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BC ANSWERS BELL ON DEFENSE TO BEAT SYRACUSE

When Troy Bell couldn't make a basket, he made sure Syracuse couldn't even take a shot.

Mired in a scoring slump, Bell had a career-high eight steals -- three of them in the final minute as No. 17 Boston College beat the ninth-ranked Orangemen, 65-63, to match its best start ever.

"Defense is everything to our team," said Bell, who went 28:33 without a basket and shot just 3-for-11, but also had six assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot. "Our shooting may not be consistent, but our defense is."

It was tied at 58 with 58 seconds left when Bell stole the ball to set up Xavier Singletary's layup and send BC (17-2, 8-1 conference) off to its best Big East start ever. The 1966-67 squad coached by Bob Cousy went 23-2 before losing in the NCAA tournament.

Damone Brown scored 21 points on 9-for-10 shooting, and Preston Shumpert had 20 points for Syracuse (18-4, 6-3). The Orangemen have lost three consecutive conference games on the road while eking out victories over Georgetown and North Carolina State.

"You keep playing these games, and sooner or later one of them's going to get away from you," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "Sooner or later, there's going to be a play you don't make."

Bad night at the top

It was a bad night for men's college teams ranked in the Top 15.

In addition to No. 9 Syracuse, No. 6 Virginia, No. 10 Tennessee and No. 14 Iowa were all upset, with No. 3 Duke the only Top 15 team to escape with a victory.

Kenny Inge scored a career-high 29 points as North Carolina State ruined Virginia's highest ranking in 18 years with a 90-80 victory.

N.C. State (11-10, 3-6 ACC) lost to Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Syracuse by a combined 27 points before beating the Cavaliers to break a 10-game losing skid against ranked teams.

"We know everyone isn't going to like us. When things go bad, people tend to jump ship and go sour," said the Wolfpack's Damien Wilkins, who scored 21 points. "But we've just kept our composure all year long."

Joe Johnson scored off a rebound while two Tennessee players stood and watched, apparently thinking the ball was out of play, as Arkansas beat the Volunteers, 82-77, in overtime.

Brian Brown scored 20 points, and reserve Brent Darby added 15 points to lift Ohio State to a 69-68 victory at Iowa.

Nate James had a career-high 27 points, and Duke held up despite Jason Williams' second straight poor shooting performance to extend its Atlantic Coast Conference-record 24-game road win streak with an 81-64 victory at Clemson.

James was one of several Blue Devils (21-2, 9-1) to fill the scoring gap left by Williams, who had just eight points, 13 fewer than his average.

St. Joe's pays back Xavier

PHILADELPHIA -- St. Joseph's got some payback for its only loss in the past 12 games.

Marvin O'Connor scored 29 points and Jameer Nelson added 15 as St. Joseph's defeated No. 24 Xavier, 79-76.

"They gave it to us pretty good at Xavier," Hawks forward Frank Wilkins said. "We didn't play our A-game, our B-game or even our C-game. Tonight, we wanted to make a statement."

With eight lead changes in the second half, the game wasn't decided until the final second when Wilkins blocked a three-point attempt by Lloyd Price that could have sent the game into overtime.

On Jan. 20, Xavier (17-4, 8-2) defeated St. Joseph's, 86-73, breaking the Hawks' (18-4, 8-1) eight-game winning streak.

"We were better in Cincinnati, they were better tonight," Xavier coach Skip Prosser said. "They handled our pressure pretty good."

Around the horn

Sean Connolly scored 11 points and Ken Johnson added 10 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots for Ohio State (15-8, 6-5 Big Ten) in a 69-68 victory over Iowa (17-5, 6-3). . . . Roy Boone outscored Purdue by himself in the first half and finished with 20 points in No. 16 Wisconsin's 73-54 rout of the visiting Boilermakers. . . . Marckell Patterson scored 25 points, mostly on putbacks and free throws, to lead Mississippi State (12-8, 3-6 SEC) over No. 18 Alabama, 84-70. Rod Grizzard, the SEC's leading scorer, scored 24 points to lead Alabama (17-5, 6-4 SEC), which did not have a field goal in the final 8:41 of the first half. . . . J.R. Raymond scored 19 points and Daryan Selvy added 12 points and a career-high 12 rebounds as No. 21 Oklahoma (18-4, 7-3 Big 12) held off Texas Tech and won their sixth straight, 80-72.

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