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BC struggling in ACC; N.C. State flies high in win

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Who would have thought that Boston College would long for Nate Doornekamp and Jermaine Watson, and that N.C. State wouldn't miss Julius Hodge one bit?

Who could have imagined that two of the ACC's most likely contenders to challenge Duke would play a one-sided game, with the Wolfpack thumping the Eagles 78-60 on Tuesday night in the ACC home opener at Conte Forum?

But that's the reality for both squads. The Eagles are reeling, in an abyss at 0-3 in their new conference, needing to climb out of it to avoid playing on the first day of the ACC tournament, let alone earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Forget about being ranked No. 14, the Eagles are 11-4 with only one quality win -- Oklahoma State in Las Vegas in November.

As for the Wolfpack, N.C. State easily replaced a disappointing finish at North Carolina on Saturday and immediately righted itself by running its offense to near perfection, frustrating the Eagles on the offensive end, and looking every bit of a contender in the ACC and for a deep NCAA Tournament run as any other team in the country.

How did this occur? And what's next?

The Wolfpack (13-2, 2-1 ACC) got schooled by UNC on Saturday in the final three minutes as the Tar Heels scored the final 13 points to take a 69-69 tie for an 82-69 final in Chapel Hill.

"Immediately after the game, all I was thinking about was this game," N.C. State senior guard Cameron Bennerman said.

The Wolfpack wanted to get on the bus Saturday afternoon, hit the airport and arrive in Boston as soon as possible. The Wolfpack's anticipation was evident. N.C. State is clearly an experienced bunch with three seniors, a junior and a sophomore in the starting lineup.

N.C. State essentially did whatever it wanted offensively, shooting 55 percent in the first half, nearly 70 percent in the second and making 4-of-5 3-pointers after halftime.

"There were a lot of open looks," N.C. State senior guard Tony Bethel said.

N.C. State coach Herb Sendek, who is in his 10th year at the school and looks like he could be in Raleigh for the rest of his career, said the Wolfpack are a balanced crew. He wouldn't say it was the most balanced he has had, but they showed that when they share the ball, run their sets and are patient, then nothing is unattainable.

Hodge provided a toughness, a stranglehold on teams whenever the game got tight. The question heading into this season was where was this now going to come from? Well, it turns out it didn't need to be from just one person. A 3-pointer from Bethel or Engin Atsur or a dunk or post-up move by the elastic sophomore center Cedric Simmons are all the Wolfpack need to put a team away.

The Eagles could do nothing in the second half to stop the Wolfpack.

"We got to the core of our offense by being unselfish," Bennerman said.

But how did the Wolfpack make it look so easy to where the Eagles were running dummy defense for N.C. State?

"That's what happens when you break a team down," Bennerman said. "It isn't quitting because they know the game is over."

"That shows we took the heart out of them," Bethel said. "They're a good team, but we didn't expect them to play like that down the stretch."

Ouch. It's not meant to be malicious but is just an honest appraisal of an ugly game. And, no one on the other side would disagree.

While the Wolfpack look ready to take on Duke next Wednesday in their only meeting (this one is at Cameron), the Eagles better get their act together before Florida State comes calling Saturday, let alone the Blue Devils on Feb. 1.

Boston College coach Al Skinner said there was nothing on the stat sheet for him and he might as well take the game tape and toss it in the trash. He mentioned fatigue as a reason the Eagles could have floundered after playing at Georgia on Tech Sunday night and arriving back on campus after 1 a.m. Still, the Eagles missed a combined 19 free throws in road losses at Maryland (in December) and at Tech on Sunday in two games they lost by two points each night.

Free throws were hardly the only problem Tuesday. Craig Smith and Jared Dudley were a combined 11-of-34.

"In order to come back against a team like this you need energy," Skinner said. "We had no bounce."

The Eagles did have 21 offensive rebounds but only converted 12 second-chance points.

"Once we get a couple of nights' rest, we'll be fine," Skinner said.

Really? Is that it?

Dudley said the Eagles do miss Doornekamp, a 7-foot center who could hit the mid-range shot, pass and catch at the high post. Dudley said Doornekamp opened up shots for Smith inside. Not having Watson's ballhandling to finish games late and make free throws is also an omission on this squad that includes a starter (John Oates) and three of four reserves who either hardly played last season or weren't here at all.

Smith said he can't go one-on-one anymore because he's getting double- and triple-teamed in the post. That means he's going to have to become a better passer and he needs help from a perimeter that shot a combined 5-of-12 on 3s.

A year ago, the Eagles started 20-0 and were one of the stories with Illinois for the first three months of the season. Then they faded and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Dudley is convinced that the reverse will occur. The Eagles, who already lost to Michigan State in New York in their other "big game," have a lot of work to do on their psyche as well as their fundamentals.

"We were embarrassed in our first ACC game," Dudley said. "I know we'll get wins in this league. We can start Saturday against Florida State at home. You can't count this team out yet."

Well, the clock is ticking. Sure, Texas got rocked by Duke in New Jersey and at home by Tennessee and responded with a road win at Memphis and has taken off to start the Big 12.

But BC isn't Texas, at least not yet. The Eagles aren't N.C. State, either, a team that efficiently is mounting a campaign for a top-three finish in the ACC.

"This shows that if we're off guys are going to take it to us," said Smith, who like Dudley, didn't duck the media Tuesday night and answered every question asked.

"[Florida State on Saturday] is a must win for us because we've got to show some backbone," Smith said. "We got our butt whipped, but we can't stay in the past."

This is what we know three games into the ACC: Duke is the clear favorite; North Carolina is much better than anticipated after beating N.C. State and winning at Virginia Tech; the Wolfpack are a legit contender; and BC is heading in the wrong direction, dazed and confused about how to play. If the latter isn't corrected Saturday, then the Eagles may be grounded in March.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.