One way or another, this was going to be a different Boston College team than the one that had last seen Duke a little more than a month ago.
Finally fully healthy again since bringing Nik Popovic back into the fold a couple weeks ago, the Eagles were feeling good fresh off a road victory against North Carolina over the weekend. And after a 39-point drubbing at the hands of the Blue Devils on New Year's Eve in Durham, BC came into Tuesday night's rematch motivated and hungry.
Still, it wasn't quite enough.
Backed by a packed and loud Conte Forum, the Eagles were ready for the test. Two years after Duke last visited Chestnut Hill, where BC took down the the top-ranked visitors, the Eagles were primed for another upset, but it ultimately fell short in a 63-55 loss to the No. 7 Blue Devils.
BC (11-12, 5-7 ACC) led for stretches Tuesday night, but the Eagles saw a 49-46 lead with 7:08 to go quickly wither as Duke (19-3, 9-2) pulled away for the victory. Turnovers and missed shots plagued the Eagles in the final minutes and they couldn't recover as Duke, led by Tre Jones' 18 points and Vernon Carey's 17 points and 10 rebounds, closed the door.
* We lost poise there with about five minutes to go in the game,” BC coach Jim Christian said. * Some of it's fatigue, our guards played a lot of minutes. … We lost poise, and you can't lose poise when you're playing the No. 7 ranked team in the country. You can't lose poise for two minutes.”
Derryck Thornton had 21 points to lead the Eagles, who came out on fire to start the game. Led by aggressive defense and fueled by a lively Conte Forum crowd, BC jumped out to a 12-2 lead, which included a 6-0 run that featured a pretty alley-oop from Thornton to Jared Hamilton.
The Blue Devils missed 14 of their 15 shots, including a stretch of 10 misses in a row, but the Eagles failed to build a lead larger than 10. That allowed Duke to get back in the game as the Blue Devils used a 13-2 lead to take their first lead. But BC punched back to to take a lead into halftime and hung with Duke for most of the second half.
* Jim's team is so ready for us, and since they got Popovic back and all their guys healthy, they're a really good team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. * They've been playing outstanding basketball. …
* They thoroughly outplayed us in the first half. … As much as we told our guys what to expect, we weren't ready for that. That's a human nature thing.”
Neither BC or Duke gave an inch in the second half, and at times it seemed like the teams were just trading baskets. Nik Popovic hit the game's first 3-pointer — the 27th combined attempt — with 11:18 to go in the second half to give the Eagles a 39-38 lead before Javin DeLaurier's layup regained the lead for Duke, but Thornton responded with four consecutive points.
Joey Baker converted an and-one to tie the game at 43 before Jay Heath's driving layup and a putback by Steffon Mitchell gave the Eagles some separation at 47-43, forcing Krzyzewski to call a timeout as Conte Forum reached a fever pitch.
But Duke took a stranglehold from there. Baker brought the Blue Devils back within one with a 3 from the corner, and after a bucket from Jairus Hamilton, Vernon Carey scored four straight points to give Duke back the lead. It didn't trail again.
In a poorly shot game from both sides, the Eagles finished 2-for-18 from 3-point distance, many of which were wide open looks. That ultimately caught up to them.
* We did everything you're supposed to do to beat them, we just didn't finish plays that we normally make,” Christian said. * We just didn't finish plays, we didn't make open 3-point shots. Effort-wise, execution-wise, except for that stretch, we did everything you can do to win the game.”
Despite the loss, Christian came away encouraged. BC finds itself in a jumbled mess in the ACC standings, and the coach has liked the way his team is progressing, with his freshmen maturing, entire roster finally healthy and everyone finding their roles.
* We've played well for 2-3 weeks. Since the Pitt game on the road, I think we've played as well as anybody in the league, to be honest with you,” Christian said. * We're not winning all those games, but we're playing pretty well.”