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BC’s NCAA hopes ran out

Loss to Clemson sealed NIT bid

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / March 14, 2011

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Even though his Boston College teammates huddled yesterday and privately watched the NCAA selection show in the team’s lounge, holding a faint glimmer of hope the committee would award them an at-large bid, Reggie Jackson knew early on the reality of the situation.

Even before the field was set, Jackson had a sinking feeling the Eagles had their wings clipped the minute No. 12 seed Clemson appeared in the East Regional bracket as a “First Four’’ participant against Alabama-Birmingham for the right to face fifth-seeded West Virginia.

“The next play-in game was the [No.] 11 seed [between Southern Cal and Virginia Commonwealth in the Southwest Regional] and we finished with the same conference record [as Clemson],’’ said Jackson, who this season not only served as BC’s scoring leader but its resident bracketologist. “You know you’re not going to be a much higher seed than them, so when they made the second bracket, I knew that was our season for the NCAA Tournament.

“Thirteen through 16 [seeds] is for the smaller teams who had won their conference tournaments,’’ Jackson added. “My teammates, I guess, they were still hopeful, but I really didn’t tell them. I knew we weren’t making the NCAA Tournament.’’

When the final pairing in the Southeast Regional was set between No. 6 seed St. John’s, the 11th team from the Big East to make the field, and No. 11 seed Gonzaga, it became painfully obvious BC’s bubble had burst, leaving the Eagles to sort out their disappointment by looking ahead to the National Invitation Tournament.

The top-seeded Eagles (20-12) will travel to Lake Charles, La., to face host McNeese State (21-10) tomorrow night at 9. While the NIT often has its top seeds host first-round games, BC coach Steve Donahue said higher seeds have gone on the road before, citing an NIT game last year where Illinois traveled to Stony Brook.

Donahue said his team will play its first-round NIT game on the road to accommodate the BC men’s and women’s hockey teams, both of which will be preparing for postseason games.

“Our building’s not available,’’ Donahue said. “That’s what I’m told.’’

Donahue did not take it as any kind of indignation being left out of the NCAA Tournament.

“Not at all,’’ he said. “At this point, your kids are excited to still play. You play a good team, you go down there, and whether it’s home or away it doesn’t bother us.’’

BC found itself in this position after its NCAA chances were dealt a huge blow by a 70-47 loss to Clemson in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

“I sensed just from the last couple of days that we were probably a long shot,’’ said Donahue. “We had our chance, what it looked liked, in the Clemson game most likely, but you never know. It didn’t turn out like that.’’

Asked if he was surprised that the ACC earned only four bids, while the Big East had 11, Donahue replied, “I am surprised at that. You think about it, and the fourth one is a play-in game for an at-large. To me, the hard part of it is there’s a lot of media hype and scrutiny that goes on during the season and you just wonder, because they’re human, how much [the committee] really let that influence their decision-making.

“I’m not saying my situation, personally, I’m saying we’ve watched and played against all these teams. I’ll put our top two against anybody, and I’ll put our middle pack against anybody’s middle pack, yet there’s 11 in one league and 3 1/2, basically, from another and I don’t see the drastic difference.’’

Donahue said there was little in the way of anger, bitterness or sadness from his players over not making the NCAA Tournament.

“I’d just say we’re disappointed,’’ he said. “We’re not angry. I told the guys before practice today that we’ve accomplished a great deal and we have a huge opportunity to continue to make great strides this year and, in the short run, to get away from the feeling we have in our stomachs about how poorly we played our last game.’’