Clutch shots dropped through the basket, and new heroes emerged. Dennis Clifford flexed muscle, both literally and figuratively, in recording his first double-double in two years. And Eli Carter, long derided for playing hero ball and not dishing when it mattered most, drained from beyond the arc. Boston College basketball, if only for one night, was back.
And then North Carolina spoiled the party.
On a surreal night in which AJ Turner finished the game on crutches and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams finished the game vomiting from vertigo in the locker room, the eighth-ranked Tar Heels came from down as many as eight in the second half to rally for a three-point victory over the Boston College Eagles, 68-65.
"North Carolina made two big plays than we did with the game on the line," said Eagles head coach Jim Christian after his team led for almost 35 minutes and trailed for less than four. "We played more together. We played harder than we did last week at UNC. We just have trouble scoring at times."
In what on paper looked like a gross mismatch, BC jumped out almost immediately by taking the first two points of the game. After the Tar Heels, who did not start Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, or Justin Jackson in an effort to "shake things up," tied the game at 2-2, BC went on a tear opening up a nine-point lead and pacing the game through much of the first half. Eli Carter scored 17 points in the period alone, going 6-13 shooting, including 3-6 from beyond the arc.
But the real story was Clifford, who dominated the low post against some of the best bigs in the nation. By the time UNC checked their big men into the game, Clifford asserted himself against the glass. He tallied nine boards in the first 20 minutes alone, including three on the offensive window. He also positioned himself as a true energy-type player, getting the crowd going with a couple of big time dunks emphasized by muscle flexing at his bench. Along with the duo, Ervins Meznieks came off the bench to score nine points, allowing BC to get out to a 37-31 lead at halftime.
Leading by six at the break, BC had managed to minimize the damage the Tar Heels could inflict. They only turned the ball over seven times, and they only committed five fouls. UNC, by contrast, had nine fouls, allowing the Eagles to shoot eight more free throws in the period.
In the second half, UNC managed to chip away at the BC lead, which never really diminished or extended. Where BC extended it to nine, the Tar Heels made a couple of big shots to cut it to five or three. BC would open it back up to eight, but UNC would cut it back to one possession. It never got lower than three points, however, until Joel Berry II hit a jumper with 5:23 left. That set the stage for the game's first lead change two minutes later when Theo Pinson was at the line.
BC would retake the lead on an Eli Carter three-pointer, but UNC would answer with Marcus Paige. The Eagles never closed the gap, and the Tar Heels pulled away with the win.
It was a surreal night at Conte Forum, one punctuated by a couple of key injuries. Turner went down early in the game with an apparently right leg injury, and although it was reported as an "ankle" injury, he was helped off the court unable to put weight on the leg. He would return to the bench in uniform, but he was on crutches. In his postgame remarks, Jim Christian said he didn't have an update and hadn't had a chance to speak with Turner about the extent of the injury.
But the scariest scene took place during the first TV timeout. After making a remark to the official, UNC head coach Roy Williams jerked his head around and fell to the floor. He was helped to the UNC locker room, where he would spend the rest of the game. Assistant coach Steve Robinson took over as Williams dealt with his medical issue.
After the game, Williams would return to the court to shake Coach Christian's hand and congratulate his players on a solid game. He appeared in the postgame press conference to clarify his medical issue. "I'm alive, kicking," he told the media about his bout with "benign positional vertigo." Coach Williams also "apologized" to Jim Christian for being a distraction to what was a great game.
Additionally, Boston College assistant coach Bill Wuczynski experienced a death in the family this week, giving the Eagles extra motivation to play. "Everyone in our program really cares for one another," he said after the game. "It's a family atmosphere."
Despite the loss, BC finished with its finest performance of the season. Carter finished with 26 points and just one foul, while Clifford finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds - his first double-double since a 2014 game against Harvard. Meznieks wouldn't add any more points, but Garland Owens finished with nine points and Matt Milon added six more in what was a deep game for the Eagles.
For UNC, only two players finished in double figures - Marcus Paige, who iced the game with key free throws down the stretch, finished with 12 and Joel Berry II finished with 10. Despite holding a 31-29 rebounding edge, the Eagles owned the offensiveglass, 8-6.
BC (7-17, 0-11 ACC) is tasked, however, with still searching for their first ACC victory. Despite the moral victories, the loss dropped them to remain winless in conference. They'll host Syracuse on Sunday.
UNC (20-4, 9-2), overcame its largest halftime deficit of the season to pick up a 20th win for the 12th time in Roy Williams' 13 seasons in Chapel Hill. A virtual lock to win the ACC, they snapped a two-game slide after losing to Louisville and Notre Dame last week. They'll take on Pittsburgh on Sunday before hosting Duke on Wednesday at the Dean Dome.