In its tilt with New Mexico in Puerto Rico on Thursday night, the Boston College men’s basketball team had plenty of moments that seemed to signal a collapse.
There was the one at the start of the game, when after watching Dennis Clifford finally use his body to get two points in the paint, New Mexico came down the floor and picked up a 4-point play. There was the one right out of the halftime break, when an open Clifford fell down before a pass could reach him in the paint, and UNM’s Deshawn Delaney took it down the floor for a SportsCenter Top 10 dunk. There was one in the closing minutes, when an exhausted Hugh Greenwood still managed to cut through BC’s defense for a relatively uncontested layup.
But the Eagles never let New Mexico break all the way through, and held on for a 69-65 victory. In the first half, it was the ball movement. A BC squad that struggled from the field in its first two games passed the ball well, limiting turnovers and finding good, quality shots. The team especially improved its looks beyond the arc, hitting eight of 28 against UNM after a combined six of 40 against UNH and UMass.
Upon finding Olivier Hanlan double-teamed for a decent portion of the half, the rest of the team picked up the slack. In fact, every BC starter except Hanlan had a basket in the first four minutes.
On the other end, Jim Christian’s emphasis on tough defense showed. BC forced New Mexico to take difficult shots, holding it to just nine field goals while also forcing nine turnovers through the first 16 minutes.
With that offensive and defensive efficiency, BC took a 6-point lead into the half.
After getting its emphatic dunk from Delaney, UNM took a setback in the game, losing its point guard, Cullen Neal. The sophomore went to the bench early in the second half with a sprained ankle after landing awkwardly on Hanlan’s foot, and didn’t return to the game. In his stead, Greenwood stepped up, leading all scorers with 24 points in 38 minutes.
For several minutes, Neal’s injury didn’t seem to hurt UNM. The team took advantage of BC’s shooters, settling for 3-point jumpers to cut a 12-point lead down to single digits. As they threatened to take a lead, BC desperately needed a lift.
So Hanlan finally took over.
BC’s star guard first stepped up to hit a long three-pointer, expanding BC’s lead to seven. After a missed Aaron Brown three on the team’s next possession, Hanlan made a difficult jumper from the top of the key. He would go on to sink two layups and a free throw for BC, all part of his 10 straight points for the Eagles in the final minutes that prevented UNM from ever getting closer than a four-point deficit.
Aaron Brown sealed the deal for BC in the final minute, going 4-4 from the line. This victory pushed the Eagles back over .500 to 2-1 and handed the Lobos their first loss of the season, as they fell to 2-1.
In what was easily BC’s best game in this young season, there were some rays of hope for Christian’s new team. After shooting just 37 percent from the field in the first two games, Hanlan demonstrated far better shot selection, going 7-13 from the field and 3-7 from three on his way to a 20-point night. He also showed his ability to score when the Eagles need him to down the stretch.
In the paint, Clifford displayed flashes of power inside, including one strong offensive rebound and subsequent slam late in the first half. He also showed his speed and agility, running the floor and finishing on a breakaway alley-oop from Hanlan. Although New Mexico’s 2-3 zone kept him quiet for much of the contest, BC will likely hope to get the 7-footer more than the five attempts he had in the game.
Even though a four-point win against New Mexico would hardly equate to a win against many ACC teams, it’s a step in the right direction for BC. As Christian took a timeout with 15 seconds left, “We are … BC!” chants echoed through the ESPN2 feed. It’s a sound both he and his players would like to keep hearing at that point in the game.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor