Olivier Hanlan’s eyes grew wider impatiently. Ryan Anderson wasn’t getting the message. Boston College’s sophomore point guard, holding the ball on his preferred left side of the court, wanted his big man to come set a screen to free up a path to the rim. Hanlan tucked the ball against his side with his left hand and started waving his right hand in quick circles at Anderson, who still didn’t comply. The forward got tangled up in the lane, forcing Hanlan to drive at Duke’s Jabari Parker, drawing a foul.
“Ryan,” Hanlan asked with his hands up after the play, “What are you doing?”
It was a quick moment of frustration for Hanlan, who otherwise kept himself composed all night. He then shrugged it off, gave his teammate some quick daps, and moved on to convert a ridiculous over-the-head, Euro-step reverse lay-up the next time down. One minute later, Duke caught fire and the game was over.
The Blue Devils had just kicked off the second half on a 12-4 run, taking a 51-39 lead on the Eagles from which BC never recovered. Another chance at a marquee win for this program under Steve Donahue was lost in the second half, as Duke strolled late to an 89-68 victory.
“We were unbelievably concerned about this game,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
This was the third straight time this group of BC players, or at least some iteration of it, had given the Blue Devils a scare. Two years ago, the Eagles hung around until late in the first half. Last year, a missed Hanlan jumper at the buzzer was all that saved then No. 4 Duke. This year, Hanlan was the early engine yet again.
“Hanlan’s a terrific player,” Krzyzewski said. “No matter what you do, he gets by you, it seems like.”
That was the case in the first half, as Hanlan lit up the Blue Devils for 14 points. He took eight field goals and went to the line six times. When he wasn’t finishing at the rim, he was drawing in defenders and kicking the ball out to open shooters, although those shots weren’t consistently falling. It was an entirely different story from most first halves this season. Against Notre Dame two games ago, Hanlan went 2-6 in the first frame, putting up four points and finishing the game with five. Last time out at Virginia, Hanlan went silent after missing two threes in the first five minutes. At halftime he was 0-2 with no points.
“I know whenever I’m aggressive good things happen,” Hanlan said. “If I’m aggressive and I score the ball, I score the ball. If they all collapse on me I try to find the open guy.”
Opposing teams know that Hanlan’s driving ability is the most dangerous part of BC’s offense. If it gets going, open threes will eventually be there for the other players, even if the defense starts to deny Hanlan at the rim-which is a difficult task. He’s no longer an under-the-radar surprise like he was last year when he won ACC Rookie of the Year. Now, defenses know what’s coming, and the adjustment period has been a difficult one.
“I’m just trying to do everything perfectly, and probably overthinking too much,” Hanlan said. “But today I was just trying to be aggressive.”
Duke started switching every screen and used a help defender to open up on Hanlan, essentially guarding him with a man and a half. At that point the game was taken out of his hands, and his teammates couldn’t deliver. Hanlan finished with 25 points, four rebounds, four assists, and one steal, but Duke shot better than 52 percent from beyond the arc with 11 makes, while BC’s percentage fell to 37.
“We didn’t come out ready,” Hanlan said of BC’s second-half defense.
BC’s defensive rotations became lackadaisical after Duke got hot and started its run, and it took too long for the BC offense to adjust to Duke’s switching to keep up.
“Our Achilles heel is that if we get in a rut offensively, we don’t do a good enough job on that other side of the ball,” Donahue said.
There weren’t enough open looks for the Eagles, and when the shots were open, they didn’t fall. The BC defense was helpless against Parker, Rodney Hood, and Duke’s shooters. And Hanlan couldn’t make up for all of that, as he was facing quasi-double-teams on most drives.
“Teams do an incredible job, early on, on him typically, and he tries to make the right play,” Donahue said. “For the most part we’ve run good offense even when he doesn’t score, so I think he’s trying to fit in.”
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor