Sophomore 'find' helps Eagles stay unbeaten
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Bill Coen remembers Jared Dudley's visit well. It was August 2003, and Boston College was looking for another player to fill the void left by the abrupt departure of freshman Dan Coleman.
Dudley was going to an East Coast prep school since he wasn't getting more than a look from Saint Mary's and San Diego State out of Horizon High in San Diego.
"He thought he could do better," said Coen, Boston College's associate head coach. "So, we got him in for a visit. If he had gone to the prep school like he originally wanted to, I don't think we would have ever gotten him."
Dudley came into the BC offices and requested to look at a roster and game tape to observe the present talent. He analyzed the Eagles and said matter of factly that "he could have an immediate impact."
Boy, was he ever prophetic.
Halfway through his sophomore season, Dudley is no longer the forgotten recruit. He has become one of the best finds in the country.
BC beat Villanova 67-66 Wednesday night to remain undefeated at 15-0, and off to a first-ever 4-0 start in the Big East in the Eagles' last season in the league before they leave for the ACC.
Dudley scored a career-high 36 points, breaking his BC best in the first half with 25 points to break the 24 he had a year ago at Miami. Dudley drew a three-shot foul on a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left with the Eagles down 66-63. Dudley made the first two before missing the third following a Villanova timeout.
Dudley got a chance to redeem himself when the Wildcats' Mike Nardi missed the front end of a one-and-one situation. BC's Louis Hinnant regained control of an inbounds pass to him and found Dudley underneath the basket with 5.5 seconds remaining. Dudley was fouled by Marcus Austin and made both free throws, tossing his headband into the stands as the Wildcats called a timeout. Randy Foye missed a jumper at the buzzer and the Eagles had their perfect season intact.
"He's clearly a mismatch, and they had no answer for him," Boston College coach Al Skinner said. "He was demanding the basketball from his teammates. It was a tremendous effort."
And not uncommon for Dudley anymore.
Dudley, who was the Big East player of the week after he scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and had four steals in BC's road win at West Virginia on Sunday, has made 20 of 31 shots in the past two games. He's 16 of 19 from the free-throw line and committed one turnover in that span. He didn't have a turnover Wednesday night.
"He's so great around the basket and great off the dribble," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of the 6-foot-7 forward. "He's so quick and long. He's a really tough matchup."
Villanova wanted to put Curtis Sumpter on Dudley, but Sumpter fouled out in 17 minutes. "(Sumpter) was in foul trouble, so it was always a mismatch," Wright said.
Remember, Dudley isn't supposed to be this team's stud. That role is reserved for junior Craig Smith, who leads the team with 19.6 points a game. But Smith went 4 for 13 against the Wildcats, scoring 12 points, making Dudley (14.6 ppg) more than a sidekick Wednesday night.
"After this game, am I a sidekick?" Dudley said. "I'm just trying to do my role here. I don't have to be a leading scorer or be the man. My time will come."
It already has here at the Heights.
The beauty of this squad is that the Eagles have four inside players with versatile talents that make them tough to guard. Smith is a load in the post with guard skills. Dudley is a tweener who can be about "as versatile as any player around," Coen said. Nate Doornekamp, the senior center, knows his role and can hit the mid-range shot. He also can deliver a critical inside move, like he did when he grabbed a loose rebound to convert a three-point play and cut Villanova's 66-60 lead by three with 1:31 remaining. The Eagles actually forced a shot-clock violation on the next possession, but the officials failed to see it and Villanova retained possession, only to eventually put Dudley in his game-tying position after the Eagles committed three fouls to get into the bonus.
"We're just fortunate to keep making plays," Skinner said.
The Eagles also have a defensive stopper in freshman Sean Williams, another rare find for the Eagles out of Houston. Williams had two blocks and two steals in 27 minutes.
The Eagles, who didn't have backup guard Steve Hailey Wednesday (ankle injury and out for two weeks), are limited on the perimeter. They lack a breakdown point guard and aren't proficient from the perimeter with Hinnant, Hailey and Sean Marshall and Jermaine Watson all spotty shooters.
The Eagles were 2 of 8 on 3s, and entered the game shooting 29 percent on the shot.
"We're probably the worst 3-point shooting team, at least stat-wise," Dudley said. "But we don't shoot ourselves out of games like Notre Dame did against Syracuse, chucking 3s. We're not going to do that. We just try and pound the ball inside."
The perimeter deficiency will hurt against squads with a playmaker who can break them down (Wake Forest and North Carolina). But the Eagles have the interior toughness to keep them in games.
"They've got great mental toughness, and they never get fazed," Wright said. "They're a great team. Everyone knows their roles. They defend and don't let you get easy baskets. They rebound and they're unselfish."
Skinner said the Eagles have bonded and are mentally tough. They have had to be with a victory against UCLA in Anaheim, wins at Connecticut, UMass and West Virginia and, for whatever reason, comeback wins at home to Holy Cross in overtime, Yale in double overtime, Kent State by two at the buzzer after trailing by 18 and Wednesday when they were down by six with under two minutes remaining.
"They're way too comfortable here; maybe they've got too many girlfriends in the crowd," Skinner said of the Eagles' slow starts at Conte Forum. "If I had the answer to that question, I would resolve it. The bottom line is that we win the ballgame, and they tough it out."
Wednesday's victory could be one of those special games the Eagles look back on during a memorable season. There isn't a game the Eagles can't win the rest of the schedule, although they also could get beat in any of them.
But the longer this run continues, the more likely it is the Eagles will be in nearby Worcester, Mass., for the first-and-second round regional, possibly getting a homecourt to the Sweet 16.
"If we get to 28-0, then maybe it will be special," Skinner said. "All I'm worried about is St. John's on Saturday."
Of course, the Eagles are playing the Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena instead of Madison Square Garden, one of only two Big East games the Red Storm are playing on campus.
It figures for the Eagles. Wednesday's thriller wasn't televised and the Eagles only have two ESPN games this season -- at Notre Dame on Feb. 8 and Pittsburgh Feb. 28 -- although another could be added.
The undefeated Eagles, and players like Dudley, are still relatively unknown to the nation. If people are paying attention, though, they shouldn't be any more.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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