BIG EAST Champions!!!
March 10, 2001
By JIM O'CONNELL
NEW YORK (AP) - The celebration was almost as impressive as the turnaround.
Boston College had already completed the first worst-to-first regular season in Big East history.
Now, no sooner had the 10th-ranked Eagles closed out their 79-57 victory over Pittsburgh in the tournament title game Saturday night than they were in the stands hugging, on the court dancing and up the ladders cutting down the nets.
Using the same zone press it has all season to wear down opponents and the same balanced scoring to augment tournament MVP Troy Bell, Boston College (26-4) cemented itself as one of the nation's top teams entering the NCAA tournament.
"Most teams that have been regular-season and tournament champs in the Big East have been No. 1 seeds," Eagles coach Al Skinner said. "We'll see what happens. We've earned it. I think we're one of the best basketball teams in the country and I don't know what more they can ask us to do."
Boston College went 3-13 in the conference last season and was the 13th seed for the tournament. This season, the Eagles went 13-3 and will almost certainly get a high seed when the field of 65 is announced Sunday.
The last two seasons produced a total of 17 wins. With co-player of the year Bell and coach of the year Skinner taking the individual honors, the Eagles set a school record with win No. 26 on Saturday night, eclipsing the 25-7 mark of the 1982-83 team.
Boston College's only other Big East title came in 1997, under coach Jim O'Brien, who left for Ohio State after a fallout with school administrators.
Skinner stepped in and, though success didn't come immediately, has been impressive.
"For this team to be in the tournament after where it was a year ago is a tremendous accomplishment," Skinner said. "To be talking No. 1 and 2 seeds is a different story. If this was a movie it would be too corny. You couldn't write it."
The Panthers (18-13) were chasing history, trying to become the first team to win four games in a Big East tournament, but their run ended one game short as they ran out of gas in the second half.
"No one expected us, except for the guys in blue and gold, to get this far," Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland said. "We had a great opportunity tonight. Unfortunately, we just didn't capitalize on it. We were just a step slow. That's not to make an excuse. They played a very good game and they were the better team tonight."
Boston College trailed by 11 points in the first half and used runs of 9-2 and 13-0 to go up 37-29 at halftime.
The Panthers, who along with Connecticut last season were the only teams to even play four games in the tournament, got within 50-45 on a 3-pointer by Donatas Zavackas with 12:43 to play.
The Eagles then went on a 19-0 run that featured points from five players, but not Bell.
When Kenny Harley scored with 4:26 left, Boston College led 69-45 and all that was left was counting the minutes to the celebration, one that spread into the stands at Madison Square Garden when the players ran to greet their fans.
Before they received their awards, the Boston College players did a dance they called "Bounce" and then came the cutting down of the nets.
Bell scored nine points on 2-for-9 shooting in the final, but he had 49 in the first two games. Xavier Singletary led the Eagles with 15 points, while Uka Agbai had 13, Jonathan Beerbohm 12 and Harley 10.
"This feels unbelievably good especially after being at the bottom last year," Bell said. "I got a lot of credit and it was well deserved but my teammates didn't get the credit they deserved. They put up numbers all year."
In the semifinals, the Eagles used a 28-3 run to break from a 42-all tie and go on to a 75-48 victory over Seton Hall.
Ricardo Greer led Pittsburgh with 18 points, and Zavackas had nine - all on 3-pointers. Isaac Hawkins added nine points and nine rebounds.
The Panthers, who were just the second team with a losing conference record to reach the title game, were in their first championship game. Their season will probably continue in the NIT.
Pittsburgh's three wins in the tournament included victories over No. 19 Notre Dame in the quarterfinals and No. 17 Syracuse in the semifinals.
"We would like to continue to play," Howland said. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens in terms of postseason opportunities."
The Eagles don't have to worry. They just have to wait.
"After the last two years, to get 26 wins is unbelievable," Beerbohm said. "It's just a feeling of confidence and it's expected now. You get in a rut of losing but then you accomplish something and come out on top."