Conference play began around the country this weekend, and there was no bigger surprise than Boston College accomplishing what earlier in the season appeared impossible: beating North Carolina.
The Eagles led virtually throughout in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams, sprinting to a big lead midway through the second half and holding off a furious rally by the Tar Heels. Watching the game, I tried to get a handle on what BC was doing, and really, it was very simple -- pound the ball inside, hit a timely 3-pointer and bully UNC around a bit on the other end. It worked to perfection.
Mostly sticking with their flex offense, which really can almost be like hand-to-hand combat, the Eagles picked apart the Tar Heels in the paint, with cutters often getting open looks from in close. And when that part got closed down, Tyrese Rice and Rakim Sanders took turns making it rain from outside. It was as thorough a beating as North Carolina has suffered in a long while. Of course, if Deon Thompson (1-for-6) and some others make their free throws, it might have been a different game. "Woulda, shoulda, coulda ... ," right?
Elsewhere, my Grinnell Pioneers took it on the chin, too, falling 130-109 to Wheaton College, which was ranked No. 2 the most recent D3hoops.com poll. Remember when we talked about the Pioneers' (lack of) defense? Wheaton pulled away in the second half by converting 25-of-30 shots -- from the field! That's 83.3 percent for those of us not equipped with my brother Kevin's mathmatical skills. For the game, the Thunder made 80 percent, despite missing all four attempts from beyond the arc. The "Big 3" of Tim McCrary (32 points), Kent Raymond (31) and Jake Carwell (25) combined to make 35 of their 42 shots.
Grinnell gets in trouble when no one can make shots, and that appears to be what happened. John Grotberg, the leading scorer, was 5-for-17, and Bobby Long finished 6-for-19. The Pioneers only managed 12 steals, too, down from their season average of 19, second in all of NCAA Division III. Grinnell looks to get back on track Monday on the road against Fontbonne University, home of the mighty Griffins.
Congrats also to Craig Robinson, and not the former burly forward of the Virginia Cavaliers from my youth. This one is the first-year coach of the Oregon State Beavers and just so happens to be the brother-in-law of President-elect Barack Obama. With Roeland Schaftenaar (dude, buy a couple of consonants!) coming up huge with a game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime in the final seconds, Robinson and the Beavers snapped a 23-game Pacific 10 losing streak with a 62-58 victory over Southern Cal. Of course, the home fans at historic Gill Coliseum brought out a wonderful chant with the outcome decided in the waning seconds of the extra period: "Just like football! Just like football!" (Those of you under a rock for the past six months might not realize Oregon State upset the Trojans in September to deny USC an opportunity to play for the BCS Championship.)
Finally, kudos to Rockingham, N.C.'s own Dave Davis, who works as a college hoops referee in his spare time. He had a rough back-to-back this weekend, traveling to Gardner-Webb on Saturday for the Runnin' Bulldogs Big South matchup with VMI, then keeping the peace for a Division II Pfeiffer-Bluefield College tilt on Sunday.
To put that in perspective, the VMI Keydets of coach Duggar Baucom lead Division I in scoring at around 99 points a game, and the Pfeiffer Falcons are eighth in Division II. Neither team disappointed, with the Keydets holding on for 96-92 victory and the Falcons rolling 102-74. Hopefully, Dave will get a chance to soak his feet on Monday.
Incidentally, he worked the Saturday game with a crew which included Scott Smith, son of Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith. I love dropping knowledge.