BOSTON – In Boston College's season filled with lopsided conference losses, the Eagles finally have something positive to focus on despite suffering their school-record 11th straight defeat.
In what looked like it could be a huge mismatch, the Eagles took No. 5 Duke to the wire before falling 71-62 on Thursday night.
BC lost its last two games against ranked teams by large margins, losing by 31 to then-No. 25 North Carolina on Jan. 25 and by 42 against then-No. 9 Maryland last Thursday.
But, playing with solid defensive effort and nailing some timely 3s, the Eagles gave the Blue Devils a test.
"I'm very proud about their effort," Eagles coach Sylvia Crawley said. "We talked about them giving their best. We had nothing to lose, giving it their all out there. I thought they did that. They executed the game plan well."
Duke had defeated North Carolina by 40 points on Monday, so a battle against BC didn't seem likely.
But Blue Devils coach Joanne McCallie didn't seem surprised by the challenge BC gave her team, figuring it could happen after the big win over Carolina.
"Absolutely. I think it's always hard when you come off a game with a lot of emotion," she said. "You've got to handle it and get back in the flow. I think it took us a while. I don't think we were nearly as aggressive as we should have been. Our shot contesting was horrible in the first half and our rebounding was passive. I think it's a pretty important lesson of how you have to battle and get right to the next thing."
Chelsea Gray scored 10 of Duke's last 12 points as the Blue Devils avoided a the shocking upset. BC trailed by one (61-60) with just under 3 minutes to play before Grey hit consecutive 3s just 58 seconds apart.
"We're getting better and that's our goal each game to get better and better," Crawley said.
Gray hit a jumper that gave Duke a 61-55 lead with 3:22 left. But BC closed that to 61-60 on a 3-pointer by Tessah Holt and two free throws by Katie Zenevitch.
Gray, who led all scorers with 19 points, then made the first 3-pointer, Kristen Doherty hit a layup for BC and Gray sank another 3-pointer, making it 67-62 with 1:28 to play. The Blue Devils finished with a short hook by Haley Peters and two free throws by Gray.
Duke (20-3, 11-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) got 18 points and 10 rebounds from Elizabeth Williams, her sixth double-double of the season, and 16 points from Peters.
BC (5-19, 0-11) was led by Doherty with 17 and Shayra Brown with 12.
Duke had beaten Wake Forest by 32 points before rolling over and No. 22 North Carolina. BC had lost eight of its 10 ACC games by at least 10 points. And the Blue Devils had a size advantage.
But every time they seemed poised to break the game open, BC came back.
BC led for the last time at 18-16 before Duke scored the next 11 points to take a 27-18 lead 4:43 before intermission. But the Eagles rallied by scoring the last eight points of the half and trailed just 32-31.
Duke added to its lead at the start of the second half but couldn't pull away.
With the score 39-33, the teams alternated baskets until the Blue Devils went ahead 52-44 on a 3-pointer by Gray with 11:09 to go. Then the Eagles scored the next four points on two free throws by Brown and a layup by Tiffany Ruffin, cutting the lead to 52-48 with 10:11 remaining.
The lead was back up to 59-52 when the Eagles scored again on 3-pointer by Kerri Shields. But after a steal by Peters, Gray hit her short jumper that opened a six-point advantage and started her late-game surge.
The 6-foot-3 Williams dominated inside early with layups on seven of Duke's first 10 shots. But BC clogged the middle after that and held her to just four points the rest of the way.
That opened up the perimeter, though, and Duke hit six of its seven 3-point shots in the second half.