Brown's 3-mendous surge feeds Gators, ends BC storybook

March 28, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

MIAMI -- When the fun ended for Boston College, it ended all at once. One minute, the ninth-seeded Eagles appeared on the way to the Final Four. The next, a less-than-nationally-known senior guard from Florida named Craig Brown was running the table and there was nothing anybody could do to stop him.

The Eagles' surprising bid for the NCAA East Regional title would end with a 74-66 loss to the third-seeded Gators, who instead will assume the role of the most unlikely team in Charlotte, N.C., next weekend.

Brown made sure of that with 82 seconds of excitement that spanned the length of the court. During that minute and change that began with 5:11 left, he hit three straight three-point shots, pulled down a big rebound and stuffed Boston College center Bill Curley to deprive the Eagles of an important basket.

There was more to the game than that -- a lot more -- but that's why Brown was walking around the Miami Arena after the game with a net draped around his net.

"Nine points in a heartbeat," was the way Boston College coach Jim O'Brien put it.

That's when the string of miracles ran out for the Eagles, who knocked off top-ranked North Carolina in the second round and sent Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers home on Friday. Boston College was making a habit of shocking the daylights out of bigger, stronger athletic programs -- just ask the temporarily top-ranked Notre Dame football team -- but the Eagles' mystique dissolved in a hurry.

Curley got a great pass inside and then watched his soft dunk inexplicably pop back out of the basket. Senior guard Howard Eisley made a pivotal steal and breakaway that would have pulled BC within three points with 2 1/2 minutes to go, but Florida center Andrew DeClercq got back and swatted his layup off the glass.

Then, to add injury to insult, Eisley brought the ball up court on the Eagles' final meaningful possession and took a hard fall at midcourt. O'Brien said later that his shooting guard "tripped over the line," but Eisley slipped at precisely the spot where point guard Malcolm Huckaby had rolled to the floor moments earlier, leaving a trail of sweat that no one thought to wipe up.

"I'm very emotionally spent right now," O'Brien said. "I'm sure that after we go home and look back at this, we'll look at the things we were able to accomplish and take a lot of pride in what has happened. Obviously, right now, we're extremely disappointed."

It obviously was not meant to be. Despite a noisy sellout crowd that finally adopted the upstate Gators as the home team, the Eagles appeared to have the momentum swinging in their direction when Curley forced in an eight-footer and a free throw to give them a three-point lead with 5:25 to go. But Brown popped the first of his three straight threes to pump up the volume and turn the game around for good.

"Craig made some great shots," Florida coach Lon Kruger said. "They weren't easy shots, but Craig stepped up like big-time college players can do."

He finished with a game-high 21 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional. He got the net and a trip to Charlotte to continue a crusade that no one in Gainesville, Fla., ever really expected to get this far. The Gators will meet Duke on Saturday for a chance to play for the national championship.

"I was just feeling the shot at the time and my teammates were aware of it," said Brown, from Steelton, Pa. "After I hit the first shot, I told Dan [point guard Dan Cross] that I could feel it and he said, 'OK, I'm coming to you.' "

The Gators (29-7) have come a long way on the strong play of their two senior guards. Cross and Brown combined for 35 points and 10 assists to lead a balanced scoring attack that featured four players in double figures.

DeClercq was a major factor in the first half, scoring 12 points while the Eagles were getting center Dametri Hill into early foul trouble. Hill, who is so large that his favorite shot is called "DaMeat Hook," was more of a factor in the second half, but DeClercq dominated the game inside to finish with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

"Andrew was outstanding," said Kruger. "He played his best game of the season and he has been showing signs of that lately. He is very skilled and he has done a lot of things for us consistently all year. He hasn't been consistent offensively, but he has the capability and he showed that today. I think he's going to use this as a springboard, whether it be for next week or next year, and I'm really excited for him."

The Gators took turns climbing the ladder at the end of the court to cut down the net, then took turns flaunting their trip to the Final Four in the faces of all those that doubted them when the season began four months ago.

"Initially, your thoughts are for these players, not being distracted by all the low expectations," Kruger said. "From what I read in the papers, we are very fortunate that everybody else seems to play poorly against us."

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