“That’s as hard as our team can play. That’s not going to win in this level. You can play hard, and you can play well. This is the ACC—you can play hard and well and lose.”
The five Eagles jog back down the court, fresh off a drive and roundabout dish by Patrick Heckmann that gave John Cain Carney an uncontested slam. Nate Britt takes the inbound and quickly moves the ball up the right side of the court. He pivots and swings it around the perimeter, where it eventually lands in the hands of Marcus Paige. The guard drives in on the left side and, as he nears the baseline, kicks it back to Isaiah Hicks, who sinks the easy jumper over two Boston College defenders in the middle of the paint.
Twenty feet away on the sideline, BC head coach Jim Christian throws up his hands in frustration and spins around to his bench. He points straight to his only big man, Dennis Clifford, who is already rising out of his chair. Both men know it—honestly, everyone knows it—but there’s little Christian can do to make his team taller mid-season.
It’s a problem that BC (9-13, 1-9 ACC) has faced from the very outset, dating back even before the first game, when 6-foot-11 freshman Idy Diallo tore his meniscus. Will Magarity, who received three straight starts over Clifford in the past couple weeks, has also been out for the past two games with a concussion. With Clifford serving as BC’s only player over 6-foot-8, No. 12 North Carolina (18-6, 8-3 ACC) had little difficulty inside, picking up 46 points in the paint en route to a 79-68 win.
Without Magarity on Saturday, Christian turned instead to bench players Eddie Odio (6-foot-7) and Carney (6-foot-8) to help defend on the inside. Unfortunately, the two could do little on either end against a much taller UNC team. Even head coach Roy Williams, who made two lineup changes after suffering back-to-back losses, recognized the advantage.
“The reason we chose to go a little smaller was because their lineup is a little smaller, too,” Williams said. “Clifford played 26 minutes, but he plays out on the floor a lot, so I thought we’d have a better chance of chasing two four-men in the game as opposed to our traditional lineup.”
Yet, even with the smaller lineup, UNC consistently kept at least three men on the floor who were taller than everyone on BC except Clifford. The plus/minus result of the 14 minutes when Clifford was on the bench? Minus-10, compared to minus-one in the 26 minutes he played.
The one man who Christian truly couldn’t afford to let sit, however, was Olivier Hanlan. The guard, fresh off a 28-point performance in 40 minutes against No. 10 Notre Dame, played yet another contest without ever taking a seat on the bench. Although it took him four extra shots, Hanlan also set a new season-high, racking up 30 points.
Hanlan has always picked up high minute totals in his career at BC, and this season is no different—he ranks second in minutes per game, only behind Syracuse’s Trevor Cooney. But this recent stretch has truly demonstrated Christian’s reliance on his top guard.
“I think he’s playing as well as anyone in the league,” Christian said. “If you’re going to be relying on someone, it’s going to be the best guy on our team. He’s just playing phenomenally.”
Williams could hardly fault Christian, either. “He’s a heck of a player,” Williams said. “I love his toughness and competitiveness. It’s hard to keep him out of the paint, it’s hard to keep him from making threes. He’s a big time load and a heck of a player.”
Hanlan also did something he hasn’t done much in recent ACC play—get going in the first half. From the outset, Hanlan looked to drive inside, and although he didn’t net a basket until the 10-minute mark, his efforts from the line kept BC in the game.
On a remarkable sequence in the first, which included two hustle plays from Heckmann, a 3-pointer from Brown, and a successful three-point play by Hanlan, BC to opened up a six-point lead, its largest of the game.
Whenever the Eagles managed to gain momentum like this, however, UNC responded by forcing the issue inside. Although BC carried a tie into halftime, a renewed sense of determination for the Tar Heels gave them a double-digit lead. A 7-0 run orchestrated by Aaron Brown, who finished with 18 points, and Hanlan cut the lead to five with three minutes to play. Late Eagle threes fell short, however, and BC couldn’t sink a single field goal in the final three minutes, allowing UNC to rebuild its final margin.
Fortunately for the Eagles, things do get a little brighter from here. BC is scheduled to face just one more ranked opponent: Notre Dame, a team that the Eagles almost came back to beat last week. Christian expects Magarity to return on Wednesday against Syracuse, which will help alleviate the pressure for Clifford to be BC’s only height.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor