Feb. 8, 2005
By TOM COYNE
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Boston College found out what top-ranked teams UCLA, DePaul and San Francisco learned in years past - Notre Dame isn't where undefeated teams want to play.
Colin Falls matched his career high with 23 points and Chris Thomas added 19 points and nine assists as the Irish ended the fourth-ranked Eagles' 20-game winning streak and handed them their first loss of the season, 68-65 Tuesday night.
Boston College junior Craig Smith said the loss had nothing to do with the pressure of trying to stay undefeated. The key was the Irish caught the Eagles a little off guard with their zone defense, then shot 51 percent themselves.
"They got us out of our offense because of their defense and due to the fact they also were hitting shots," he said. "When you're home, it's like that."
Eagles coach Al Skinner said the loss was disappointing, but won't prevent the Eagles from accomplishing their goals.
"Being unbeaten, that's nice and all, but that's not our goal," he said. "Our goal is to be as successful as we can in the league. The fact of the matter is, we're in first place."
The Eagles (20-1, 9-1 Big East), playing their first game this season on national TV, and top-ranked Illinois (24-0) were the only unbeaten teams left in Division I. The Illini are alone now, surviving a scare before beating Michigan 57-51 Tuesday night.
The Irish squandered an 11-point lead in the final 6 minutes at No. 8 Syracuse on Saturday before losing 60-57. They held a 62-54 lead over Boston College, but the Eagles closed to 62-59 as Jared Dudley made two free throws and then converted a three-point play.
But Thomas ensured the Irish (14-6, 6-4) didn't have another meltdown, making four free throws over the final 1:11 to give Notre Dame a 66-59 lead.
"I just tried to smile and have fun out there," he said.
After Dudley scored inside with 30 seconds left, the Eagles forced a turnover and had a chance to cut the lead to two points. But Dudley drove the lane and as he passed to Smith, he ran into Falls and was called for the offensive foul.
Every time Notre Dame needed a big basket, Falls hit a 3-pointer. He hit two 3s 6 minutes into the second half to give the Irish an 11-point lead, and when BC cut the lead to 54-41 with 8:25 left he hit another. He did it again when the Eagles cut the lead to three with 6:43 left.
"We had that refuse-to-lose mentality tonight," Falls said.
Falls was 7-of-12 on 3-pointers, a career-best effort from outside the arc.
Irish coach Mike Brey said he was surprised how open Falls was at times.
"I was a little shocked they left him," he said. "But if they want to let him play horse, that's fine."
Dudley scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half for BC and had 11 rebounds. Louis Hinnant added 13 points and Jermaine Watson had 11.
Smith, BC's leading scorer at 18.7 points a game, missed his final eight shots and finished 4-of-14 for nine points with eight rebounds.
It was Notre Dame's first win over a Top 10 team since Feb. 9, 2004, an 80-74 victory over No. 5 UConn. But it was their second win over a ranked team in three games as they beat No. 19 Connecticut 78-74 on Jan. 30, and for the second straight home game students flooded the floor to celebrate.
The Eagles were the latest team to arrive at the Joyce Center undefeated and leave with a loss. The most famous Irish win over an unbeaten team occurred in 1974, when UCLA came in 13-0 and on an 88-game winning streak. The Bruins lost when the Irish outscored the Bill Walton-led Bruins 12-0 over the final 3:32 to win 71-70.
The Irish also beat a top-ranked UCLA team that was 14-0 in 1971; beat No. 1 San Francisco (29-0) in 1977; and beat top-ranked DePaul (25-0) in double overtime in 1980.
Skinner said the loss, coming at the start of eight days off, wasn't all bad.
"It definitely comes at a good time," he said. "It gives us a chance to get refocused, sit down and start again."