LANDOVER -- College coaches often talk of the importance of senior leadership.
In the case of Boston College, four seniors -- center Bill Curley and guards Gerrod Abram, Howard Eisley and Malcolm Huckaby -- provided key plays in the closing minutes of their dramatic, 67-64 victory over Washington State in the opening round of the NCAA East Regional yesterday at USAir Arena.
But more significant were three glaring mistakes by Washington State senior point guard Tony Harris in the final 44 seconds that led to the Cougars' loss.
The Cougars (20-11) seemed headed for a second-round matchup tomorrow with North Carolina, leading the Eagles 63-59 with 1:40 left. But then it began to unravel.
After Huckaby's three-point shot pulled Boston College within a point with 77 seconds left, Harris tossed up the first of his two air balls.
Curley (23 points, nine rebounds) then put the Eagles (21-10) ahead 64-63 with 14 seconds left by converting a pass from Eisley into a layup. The Cougars rushed downcourt and Harris drew a foul with eight seconds left. He missed the first free throw, but made the second to tie it at 64.
Now, it was Boston College's turn, and Abram, trying to go one-on-one, appeared to be trapped in the right corner. But Harris fouled Abram, who made two free throws with five seconds left.
That seemed enough time for the Cougars to get off a decent shot. But, soon after crossing half-court, Harris unleashed a wild 40-footer that fell far short of the basket. Eisley grabbed the ball and added an insurance free throw in the final second.
Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson didn't blame Harris.
"If not for Tony Harris, we'd be playing in the NIT now and wondering what happened," Sampson said. "He put this team on his back."
Said Harris: "I wanted to put my team in a position to win, and I didn't."
But many questions needed to be answered about how the Cougars, who led by as many as 12 in the first half, failed at crunch time.
Asked why the Cougars failed to call specific plays in their last few possessions, Sampson said: "We run a flex-type offense to try and free our guards. But when the shot clock is running down, we just let Tony run the plays."