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VILLANOVA 76, BC 70

Eagles rise, only to fall to Wildcats

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Every time they lose now, it seems to be a cause for celebration.

For the second time this season, the Boston College men's basketball team lost a Big East road game and, for the second time this season, the Eagles were forced to make their way off the court by wading through a mosh pit of euphoric students who had invaded the court.

Notre Dame students were the first to get in their licks, chanting "Twenty! And one! Twenty! And one!" after the Irish pinned BC with its first loss of the season, 68-65, Feb. 8 at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind., which dropped the Eagles from the ranks of the undefeated, snapping BC's streak of 20 wins.

Last night, Villanova joined the party.

The No. 23 Wildcats (18-6, 8-5) beat the third-ranked Eagles (22-2, 12-2), 76-70, triggering a wild celebration by the Villanova student body, who filled The Pavilion with chants of "This is our house! This is our house!" as freshman guard Kyle Lowry played keep away by dribbling out the final 10 seconds. Villanova had its second victory in as many home games against a ranked conference opponent after an 80-72 triumph Sunday afternoon over No. 17 Pittsburgh and its second of the season against a top-three opponent after an 83-62 romp over No. 2 Kansas Jan. 22, three days after the Wildcats absorbed a 67-66 loss at BC.

"We were crushed after that game," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team was torched by a career-high 36 points by BC sophomore forward Jared Dudley, but won nine of its next 11 games. "All of us were devastated because we felt we had it. We felt like we were right there."

That was a feeling shared by everyone in BC's locker room last night, especially after the Eagles twice pulled within 1 (65-64 and 67-66) after trailing by 13 points (53-40) in the second half.

"I think we felt fairly confident that we had a shot at it," said BC coach Al Skinner, whose team was coming off one of its most stirring home-court victories in recent memory, a 65-60 triumph over No. 9 Syracuse last Saturday night. "It was right there for us. The opportunity presented itself to us but we didn't make the plays we needed to."

Craig Smith led the Eagles last night with 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 blocked shot, in crunch time, and Dudley chipped in 15 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Steve Hailey had 11 points, hitting a career-high 3 of 4 from the 3-point arc, before fouling out with 2:40 remaining.

The statistic that jumped out wasn't Villanova's 35-24 rebounding advantage, or its 8-of-17 shooting from the 3-point stripe. It was Villanova's margin at the foul line, where it converted 36 of 41 attempts.

"It's very difficult to win any game when the opposing team shoots 41 free throws," said Skinner, whose team (17 of 23 from the line) attempted 13 fewer foul shots than Villanova made. "We just didn't make the play that was going to tie it and make them feel uncomfortable."

The Eagles, though, certainly had their chances.

After the Wildcats expanded a 43-36 halftime lead to 13, outscoring the Eagles, 10-4, in the first four minutes of the second half, BC went on a 7-0 run -- sparked by Louis Hinnant's trey -- to pull within 53-47 on Smith's patented jump hook with 14:30 to go. Villanova scored 10 of its next 12 points from the foul line, with Jason Fraser's lefty up-and-under the only field goal in that stretch.

"We tried to come out more aggressive in the second half," Smith said. "But during the course of the game, they just got the home calls."

Trailing, 61-49, BC twice battled to within 1. The first time, Dudley converted a contested layup that made it 65-64 with 4:15 to go. Randy Foye, who poured in a game-high 23 points for the Wildcats, got a baseline jumper to go in after nicking the backboard.

But Hailey answered with a lane jumper in heavy traffic to pull BC within 67-66 with 3:25 to go. Foye appeared to lose control at midcourt on Villanova's next possession. Hailey tried to pounce on the loose ball, but was whistled with his fifth personal, and Foye hit both foul shots.

"That's big time," Wright said. "When we were up [67-66], Randy Foye went to the line and made both free throws. That's a gutty junior."

The Eagles never got closer in the final 3 1/2 minutes, setting the stage for yet another celebration at their expense.

"We just have to do what we did the last time," said Smith, whose teammates remained one game ahead of Connecticut for first place in the league standings. "The important thing is we got to forget about it -- ASAP. We can't dwell on it. We've got to be ready to go back home and play Seton Hall Saturday."

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