BOSTON (AP)—During its first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Boston College is learning as it goes.
Better study quickly, Eagles.
Craig Smith had 25 points and 13 rebounds as No. 20 Boston College beat Georgia Tech 66-64 on Sunday, the school’s fourth consecutive win since opening their inaugural ACC season 0-3. The victory avenged the school’s last-minute loss to Georgia Tech earlier this month and put the Eagles above .500 in the conference heading into Wednesday’s game against No. 2 Duke.
“We knew them a little bit better,” coach Al Skinner said of the Yellow Jackets, who beat BC (16-4, 4-3 ACC) on a last-minute 3-pointer on Jan. 8.
“The first game, we weren’t really familiar with their personnel,” Skinner said. “Craig has played against certain guys his whole career. You get familiar with them and you understand what they can and can’t do.
“We’re learning 11 new teams. It’s a learning experience for us.”
One game after beating North Carolina 81-74 in Chapel Hill—BC’s first victory over a traditional ACC power since joining the league—the Eagles struggled to finish off Georgia Tech (9-9, 2-5). A more consistent effort will be needed when the Blue Devils come to Boston.
BC fans can hardly wait, counting down the final seconds of Sunday’s game chanting, “We Want Duke!”
“We’re just trying to put our heads above water here,” Skinner said. “We put ourselves in a hole and we’re just trying to get out of it.”
Ra’Sean Dickey scored 18 points and Clinch finished with 16 for Georgia Tech, which lost its fifth in a row—its longest losing streak in three years. Zam Frederick, who hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to beat BC last time, came on too late this time: He had just four points, and none until the final minute.
“They know when it’s crunch time, they’ve got to get the ball to Craig Smith or they’re getting the ball to Jared Dudley,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “I appreciate watching them—unless you’re on the other end of the bench.”
Smith, the conference’s co-player of the week, had just six points in the first half but scored the first nine in the second when BC opened a 12-point lead with 13:57 to play. The Yellow Jackets scored the next 10 points, getting 3-pointers from D’Andre Bell and Lewis Clinch that made it 44-42.
Sean Marshall made two free throws, then Clinch hit another 3 to make it a one-point game.
But Theodis Tarver’s pass was knocked away, and Louis Hinnant found Smith at the other end for a dunk. Marshall stole an entry pass and found Tyrese Rice on the outlet; he passed it across the lane to Smith on the fast break for another dunk and a 50-45 lead with 8:36 left.
BC made 14 of 16 free throws down the stretch, including 6-for-6 by Smith.
“I just knew that I’ve got to be a little more patient and it will come. In the second half, I wanted to assert myself,” Smith said. “We want to make a statement. Going 0-3, every game now is important for us.”
Georgia Tech made a mini-run at the end when Clinch hit a 3-pointer with 5.5 seconds left to make it 64-61. But Rice hit two free throws, and Clinch’s 3-pointer at the buzzer didn’t matter.