BC states its case by toppling FSU
What Al Skinner wanted his Boston College team to realize was that it controlled everything about the rest of its season. All the Eagles had to do was win.
Coming in at No. 23, Florida State was the final Top 25 team on BC's schedule, the chance to make a closing argument.
The Eagles had won one game in their last four, and even if it was against then-sixth-ranked Duke, there was no guaranteeing it would be enough to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
"We had to go out and play like we wanted," Skinner said. "It really didn't matter who the opponent was for us. It was just important that we go out and try to win this game."
Rolling off a screen and drilling a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left, Tyrese Rice gave the committee one more thing to consider. The Eagles held off a relentless Florida State team, scrapping for a 72-67 win in front of 4,968 fans at Conte Forum last night.
That shot from the top of the key was the stake in the Seminoles' heart.
"You've seen him do that many, many times," said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. "That's when he's at his best, in those clutch situations."
With the win, BC (20-9, 8-6) secured a 20-win season and at least an 8-8 record in the nation's top conference RPI-wise, making its NCAA chances more solid with two games left in the regular season.
"I'm not the guy that makes that decision," Skinner said. "I'm the guy that tries to win basketball games. I think we're in a good spot, but if we can continue to win, it makes that decision that much easier."
Plagued by poor first-half shooting (11 of 32 from the floor, 1 of 10 from 3-point range) that put them in a hole as deep as 12 points, the Eagles stretched the nets out in the second half, drilling six shots from the arc and building a lead as large as 64-54.
Joe Trapani (game-high 19 points) hit all three of his 3-pointers in the second half, but he also hit the offensive glass for rebounds that gave the Eagles breathing room.
Rakim Sanders (16 points), with bombs-away 3-pointers and one explosive windmill dunk, helped bail the Eagles out of their first-half hole.
But it was a pair of baskets from Biko Paris that Hamilton called the difference.
The biggest strength of the Seminoles' (21-7, 8-5) was the towers they had in the paint, but Paris took the ball right up their chests. He ran at 6-foot-9-inch freshman Chris Singleton and got a layup to fall while getting fouled. He missed the free throw but got the rebound, weaved through the trees, and tossed in another layup that put BC up, 64-54, with six minutes left.
"He probably made the difference in the game," Hamilton said. "He made some circus shots. His shots were shots we were not accustomed to giving."
BC pieced together a late first-half surge punctuated when Sanders shook down freshman Deividas Dulkys, snatched the ball, hopped over him, ran downcourt, and threw down a windmill. Toney Douglas drilled a three in front of the BC bench to put FSU up, 25-24, at the half, but the Eagles had shifted the momentum.
"The most important thing that's occurring," Skinner said, "is guys are communicating, both offensively and defensively, and that's going to improve."
"Anytime you can win a game in the ACC, then you're making some kind of statement to the league," Rice said. "But to knock off three of the upper-tier teams in this league, it definitely speaks for itself.
"But at the end of the day, it's only three wins. We still have two games left."
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.