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BC 84, WICHITA ST. 81

A slice of paradise for BC

ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands -- What month did you say this was? It couldn't possibly be November, because it's waaay too early for college basketball teams to submit a game this well-played (19 turnovers combined in an up-tempo pace) and this flat-out entertaining.

So let it be said without much fear of contradiction: Boston College won the third Paradise Jam by defeating Wichita State last night in the best game played thus far in the young college basketball season. That's Ted Sarandis's story, and both he and a certain Globe correspondent are sticking to it.

The final was BC 84, Wichita State 81, and though BC trailed on the scoreboard for only 23 seconds (from 3-2 to 4-3), it sure didn't feel that way. Not until Randy Burns's desperation 3-pointer banged off the rim at the buzzer could anyone associated with the BC program feel safe.

The gang from the Missouri Valley Conference simply would not go away, no matter how many times BC got up by 4, or 6, or 9, or even 11 (30-19). They just kept coming and coming and coming, and beating them was a great early-season accomplishment for a BC team that plays four freshmen in its regular rotation.

One of those freshmen, Jared Dudley, had 10 of his 14 points in the second half. He was a big player in this game. But the key men when it mattered were tourney MVP Craig Smith, who assaulted the Shockers for 28 points and 13 rebounds, and junior Jermaine Watson, who had some key hoops and swished eight free throws in the final 31.8 seconds to be the Eric Gagne of this affair.

"I knew when the coach put me back in the game late it was because I could make the free throws," said the junior out of Thayer and Tabor Academy, who is thriving in his official role as an energy-providing sixth man after two years of struggle at The Heights.

"That's why I kept cutting back for the ball."

The Eagles needed every one of those foul shots, because Wichita State would not die. Rob Kampman (21) scored on an old-fashioned 3-point play to make it 80-78 with 11.7 seconds to play, leading to Watson's penultimate pair of swishers. Then Adam Liberty, heretofore scoreless, drilled a three to make it 82-81. Watson was called upon one more time, and he calmly made his 10th and 11th foul shots of the night to give BC a vital 3-point advantage.

As for Smith, well, he picked up another member of the official Fan Club in the person of Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon.

"He is really good," Turgeon said. "We had no answer for him. He is an All-American. He is a pro. We wanted to double-team him, but we didn't realize he was that quick. He is really explosive."

Smith had 16 points and 7 rebounds in a superb first half that ended with BC leading by a 41-39 score. The first 5 1/2 minutes were utterly spellbinding. By the time we had a mandated timeout, BC was leading, 17-16, and the teams were shooting a combined 13 for 19 from the floor.

The coaches weren't fully pleased, of course, because all they ever care about is that boring subject called defense. But the spectators at the University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center were loving it, and courtside observers were freaking out. This was basketball, not clangball or foulball, but basketball, with crisp offense marked by cuts and intelligent passing.

You would have thought it was Kansas vs. Duke.

Honest.

BC made a couple of pushes in the second half, the key one being an 11-3 surge highlighted by a Watson end-to-end excursion capped by an artful reverse layup. The lead would peak at 73-64 on a Smith power move from a Bird-like wraparound Sean Marshall entry pass. But it would still be a struggle against a very good team to the end.

Three wins and some sun 'n' fun made for a great trip to the tropics for a team that will need big contributions from its young-uns.

"Three games in three days for such a young team," said coach Al Skinner. "The guys really took care of themselves and played well. We didn't out-talent anybody here. We executed our game plans."

BC is now 3-0 with kids you don't know (yet) playing big roles. This could turn out to be a very interesting season.

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