CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—Boston College has moved past its bumpy introduction to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Now, the 20th-ranked Eagles are starting to look like the team everyone expected them to be in the preseason.
Craig Smith scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to help Boston College hold off North Carolina 81-74 on Wednesday night, evening its conference record after an 0-3 start and giving coach Al Skinner his 300th career victory.
Jared Dudley scored 17 points for the Eagles (15-4, 3-3), who used a big run late in the first half to build a double-digit lead they would not relinquish. Tyrese Rice added 16 points, including two key scores in the final 4 1/2 minutes that helped Boston College hold off a late spurt by the Tar Heels (11-5, 3-3).
“Coming in at 0-3 in the league, people counted us out,” Dudley said. “We’re going to win more games in this league. We’ve just got to play our game.”
Boston College opened ACC play with a 73-71 loss at Maryland, followed by a 60-58 loss at Georgia Tech. Things got worse two days later, with North Carolina State walking out of Chestnut Hill with an easy 78-60 win against a team picked to finish second in the league behind Duke.
The Eagles beat Florida State and Miami by a combined seven points, and followed that by having five players score in double figures against the Tar Heels to get themselves back to .500 in the ACC.
That capped a trying 24-hour period that began when the Eagles’ charter bus struck and killed a bicyclist in Chapel Hill on Tuesday evening.
“I didn’t know what to say about it. It was just like shock,” Rice said. “Everybody on the bus felt bad about it. We were in practice and everybody was looking around like, ‘What are we supposed to be doing?”’
Smith, a preseason All-America, had averaged 22 points and 15 rebounds in the past three games. He didn’t have the same kind of success early, scoring two points in the first half and picking up his third foul early in the second.
But Smith made several key plays late, finding open teammates for scores or providing the much-needed basket himself. He went 6-for-8 from the field and had four of his seven assists in the second half.
“In the second half, I knew it was going to open up for me a little bit because guys were making shots and getting it done on the offensive end,” Smith said. “I just knew it was going to be my time in crunch time.”
Smith’s efforts helped offset a career-high 26 points from freshman Tyler Hansbrough, who helped the Tar Heels cut a 12-point halftime deficit to two late in the game.
It was North Carolina’s third loss in four games, with its only win coming in an 81-80 squeaker at Florida State on Sunday night.
“We saw a big-time basketball team play in a tough environment,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “Our guys in the second half, I love how hard we competed. … It seemed like every time we’d get right there where I thought we could get over the hump, but we couldn’t get a stop.”
The Tar Heels closed the gap to 65-63 on two free throws from Reyshawn Terry with 5:35 left. But Smith answered with an inside score on the next play to push the margin back to four.
He followed that by kicking the ball outside to Rice, who buried a 3 to make it 70-63 with 4 1/2 minutes left. Then, after Rice got free for a layup inside, Smith drove past Byron Sanders and scored in the lane to make it 74-67 with 2:25 left. North Carolina got no closer than five points.
“He draws a lot of attention and makes good decisions,” Skinner said of Smith. “He’s a senior, so we’re going to try to get the ball in his hands as much as we can.”
The Tar Heels led by nine points early before the Eagles pushed ahead with a 27-6 run that gave them firm control of the contest. The Eagles hit 12 of 14 shots while holding the Tar Heels without a field goal for nearly 7 minutes to take a 42-30 halftime lead.