For anyone who wondered after watching what happened to him Saturday night, Boston College forward Jared Dudley says he still wants the ball at the end of the game, still wants to live with making or missing the shot that matters most.
Dudley may win the ACC player of the year award and has become a candidate for the national player of the year prize, but his tremendous season could have been marred by what transpired with the game on the line against North Carolina.
Dudley was fouled while shooting a three-pointer and stepped to the free throw line with 1 minute 27 seconds remaining and BC down three. His home arena grew quiet. Dudley bricked the first shot, then the second. He backed away, pounded his chest and mouthed: "My bad. I got it." The third rimmed out.
The Eagles never approached the lead again as they lost their second home showdown in a row, having dropped a game to Duke three days earlier. After falling out of first place in the ACC, Boston College will face Virginia Tech tonight in Blacksburg, and Dudley said he is looking for a chance to avenge his missed free throws.
"It won't be the last time I miss shots to win or tie the game, and it won't be the last time I make them," Dudley said. "I've hit a lot of big shots and missed a lot of big shots, and I'll continue to shoot them. I look forward to it."
Dudley acknowledged the moment got to him and that he tried to force the first two free throws, then tried to alter his release on the third shot. He knows that was a mistake, but it's one of few he's committed this season. The 6-foot-7 senior leads the ACC in points (19.7) and rebounds (8.5) per game, and is as comfortable on the perimeter as he is around the basket. A good passer and a rugged defender, there is little Dudley can't do well on the court.
"He does more for his team than any player in the league," Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg said. "He's just a winning player."
Still, Dudley has been overlooked for much of his career. He plays home games about a nine-hour drive from the heart of the ACC and played alongside star forward Craig Smith, who overshadowed him for three seasons at Boston College.
At Horizon High School in San Diego, Dudley received local awards but scant interest from major colleges. Less-renowned basketball schools such as Creighton, St. Mary's and San Diego State recruited him, and Georgia and Oregon showed some interest. But Boston College, then in the Big East, was the only school from a major conference to seriously target Dudley.
"There's a difference between me" and players who typically attract coaches from college basketball powers, Dudley said. "The whole thing is about the athletic, premier, fast [player] or the sharpshooter. I just did everything a little above average. I wasn't the best at anything, but I wasn't the worst. You get measured by how fast you run or how high you can jump or how you can dribble, and I just wasn't that kind of player."
Dudley has relied more on his basketball acumen than jaw-dropping athletic ability. He started playing the game in second grade and learned how by watching his older brother. He observed where players were on the floor, which passes worked and which didn't. By junior high, he decided he could earn a scholarship playing basketball and gave up other sports.
Through the years, he has worked hard at practice to fill in the holes in his game. At Boston College, he's steadily improved his shooting; this season, he is making 48.5 percent of three-point attempts.
The last time Dudley played Virginia Tech, he made 4 of 5 three-pointers and registered one of his finest games. He scored 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds, setting the tone as the Eagles outmuscled and out-hustled the Hokies. Dudley said the rematch will be decided by BC's defense, because he's confident when the Eagles have the ball.
"They're not the best defensive team we face," Dudley said. "You'll get your looks and an opportunity to score."
The opportunity he wants most would be one identical to Saturday night: to have the ball in his hands with the game in the balance. Dudley knows he will receive the chance at some point, and he's looking forward to it.
"Most of the time he's going to be successful," BC Coach Al Skinner said. "In order to reach greatness, you've got to miss those shots sometimes. He can handle that. He's got broad shoulders. I've got no fear he's going to bounce back."