After losing to all four programs from Massachusetts -- Holy Cross (86-64), UMass (82-46), Boston University (75-61) and Harvard (67-46) -- as well as the two schools from Rhode Island, a point that the announcers brought up ad nauseum last night, Steve Donahue and his young Eagles squad were looking for any sort of positive going into Thursday night's ACC contest with the Clemson Tigers.
"For us to come out and really compete and get a win, obviously the rest of the league says, ‘You know what, they are playing.' There is some respect there," Donahue continued. "Not that it means a whole lot but you want that. You want people to understand you have a good basketball team with good players that play hard."
BC was led by center Dennis Clifford, who scored 15 points on 5-8 shooting, grabbed seven boards and looked more comfortable handling the ball down low. Lonnie Jackson was the only other Eagle to score in double figures, finishing with 14 points and 4 assists.
Credit to the team for playing hard and putting together their most complete game of the season. Early in the second half, when Clemson pushed their lead to 39-32, it appeared as if BC was going to let another game slip away in the second half. But BC battled back, going on a 16-4 run over the next 5:32 to take a 48-43 lead with 10:29 left.
The game's final minutes were full of drama that could have been avoided had the Eagles hit some critical free throws down the stretch.
Clifford put the Eagles up two with 2:56 to play, dunking the ball after posting up and taking a great feed from Lonnie Jackson. BC and Clemson traded the next four possessions without scoring any points. Clemson's Tanner Smith then got John Cahill to commit the foul on a three-point attempt, and Tanner hit 2-of-3 FTs to knot the game at 56.
With the game tied at 56-56, Clifford took a pass from Jackson on a pick-and-roll give-and-go and was able to score what ended up being the game-winning points. On the following possession, Tanner Smith turned the ball over with a travel.
After being intentionally fouled, Clifford missed both free throws. BC then committed a foul on Milton Jennings, whose first free throw was too strong and clanked off the rim. On the Eagles final possession, Lonnie Jackson's first free throw rimmed out with 8.7 seconds remaining. Jackson sunk the second to push BC's lead to 2.
With 5.0 seconds left, Clemson inbounded the ball to Jennings who attempt rattled in and out. BC had seemingly won the game until the refs called a foul on Dennis Clifford with 1.0 seconds left -- a highly questionable call on Booker's put back attempt. Booker's first free throw rimmed out and on the second, the intentional miss was good but Clemson committed a lane violation, turning the ball over and helping BC preserve a one point victory.
You have to be happy for the players who were extremely pumped to notch their first ACC win. Hopefully the team can build on this victory and we'll see BC notch a few more wins in conference play this season.
A few other observations.
Clifford down low. Clifford had his best game of the season and has come a long way in a very short time. Hopefully he can turn into the big that this team needs him to be and he uses this game as a springboard for more strong performances in ACC play.
Free throws. BC really left the door open for Clemson down the stretch, missing some critical free throws. I know this team is young, but they really have got to improve on their shooting from the charity stripe. The Eagles were just 11-20 from the line, which was only their fifth worst FT shooting performance on the year (and are coming off a 3-9 performance at North Carolina).
Turnovers. This will come with experience (I hope), but BC is still managing an extremely high number of turnovers per game. The Eagles had 16 yesterday and Humphrey accounted for four of those TOs. BC has now committed 13 or more turnovers in five straight games, going back to the win over Bryant.
Attendance. Conte Forum was a mausoleum last night. Yesterday's listed attendance of 3,829 was just the sixth best attended home game (of 10 this season), and only topped the season opener against New Hampshire (3,588), Bryant (3,563), Stony Brook (3,426) and Sacred Heart (2,263) games. I know this team is young, has racked up a ton of early season losses and that students are on winter break. But when you get back to campus, consider going to a game and supporting the team. It's clear the team is still playing hard and can use your support. Crazy to think that there's just seven home games remaining this season, so make those home games against non-Duke opponents count.
It's a quick turnaround for the Eagles (6-10, 1-1 ACC) as they host Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon at Conte Forum. Game tips at 3 PM.