Patrick Heckmann intercepted an errant pass by Andre Gibbs. The junior forward ran down the floor and used a nifty move to get by Nick Schlitzer. Heckmann created enough room to easily lay the ball into the hoop to give Boston College a 43-36 lead with 13:13 remaining. Philadelphia University head coach Herb Magee called a 20-second timeout, and Steve Donahue’s team should have been excited.
But the Eagles were not. After the team huddled, the players returned to their bench. The faces of Donahue’s men were frozen and facing down. Perhaps they are still getting acclimated to this New England winter, but it is more likely that the bench knew the team’s performance against Philadelphia had not been up to par.
The energy from BC was not there even though the Eagles led the entire game after an Olivier Hanlan 3-pointer put BC up by one with 18:24 left in the first half.
“I just felt like we were not prepared in terms of just mentally coming into the game,” said Hanlan, who scored 14 points and tallied four assists. “It’s a Sunday early morning game, but that’s not an excuse.”
If there were a side on the floor that could not be blamed for its lack of energy, it would be Philadelphia, who came to Conte having played a game on Saturday. PhilaU arrived in Boston at around 4:45 a.m. on Sunday morning and was up for breakfast by 8:30, according to Magee.
But the Rams gave the Eagles difficulty for the majority of the game.
KC Caudill got the start for BC to give PhilaU trouble down low, but he was unable to produce any scoring in the opening minutes. Donahue then opted for freshman Will Magarity, who came off the bench to score six straight points for the Eagles, giving them a 14-8 lead.
Magarity and Caudill switched at the five spot against Maryland, and the two big men shared similar roles against the Rams.
“I come in the game and I’m gonna play defense, I’m gonna push guys out, I’m gonna get rebounds, if that’s what I need to do,” Magarity said. “If I’ve got a big guy on me, I need to box him out and the guards get the rebounds. I know my role. I’m going for offensive rebounds.”
Ten points from the freshman and an equal amount from Ryan Anderson, who chipped in 13 boards as well, contributed to BC beating the Rams in the paint 36-20, a battle the Eagles have struggled to win over the season.
In the first half, BC moved the ball well around the perimeter and created enough good shots to hit 50 percent from the field. On the defensive end, PhilaU’s tired legs and short roster may have kept the visitors from attacking the rim, a strategy used most recently by Maryland’s Dez Wells.
An eight-point halftime advantage for the Eagles was quickly cut to three by the Rams when Nick Christian stole the ball from Lonnie Jackson and scored three seconds later.
After Heckmann’s break led to Magee’s timeout with BC up seven, the Eagles began to struggle as a five-point burst from Derek Johnson—who led all scoring with 15 points—cut the Ram’s deficit to two, forcing BC to take a 20-second timeout.
In his team talk, Donahue needed to walk a tightrope between critic and motivator.
“There’s no doubt there’s a balance,” Donahue said. “You guys know me a little bit, I’m living possession by possession. I don’t know if I even looked up at the scoreboard until two minutes left in the game. Just tried to lock myself in on the quality of play and what we’re doing and how I can figure out to help these guys.”
Donahue was able to focus and energize his team, allowing it to go on a 12-1 run. A 3-pointer from Gibbs stopped the bleeding for the Rams and pulled them within 10 with 6:33 left in the game.
After Gibbs’ triple, BC’s lead would dip as low as eight points, and the Eagles did well to close out Philadelphia to win 67-50.
But there is a difference between closing out a respectable Division II program in PhilaU and defeating an ACC challenger, like Maryland.
“The players, they’re still trying to figure out how to be successful and they just really have never had a physical role model show them how to win and this is what you see when we play all these games,” Donahue said.
Playing the Rams is the Eagles’ first break from their grueling schedule, which has seen them take on Purdue, USC, and Maryland within the last two weeks. BC’s season program is considered one of the country’s most difficult, and according to Donahue, it is having an impact on the team, though he said he trusts these early season struggles will eventually benefit his squad.
“This schedule, as hard and demanding as it’s been, and it can get to the morale,” Donahue said. “It has. It’s going to make us better.”