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Close not good enough

BC's Sean Marshall talked to some trash to J.J. Redick during the Eagles' comeback run.
BC's Sean Marshall talked to some trash to J.J. Redick during the Eagles' comeback run. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

Close. So close.

Once again Boston College came upon a stage, ready to show its credentials as a major player. ESPN. Prime time. Dickie V in town.

And once again the Eagles came up thishort.

The Eagles had done it for the first time in football against Florida State Sept. 17, when ESPN brought its ''College GameDay" crew to The Heights for the first time. The Eagles gave it their best shot, but had to absorb a 28-17 loss that left BC and its fans hungry for more.

Last night, the stage had shifted to a sold-out, raucous Conte Forum and a meeting with second-ranked Duke, which has become perhaps the most intense road show in all of college basketball.

And when the final buzzer had sounded, the Eagles walked off the court with an 83-81 defeat, which left them disappointed, frustrated, and wondering what they have to do to clear hurdles that keep being placed in front of them.

''We're still a work in progress," said BC coach Al Skinner, who looked in dismay at a box score that had Duke taking 37 foul shots and Boston College taking only 13. ''You can't win many games with that happening."

Skinner did not feel that was the only factor. ''They're a great team and we didn't play well enough to win," he said. ''But . . ."

The ''buts" are getting tiresome for the Eagles. They won 25 games a year ago and are 16-5 this season. ''Our coaches are not into moral victories," said BC guard Louis Hinnant, who scored 12 points and did his best to fill the void in the final minutes when both Craig Smith and Sean Marshall fouled out. ''We came into this game knowing that Duke was a great team, but we felt we did the things we needed to do to win."

Smith, held to 8 points and no foul shots -- which also amazed Skinner -- said frustration was the key word. Not for what Duke did, but for what BC did not do.

''They were picked to win the national championship by a lot of people," said Smith. ''We knew they are a great team, but we could have done a lot of things better."

Skinner said it was a tale of two halves. BC played OK in the first half, but still trailed by 10 at 44-34. The Eagles played worse in the first eight minutes of the second half when they trailed, 61-43. But then the Eagles found a gear that they had used in winning their last four ACC games.

''We were a little overzealous on defense," conceded Skinner, who watched with the rest of the Conte Forum crowd as the Eagles kept creeping closer and closer, which led to thoughts of a defining-moment win for their first season in the ACC.

But Duke is Duke and deals with everyone's best shot night after night on the road. As has been the case all but once this season -- Jan. 21 at Georgetown -- Duke prevailed, leaving a subdued crowd and an opponent wondering what it has to do to win a close game, even against an opponent with the skills of Duke.

The Eagles will now hit the road for games at Virginia Tech Saturday and Wake Forest next Wednesday. Both of those clubs are in the second tier of the ACC standings, but hardly walkovers at home. After that the Eagles come home for a three-game stretch against Clemson, Stony Brook, and Miami. They are all winnable games, which would put BC right back into the upper tier of the ACC.

Skinner's ''work in progress" statement rang true through the first part of the schedule as the Eagles experienced life in the ACC. But for Skinner it is an adjustment as well.

As he walked back into the locker room last night, he kept looking at the box score that showed the foul shot discrepancy, wondering if that was an aberration or life against Tobacco Road teams such as Duke and defending national champion North Carolina.

BC beat North Carolina last Wednesday in Chapel Hill. Beating Duke again in North Carolina (at the ACC tournament in Greensboro) looks like a tougher task.

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