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Bench work is lifting BC

MINNEAPOLIS -- Boston College's first-round NCAA Tournament matchup against Pacific had just lapsed into double overtime.

The fourth-seeded Eagles, who had been a trendy media pick to go to the Final Four, were facing an unceremonious exit in Salt Lake City against the Tigers of the Big West Conference. The situation was clearly dire and called for someone -- anyone -- to step up and provide a spark.

During a huddle before the start of the second OT period, BC coach Al Skinner diagrammed an alley-oop dunk play on the Eagles' first possession. He called upon two key members of BC's bench, sophomore center Sean Williams and freshman guard Tyrese Rice, to execute it.

And they delivered.

Williams crept the baseline behind Pacific's zone defense, then quickly elevated to catch Rice's lob, throwing down a resounding dunk that broke a 74-74 tie in rousing fashion.

Rice, who had missed his first seven shots (six from beyond the 3-point arc), seemed to draw inspiration from the play on BC's next possession when he knocked down his only field goal of the game, a 3-pointer that expanded BC's lead to 79-74.

As Pacific tried to bring the ball upcourt against BC's pressure on the ensuing play, Williams tipped a lazy sideline-to-sideline pass. Rice chased down the loose ball and fed it to senior guard Louis Hinnant who, in turn, dished to Williams for a two-handed stuff that brought down the house at the University of Utah's Huntsman Center, sending the Eagles to an 88-76 triumph in double OT.

''Aw, man, they gave us a tremendous lift," said senior forward Craig Smith of BC's bench play in that game. ''They provided energy and, obviously, a defensive presence with Tyrese's quickness and Sean's ability to change shots."

Rice and Williams came off the bench to combine for 11 points in a decisive 14-2 run in that double-overtime period against Pacific. BC's bench contributions seemed to underscore its importance (and emergence) in the Eagles' first Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament since 1994. Tomorrow night, there's little doubt BC's bench will be expected to contribute again when the Eagles (28-7) square off against old Big East foe Villanova (27-4), the region's top seed, in a Minneapolis Regional semifinal game at 7:10 at the Metrodome.

''It really has been a very interesting year for us as far as that is concerned," Skinner said of BC's bench, which at the beginning of the season was without suspended sophomores Akida McLain (seven games) and Williams (nine games) and relied on freshman guards Marquez Haynes and Rice as the top substitutes.

''We went from seven to nine, without having much practice time, in January," Skinner said. ''That's why I've always said that we're going to be a better team in February and March than we were in January, because it was going to take us some time to incorporate the new people into what we were trying to do."

Now, it seems, they've been incorporated into the mix -- with the notable exception of Haynes, a 6-foot-3-inch, 185-pounder from Irving, Texas, and McLain, a 6-8, 220-pounder from Pittsburgh, Pa.

''All season long we've been trying to build and continue to work toward getting consistent production from the guys coming off the bench," Skinner said. ''Unfortunately, Marquez's minutes have been really fragmented, and that's not really his call, it's been mine. Akida has not been as consistent as we'd like him to be, but, again, those are two very difficult situations those two individuals are in, but we're still trying to extract from them as much as we possibly can."

In Williams, a 6-10, 230-pounder from Houston, the Eagles have a shot-blocking defensive presence unlike any in school history. In BC's only other double-overtime triumph of the season, at North Carolina State Feb. 25, Williams had a career-high nine blocks, swatting five 3-point attempts.

''We just come in the game and try to add a spark off the bench," Rice said. ''We're just trying to pick up the tempo a little bit. And Sean's out there trying to get some monster blocks to get the team into the game.

''It's good to know that if you get beat [off the dribble] that he's going to step up, but you can't really depend on that. That's why you have to stay in front of your man as best you can, but you just know that you have help on the backside."

In Rice, a mercurial 6-footer from Chesterfield, Va., with a southpaw delivery, the Eagles have a guard who's equally adept at handling the ball against pressure defenses as he is playing at the 2-guard and knocking down deep treys to soften things up inside for Smith and Jared Dudley.

''Not that he just knocks down threes, but he does it when it's not expected or when it's needed," Williams said of Rice. ''He's got that dagger."

Tomorrow night, both players will be expected to factor against Villanova's four-guard offense that's led by Allan Ray and Randy Foye, the Big East Player of the Year. But Rice seemed nonplussed after having faced Duke's J.J. Redick in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

''Allan Ray can definitely light a fire, but the difference between Allan Ray and Redick is that Allan Ray can create his own shot a little bit better than Redick can, I mean, just off dribble moves," Rice said. ''He's more of a rhythm guy.

''The other guys? [Mike] Nardi's a really streaky shooter. Kyle Lowry, he's more of a get-to-the-rack guy that plays real good defense. And Randy Foye, he can pretty much do it all. We'll have our hands full guarding him."

In turn, though, Rice knows Villanova's guards will have their hands full defending the post against BC's frontcourt.''I think we're going to have the advantage by far," he said. ''We just have to slow their guards down a little bit."

As for BC's bench? ''I think they'll be a tremendous factor for us," Smith said. ''Villanova has great guards and has the ability to go one-on-one and spread the floor. I figure with Tyrese out there, he can provide the quickness to hurry them up into their offense and not make them feel comfortable. And we feel if Sean is out there on the floor, and they try to come to the basket, then he's going to be able change their shot selection."

Said Skinner, ''They're a factor in every game, so it's not like it's going to be anything new. They've factored into every game that we've played."

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