A lot has been said about Boston College’s men’s basketball team in the past four months. The Eagles do not rebound. They are not athletic enough. They do not box out. Some even joke that BC should move to the America East for basketball, so the program can have a shot at making the NCAA tournament.
Others say the Eagles don’t get enough steals. They are too dependent on Olivier Hanlan for points and Ryan Anderson for rebounds. If there is one thing that should be said about this team that is positive, though, it is that Steve Donahue’s squad does not give up.
No team in the country has a better excuse to put its heads down, pack its bags up, and wait for next season to come. With expectations higher than they have been in recent years for what was once one of the conference’s better programs, the Eagles have had their worst season in years.
The Eagles are rarely out of a game despite what the scoreboard shows, though.
“The record is deceiving of how our team has improved,” Anderson said. “Anytime you play the type of schedule that we had, the record may not show the improvements that the team has made.”
Donahue’s team was doubled up at times late in the first half. The Eagles faced a 33-13 deficit against Harvard and a 38-19 hole at Virginia. While they were able to fight back against the Crimson before the half concluded, and the `Hoos later in the game, the Eagles lost, but did not give up.
The team’s 73-69 defeat at home to rival Catholic program Notre Dame was no different. While the Eagles were never down by more than 10 points, there were times when they could have let the game slip away.
Starting Will Magarity and Garland Owens, Donahue stuck with the team that kept up with Georgia Tech. Owens managed two 3-pointers from the corner in addition to a layup in the first half. The freshman forward led BC’s full court press when Donahue used that strategy to put pressure on Notre Dame guard Eric Atkins.
Magarity’s presence in the paint helped clog the lane early, and Anderson helped him out, but the freshman’s weaknesses were exposed. Pat Connaughton drove to the hoop on Magarity, who battled Garrick Sherman for much of the opening period. The freshman has yet to adapt to the physicality of the game, especially down low. While he is able to go body-to-body in a man defense, it was easy for Zach Auguste to plow his way through Magarity to the rim.
Without Anderson on the floor, Magarity served as the anchor of the team’s defense.
“We’re trying to get better on defense,” Donahue said. “So more Garland Owens, more Will Magarity, less 3-point shooters-Patrick Heckmann, Lonnie Jackson at times. We’re trying to get better and get growth on that defensive end somehow.”
BC’s offense did well to move the ball in the first half. While it was not the same quality as its games against Washington or Syracuse, when the spread offense was able to rotate the ball around, it was good enough to get seven solid looks from behind the arc that dropped through the nylon. Six of those came in the first half.
Down by just three at the intermission, the Eagles had the Fighting Irish within reach. The visitors hopped out to an eight-point lead, though, less than three minutes into the second half through a dunk from Auguste, but consecutive baskets from Anderson lessened the deficit to four.
The teams kept close until a burst from Notre Dame put the visitors up by nine. A 3-pointer from Steve Vasturia finished his team’s 9-3 run and forced Donahue to call a timeout. The Eagles looked deflated, but they continued to press on.
After Donahue stopped play, Joe Rahon got two of his own, but Atkins’ jumper put Notre Dame’s lead back to nine.
Down the stretch, the Fighting Irish found the hands of its veterans in Connaughton and Atkins. Connaughton scored six points in the game’s final six minutes to combat BC’s attempts at a last gasp comeback. His layup with 4:53 to go put the Fighting Irish up 61-55. It broke up a burst of confidence from the Eagles, which peaked when Hanlan scored after Anderson threaded a pass from the top of key to the sophomore, who was spotted under the hoop.
While the Eagles were able to come close, the team’s defense let them down in the end.Without the defense running on all cylinders, it took the offense to keep the team in the game. Down by as much as 10 with 36 seconds remaining, Hanlan went to the hoop for a quick layup, and Patrick Heckmann came off the bench to spur the squad’s late push. The junior forward knocked down a late 3-pointer, and after Sherman missed two free throws, Heckmann went down the floor for a layup cutting Notre Dame’s lead to three.
BC had life. For a moment, the Eagles looked motivated, but they would fall again.
Now 6-19 and 2-10 in ACC play, Donahue’s task is to keep the team focused on each day and on each possession.
“My job is to inspire these guys every single day to reach their potential and figure out a way to get them confident and get their success,” Donahue said. “I want to win as bad as anybody, but there’s great growth going on that’s not showing up on the scoreboard.”
With the season coming to a close and the ACC Tournament just weeks away, all BC can do is improve.
“My number one thing in my job no matter what is, is to motivate, inspire guys to demand their best,” Donahue said. “It’s what our university’s all about-‘ever to excel.’ I pump myself up everyday. I get out of bed and honestly I say my prayers and I’m gonna try to motivate this group to get better.”