SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The Irish eyes of former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps must have been bright with pride last night after the Fighting Irish, who Phelps guaranteed would pin Boston College with its first loss, came through with a 68-65 victory over the fourth-ranked Eagles before a crowd of 11,418 at the Joyce Center.
"He got one right," conceded Jared Dudley, who led the Eagles (20-1, 9-1 Big East) with 16 points and 11 rebounds as junior bruiser Craig Smith was held to 9 points (all in the first half) on 4-for-14 shooting, going basketless for the last 34 1/2 minutes of the game. "I wish we could have proved him wrong. Hopefully, he'll go against us again some night so we can redeem ourselves."
BC won its first 20 games to set a school and Big East record, but now top-ranked Illinois (24-0) is the nation's only unbeaten team. It was BC's first regular-season loss since Feb. 14, 2004, and first conference road loss since Jan. 28, 2004, at Pittsburgh.
"Now we know how it feels like to lose," said senior guard Jermaine Watson, who chipped in 11 points, hitting 3 of 5 from 3-point range. "I haven't lost since last year, and the freshmen hadn't lost at all. Now we know we can be beat. We know it. Now we have to come back and make sure it doesn't happen again."
The Eagles, who now take seven days off before hosting Rutgers next Wednesday, still remain atop the conference standings, thanks to Connecticut's victory over Syracuse Monday that dropped the Orange to 8-2 (21-3 overall).
"It's disappointing losing," said BC coach Al Skinner. "Being unbeaten [was] nice, but I'm more concerned about why we lost this basketball game. I was never overly concerned with the fact that we were undefeated. It's just that we didn't play as well as we could have tonight."
Notre Dame hit 25 of 49 field goal attempts, including 11 of 20 from the 3-point arc. BC responded in kind, hitting a season-high 9 of 22 3-point attempts.
Sophomore shooting guard Colin Falls led the way for the Irish (14-6, 6-4) with 23 points, tying his career high. He hit 8 of 14 shots from the field, including 7 of 12 from the 3-point arc.
Falls combined with fellow guards Chris Thomas (19) and Chris Quinn (10) to score 52 points on 18-for-31 shooting. "I think he is one of the best shooters in the country," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of Falls, whose seven treys represented a Big East season high. "He is still earning his stripes compared to some of the other guys out there, but he is getting close, and he'll get there."
Falls knocked down trey after trey to ignite first-half runs of 9-0 and 10-0 to help the Irish build a 37-32 halftime lead.
Falls threatened to run the Eagles out of the building in the second half when he intensified his 3-point barrage during a 12-4 run as the Irish surged to an 11-point lead, 49-38, with 14 minutes left.
The Eagles got back-to-back treys from Louis Hinnant (13 points, 3 of 6 from the arc) and Dudley to pull within 49-44. Sean Marshall's transition scoop cut Notre Dame's lead to 49-46, but Thomas answered with a huge 3-pointer to give the Irish a 52-46 lead.
"This was the first time, I thought, that we made mistakes mentally, and we can't allow that to happen," Skinner said of BC's perimeter defense. "The thing I'm most concerned about was our lapses on defense."
Another concern was Smith's ineffectiveness against Notre Dame's stifling 2-3 zone defense. After scoring 9 first-half points, Smith went 0 for 5 in the second half, even airballing one of his patented fades -- a miss that prompted him to spin around and stick out his tongue in exasperation.
"I though tonight, at times, he looked a little tired," Skinner said. "Some of his shots were rushed. He didn't show the patience that he has."
Watson pulled BC within 54-51 after hitting a 3-pointer and following with a jumper.
After Falls hit yet another trey, Hinnant answered with his third of the game to keep BC within striking distance, 57-54. But the Irish pulled away to 62-54 when Falls struck again from beyond the arc and Thomas was awarded a basket on Sean Williams's goaltending violation with 4:09 to go.
A pair of missed foul shots by Quinn and Jordan Cornette opened the door for the Eagles to pull within 62-59 on a 3-point play by Dudley with 1:42 to go. When the Irish stretched it to 66-60, the Notre Dame student section erupted into chants of "Twenty! And one! Twenty! And one!"
"Being undefeated, that's all nice and that, but ultimately that's not our goal," Skinner said. "Our goal is to be as successful as we can be in the league.