As the calendar turns to March, the wait continues for Boston College men’s basketball to play in the kinds of meaningful games in this month that galvanize an alumni community and create lifelong memories.
It’s now been 13 years since the Eagles qualified for the NCAA tournament, and so for over a decade’s worth of students now, they have no memory of a time when campus was buzzing over March basketball, other than a few half-steps like the ACC tournament run in 2018, or hosting an NIT game in 2011.
The BC program made baby steps this year, and the hope is that before too long a new generation of students and alumni will have a year they point to and reminisce about with their friends, roommates, and classmates for decades to come.
For me, that would probably be 2006, when the Craig Smith/Jared Dudley et. al. team pushed Duke to the limit in the ACC Championship and went to the Sweet 16.
But for the Boston College program overall, no year stands out quite like 1994.
As SBNation takes a look at memorable Cinderella runs in March Madness history, we here at BC Interruption will reflect on the ‘94 Eagles, whose Elite Eight appearance represents the best basketball tournament performance ever at BC.
That team’s Sweet Sixteen-clinching victory over UNC, followed by the iconic “Take That, Tar Heels” Sports Illustrated cover (if you’re a BC fan of any age, you’ve seen it) is in the absolute pantheon of legendary BC sports moments, with Flutie’s hail mary, David Gordon’s kick, Matt Ryan’s miracle in Blacksburg, and Krys Kolanos’s national championship-winning OT goal.
BC’s run wasn’t totally out of left field in 1994, as they had a solid roster and put together a good season. The Eagles went 20-9 in the regular season, good for third in the Big East.
Coming right in the midst of Jim O’Brien’s tenure on the Heights, it was one of the better stretches for the program in quite some time; the ‘92-’93 team made the NIT, winning two games to make it to the quarterfinal.
The ‘93-’94 regular season featured a thumping win over #13 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome to open up Big East play, one of two wins the Eagles picked up over the Orange on the season. BC featured three future NBA players in Bill Curley, Howard Eisley, and Paul Grant, while also getting key contributions from two names that are still very familiar to BC fans - Danya Abrams and Malcolm Huckaby. Huckaby and Abrams joined Eisley and Curley as four Eagles to average double figures in scoring that season.
But still, BC had not made an NCAA tournament in nine years, and the Syracuse wins were the Eagles’ only victories over ranked opponents that year; BC lost to Arizona, and twice to UConn.
After getting flattened in their regular season finale at Providence, and bowing out unceremoniously to Georgetown in the first round of the Big East tournament, taking an 81-58 thumping, BC’s entrance in to the NCAA tournament as a 9 seed was a nice moment for a program so long out of the spotlight - but not necessarily a team expected to make a big run.
BC’s 8-9 matchup in the East Regional in Landover, MD came against Washington State, who came into the game 20-10.
In the first half, it looked like BC’s return to the tournament would be a brief one, as the Cougars jumped out to a 38-28 lead at the half. But the Eagles dominated the second half, and with Bill Curley leading the way with 25 points, BC edged out a 67-64 win.
That victory set up a matchup against #1, defending national champion UNC in round two - and one of the most famous moments in BC sports history.
Bill Curley reflected on the buildup to the game against the powerhouse Tar Heels in 2017 in an interview with the Boston Globe, saying:
“The place was packed with all these cameras, all these reporters. And I think the first question somebody [from the media] asked us was ‘How do you feel going into a game knowing you can’t win?’ And the whole place just kind of erupted laughing at us.
“It was almost demoralizing a little bit right there. Each of us just ground our teeth and clenched our fist. We knew right then and there that we were going to bring it. It’s like: Who are these guys?”
Soon, UNC would know for sure who those guys were - especially Curley, who dominated down the stretch in BC’s 75-72 win. He ended up having his defiant, celebratory photo on the iconic SI cover, after scoring key baskets down the stretch, exploding into celebration after Rasheed Wallace missed a potential game-tying three pointer.
The less-heralded hero of the day was Gerrod Abram, who led the game in scoring with 21, including six three-pointers. BC’s success from three point range helped them overcome being outrebounded and struggling from the field overall.
The win came over a group of stars on the UNC team - with Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, and Eric Montross among the future NBAers leading the ‘Heels to what most presumed would be another deep tournament run.
It didn’t get any easier for BC after the UNC upset, as they moved on to the regional semifinal against Bobby Knight and #5-seed Indiana at the Miami Arena – going from one hall of famer on the other side of BC, to another.
The Eagles were a slight underdog in this one too, but once again came to play, outpacing the Hoosiers and winning 77-68 to advance to the Elite Eight*. Howard Eisley led the way in that game with 18 points, while Curley’s 13 rebounds and 11 points added another big game to his historic BC resume. Three pointers were again a potent weapon for O’Brien’s team, with the Eagles’ 10-for-16 mark from three outpacing Indiana’s 6-for-17 and being crucial in the game’s outcome.
The run came to an end in the Elite Eight, where Florida knocked off BC 74-66 despite another 20 points from Curley. The Eagles were unable to find their 3-point shooting heroics in this one, as the Gators held them to 4-of-15 from behind the arc, while outshooting BC 50.9% to 38.5% as they steamed away toward the Final Four. There, Florida would fall to Duke, who themselves went down to Arkansas in the National Championship game.
It was a great run and a tremendous team - one that ushered in a fairly consistent era of success for BC basketball after a bit of a dry spell. After not making the NCAA tournament for 9 years, BC went on to make it in 3 of 4 seasons in Jim O’Brien’s last four years on the Heights, before his departure which remains controversial to this day. Al Skinner then came on and had an even more successful run, with 7 NCAA appearances - though no moment as memorable, iconic or high-flying as the ‘94 team’s win over UNC or run to the Elite Eight.
Bill Curley went on to get drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1994 NBA draft, shuffling through five teams but battling injuries and never latching on as a consistent starter. He then returned home to Massachusetts and embarked on a coaching career with Emerson College, becoming head coach in 2014. Curley took Emerson to the D3 NCAA tournament in 2019 and again this season; they finished with an 18-8 record.
Howard Eisley got drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves and went on to have a lengthy career, playing in the league until 2006. He is currently an assistant coach at the University of Michigan, after spending nine years as an assistant coach in the NBA. His name came up in coaching rumors during BC’s search and it seems the future is bright for him in the profession.
Paul Grant was the other member of the team to go on to play in the NBA, though he really blossomed after transferring out of BC after three seasons and finishing his career at Wisconsin, where he emerged as a strong scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker. He made his NBA debut in 1999 for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and stayed in pro basketball until 2004.
Malcolm Huckaby and Danya Abrams have remained beloved members of the BC community and have done color commentary and analysis for BC basketball. Huckaby and Abrams also spent time playing pro basketball in Europe, with Abrams winning a European championship with Baloncesto Malaga in Spain in 2001.
All of their names live on for Eagles fans, especially those old enough to have watched it or witnessed it in person - but even those of us who missed it know how important this team was in BC history. May we one day soon see another run like it.
*A previous edition of this story said 1994 was BC’s only Elite Eight - that was an author error; it’s BC’s most recent Elite Eight, of three appearances total.