Ryan Anderson was running out of options at the top of the arc as the shot clock ticked down. He checked his left. Sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan looked to fool his man to create space to receive the ball. While Hanlan was free temporarily, Anderson moved on.
He dribbled to his right, where Joe Rahon stood. Once the junior saw the sophomore, Anderson decided he was going to the bucket.
With less than six seconds on the shot clock, he drove to the hoop but had to go around his defender, Steve Moundou-Missi, and Siyani Chambers, who was guarding Rahon. The two Crimson defenders gave Anderson an easy, yet rounded path to the hoop.
As Anderson reached the basket, what looked to be a good opportunity for a game-changing dunk was thwarted when forward Kyle Casey came from under the hoop to swat the ball out of the junior’s hands.
Boston College’s relationship with Harvard basketball has changed over the past decade, as the Crimson have gone from a local, for old times’ sake non-conference opponent to a potential NCAA Tournament resume-builder for the Eagles.
On New Year’s Day, BC travelled to play Harvard in Cambridge for the first time since 1991, only to lose 73-58.
The last BC side to beat Harvard did so in 2005. Al Skinner’s Eagles, led by Craig Smith and Jared Dudley, were ranked No. 14 at the time. That same team went to the Sweet Sixteen at the end of the season.
Head coach Steve Donahue’s Eagles can only dream of such success at this point, as they picked up their 10th loss of the season in their matchup with the Crimson at Lavietes Pavilion.
The loss to Harvard has further shaken the mentality of one of the ACC’s most experienced outfits, according to Donahue.
“With 10 losses, our confidence isn’t what it is,” said Donahue after Wednesday’s game.
BC has run into severe defensive issues. Strategically, the team has had difficulty with its help defense and boxing out, not to mention a shambles of a transition defense, which was exposed by the Crimson.
While the problems have been identified, those issues require energy to be fixed.
The Eagles just faced the havoc defense of Virginia Commonwealth University, which earned its name due to its 40 minutes of high-pressure play. For VCU, when an opponent touches the ball, it takes barely a second for a defender to provide coverage. The mayhem of the moment forces the opposition to cave into poor decision making, be it a bad shot, or pass that leads to a turnover. For VCU, more turnovers means more possessions, through which a lead can be built—see its 31-0 run against Virginia Tech.
One of the most alarming problems is BC’s lack of urgency. The Eagles do not have to be body-to-body with their opponents like VCU, but they would benefit from more focus. BC has shown glimpses of intensity as a unit, but it has not been able to extend it outside of short bursts.
“I feel like some of it is getting better, but we still have to tweak a few more things,” Hanlan said of the team’s defense. “I feel like it’s the 50/50 balls. They beat us on most of the 50/50 balls this game, so we just got to be more aggressive and have that killer mentality.”
Offensive struggles have emerged as well. The Eagles have not been the team they were last year from behind the arc, shooting below last year’s season average of 35 percent once again on Wednesday evening.
The Eagles’ lack of potency from the field may be due to the aforementioned lack of confidence.
Without a victory over a Division I opponent since before Thanksgiving, the team is short on self belief.
“The thing that’s hurt us the most is our confidence, and I feel bad that I put that on our guys,” Donahue said. “But a lot of stuff, I think, is just not feeling good about themselves and indecision in critical times in the game.”
Going into the season, BC’s schedule was said to be one of the toughest in the nation. But coming into the Harvard game it sat at No. 21 in CBS’s strength of schedule ratings—a far cry from ESPN analyst Jeff Goodman’s early-season claim that it was the nation’s fourth-most-difficult run of games.
“We haven’t lost to a bad team,” Donahue said. “No one, and I’ve said this, no one at the high-major level has played a non-conference schedule like this ever. Go look at it.”
Scheduling high profile programs like UConn and VCU at big time venues like Madison Square Garden seems to be a plan for long-term success, but it’s a strategy that has failed this team in the short run.
“Here’s my battle: My battle is I’m gonna stay in the process,” Donahue said. “I’m not gonna stay in short-term results. That’s for everybody else, except me, and I know that’s kind of probably hard to understand, but that’s the only job I’ve got. I’m going hour-to-hour to be positive and build this program the way I want to. I put the schedule out there.
“We’re gonna have two great practices and get ready for the ACC, and Clemson on Saturday. That’s what I look at.”
But when will the long run BC is working toward arrive? Nobody has the answer.
“I honestly feel this schedule is going to benefit us at some point,” Donahue said. “Is it Saturday? Is it a week from now? Is it a month from now? Is it when these guys are seniors? We played everybody everywhere.”
Even though it’s wise to look ahead, the clock is ticking for Boston College, and it isn’t just a shot clock in Cambridge. The Eagles have yet to win on the road this season, and this was supposed to be a big campaign for a program in a rebuilding phase.
So far, the Eagles have hit quite a few blocks along the way. Casey’s was just the latest rejection.