fundamentals as well as flash.

The Eagles are all of that, from junior forward Craig Smith, who had game highs of 20 points and eight rebounds last night, to Watson, who continues to jump-start the team off the bench.

The Eagles know in their hearts that an undefeated season is unlikely. But until someone proves otherwise they will be happy to follow the story line.

"We talk about [going undefeated] every day," said Smith.

BC may indeed stumble in the next few days or weeks. But until that happens, the crowds should be louder and more enthusiastic.

The change in atmosphere at Conte Forum was symbolized midway through the first half last night when security escorted a rowdy fan out of the arena. There was a time when the crowds were so quiet and so small that security would escort people into the building.

Yes, it is different these days at The Heights. And better. Much better.

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