That’s how you feel when you face Syracuse’s suffocating 2-3 zone. Ryan Anderson was stuck in the corner, doubled up on by two massive members of the Orange. The Eagles were down 13, and he called a timeout.
After 23 more minutes of basketball, No. 1 Syracuse was stuck in a similar position. The Eagles had the Orange in their talons.
It took 84 days, 18 games, and 15 losses before the Boston College men’s basketball team was able to beat a Division I team other than Virginia Tech. An upset victory against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, 62-59, could not have come at a more perfect time for a reeling Eagles team.
After losing Sports Information Director Dick Kelley last Thursday evening, the team mourned the loss of a man who served the program for more than two decades. Kelley’s funeral was held on Tuesday morning, and before the team had time to blink, the Eagles were on their way to upstate New York.
Taking on the nation’s best college basketball team would be no easy task, and even though the Eagles hopped out to a quick lead, they were quickly pinned back by C.J. Fair, who finished with a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds. The senior forward saw his team struggling and took the ball to the hoop. He earned himself a pair of trips to the line, and used a layup and a jumper to get his team down within one early on.
On the boards, Anderson and Eddie Odio dominated. Anderson had a strong start to the night in the low post. In the game’s first 10 minutes, the junior forward accumulated six rebounds. Odio hopped in next, and before the half was out, the pair combined to wipe the glass 16 times.
Head coach Steve Donahue has been working on the defensive end and this team’s rebounding ability all season. It paid off against Syracuse, as the Eagles took Jerami Grant, the ACC’s seventh leading rebounder, out of the game.
The game plan was the same as the last time Donahue’s team played against Syracuse, well-known for an extremely active, difficult-to-penetrate 2-3 zone.
In the first and second halves, the Eagles screened the zone to create open looks for themselves. Using Anderson and Odio to set picks between Syracuse guards Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis gave Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon a lane to get into the high post-the weakest part of Syracuse’s zone.
The Eagles would need points in transition as well to get an open look before Jim Boeheim’s team could set its defense.
BC was not entirely successful against Syracuse. The Orange forced 12 first half turnovers from the Eagles. From those changes in possession, Boeheim’s team was able to get 17 of its 25 first-half points. It was a fiery effort from an opponent that excels at jamming passing lanes and forcing errors from getting traps on the wings and down low.
The Eagles were still able to find the open shooter. Anderson and Odio operated in the high post throughout the first half, looking to exploit the area between Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas and the team’s two guards. BC looked to work the ball into their big man, who would draw attention and then work the ball out to an open guard. It is similar to the way the screen works, but instead, the big man finds his man on the perimeter or turns to take the open jumper.
The Eagles were able to move the ball around the zone well in the second half, turning the ball over just five times after the break.
“I thought the guys made a great adjustment, you know, we gave them a couple things,” Donahue said. “Put Patrick in there, had four guards, started rotating the ball out into the middle on different guys, and I thought it really made Syracuse scramble.”
Anderson also got physical in the paint and Heckmann stepped up as well. Looking for the tie with just over 11 minutes left, the Eagles were down by eight. Heckmann drove through Syracuse’s guard pairing before kicking the ball out to Olivier Hanlan, who knocked down a game-changing three.
Hanlan did the same with 8:55 to go, as he drove into the high post and found Joe Rahon for three on the kick.Then, it was Anderson’s time. Seconds after Rahon’s three, Anderson got the ball down low. Rahon drove and spotted his teammate under the hoop.
Anderson has been through a lot in the past few days. After losing a close friend and mentor in Kelley, the junior’s double-double against Notre Dame was not enough to put the Eagles over the top. Against Syracuse, his nine points and 14 rebounds were integral in the team’s upset bid.
With Grant coming in from over the top, Anderson ducked. Christmas was on his back, and Anderson was caught. He had no option but to shoot. After putting his head down, Anderson leaped straight up, powering his way to a layup that would tie the game at 41.
It was the biggest play Anderson made on the night, and after Cooney missed a 3-pointer with seconds remaining, it was Anderson who recovered the ball and tossed it down the court, jumping into the arms of his teammates after the final horn sounded. This year with Donahue & co. has been difficult, and he made that clear after one of the most momentous wins in his career as a coach.
“Obviously, it’s been a hard year for us, so to go out and play like we did against the best team in the country, own their floor, [we] hadn’t played well, down 13,” Donahue said. “Just really happy for our guys. They deserve it. They’ve been incredible throughout this whole year.”
Down by more than 12 points, his team was able to fight back again.
“There’s been so many times this year where I think they really could have let themselves go and not come in and work everyday,” Donahue said.
After an emotional week for the basketball team, beating the best team in the country was shockingly surreal-a barely believable way to conclude it.
“I also thought that Dick Kelley’s presence and how they handled that all week-they lost someone that was very close to them,” Donahue said. “To play with that kind of inspiration tonight wasgreat.”