They were not interested in deciding the Big East regular-season title by way of a tiebreaker. No one on Boston College's basketball team was the least bit concerned over the outcome of Connecticut's conference game at Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon. Nor did it matter that a UConn loss against the Panthers would assure the Eagles at least a tie for the title and the No. 1 seed for the conference tourney March 9-12 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
"We're not really concerned about that," said BC senior guard Jermaine Watson, who helped put the wraps on a 70-58 Big East victory over Seton Hall yesterday before a Conte Forum sellout crowd of 8,606 by scoring 11 points, including 6 from the foul line in the final 17.6 seconds. "We're looking to win it outright -- no tiebreakers. We're looking to take what's ours."
By the end of the day, however, nothing had been decided. UConn's 74-63 victory over the Panthers deferred BC's conference coronation at least until tomorrow night, when the Eagles (23-2, 12-2) host Pittsburgh (18-7, 8-6) in an ESPN-televised game at 7 p.m. If the Eagles win, they will earn at least a share of the regular-season title with UConn (19-6, 11-3), but would capture the No. 1 seed by virtue of their head-to-head tiebreaker: a 75-70 victory over the Huskies Jan. 5 at the Hartford Civic Center.
"It's allowed us to maintain what we have, and that's the most important thing," BC coach Al Skinner said of yesterday's triumph over the pesky Pirates (11-14, 3-11). "It's clearly the most difficult thing because teams are targeting us."
After absorbing their second loss of the season in Wednesday night's 76-70 setback at Villanova, the Eagles rebounded by sweeping the season series with Seton Hall to improve their home-court record to 16-0 and reach the threshold of winning their first regular-season title outright since the 2000-01 season.
"That's been our goal all year, to win the Big East," said sophomore forward Jared Dudley, who led the Eagles with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, and seven rebounds. "We have a chance [tomorrow] to do it. If not [tomorrow], then Saturday [in the regular-season finale at Rutgers], so hopefully we can do it as soon as possible."
If they have any plans to make a deep run in March, the Eagles cannot afford any more scattershot performances such as yesterday's effort against a shorthanded Seton Hall squad.
Freshman guard Justin Cerasoli (right foot injury), junior forward J.R. Morris (academics), and sophomore guard Jamar Nutter (violation of team policy) were not available, but junior center Kelly Whitney, Seton Hall's leading scorer (12.5 points per game) and rebounder (6.7 per game), returned from his one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules to give the Pirates a lift off the bench.
"We didn't come out ready to play early on," Dudley said. "We probably didn't respect our opponent, coming back from a letdown loss at Villanova, coming back to play at home at 12 o'clock."
Despite controlling a 33-30 halftime lead, the Eagles seemed to play in a first-half fog, allowing Seton Hall to dominate the boards, 24-17, which resulted in 14 second-chance points for the Pirates.
"As I said to the guys at halftime, `I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen to Seton Hall once their season is over, but it would be a great win for them if they won this afternoon,' " said Skinner. "So they had a lot at stake as far as their own personal posture."
It was all the Eagles needed to hear to get them fired up for a spirited second half that saw Seton Hall surge to a 39-35 lead on a 3-pointer by Brian Laing (15 points) with 17:55 to go. After Whitney (10 points, 10 rebounds) threw down a follow dunk to tie the game, 41-41, Dudley went to the line and hit the second of two attempts to give BC a 42-41 lead. A trey by guard Donald Copeland (10 points) gave the Pirates a 44-42 advantage, but Craig Smith (16 points, 7 rebounds) tied it with a strong spin move in the lane.
After both teams battled through another tie, 46-46, Smith gave BC the lead for good with another strong low-post move. Sean Williams, who had four blocked shots to give him 56 for the season (five shy of BC's season record, set by John Garris in 1982-83), rejected a dunk by Andre Sweet to get the crowd roaring.
It was the type of energizing play that helped get the Eagles over the hump when Watson went to the line, courtesy of John Allen's third personal, to extend BC's lead to 50-46. Seton Hall twice pulled within 3 (54-51 and 56-53) to make things tight, but the Eagles pulled away by outscoring their visitors, 14-5, over the final 3 1/2 minutes.
"When you set it up, it clearly gives you an opporunity [to win the tournament] and, on paper, there seems to be some advantages," Skinner said of BC's prospects of earning the top seed. "I don't know who is going to be in that position, but it isn't going to be a bad team. It'd be nice if we can accomplish that, but it's not going to be easy."