The Boston College Eagles entered Wednesday's game against the Miami Hurricanes as an underdog -- and rightfully so. Miami had compiled a 12-3 record and the Eagles had just lost to Wake Forest. However, as the game went on, it never seemed like the Eagles were outmatched. Steve Donahue's team squared off with the bigger and more athletic Hurricanes and held their own throughout the entire game. They limited runs and never let Miami really grab momentum. It was neck and neck down to the final buzzer when Olivier Hanlan got fouled on a potential game-tying three-point attempt.
Down 57-60 and with half a second on the clock, Hanlan stepped up to the line to face on of the most pressure-filled moments you have in sports. He had to hit all three of the free throws to just send the game to overtime. If he missed any of the three, the game was over. Olivier got fortuitous bounces on the first two free throws and made them both. And then, short-armed the final attempt and clanked it off front-rim. Time expired and the Eagles walked off the court with an incredibly frustrating home loss.
Steve Donahue talked about those free throws in the post-game. He sympathized with Hanlan and said that he hasn't felt as comfortable at the line lately. I asked him about Hanlan's minutes and possible fatigue setting in, but he shook that off. BC played Hanlan for 39 of the possible 40 minutes last night. But as Donahue said, "I don't know where we'd be without him." The Eagles needed all 39 of those minutes from Hanlan on a night that saw Joe Rahon roll an ankle and head to the locker room before returning in the first half. Donahue said that Hanlan just doesn't get tired and that if they had another game tomorrow "he could play those same 39 minutes again." That says a hell of a lot about Olivier's conditioning. And Donahue is right -- this team needs Hanlan. When defenses are keying in on Ryan Anderson, Hanlan has the ability to explode to the rim and make plays for others. It's rough that the game had to end like this for Hanlan, but I'm sure his teammates picked him up and let him know that it's all good. He's a fascinating talent and I'm excited to see the rest of his career on The Heights.
BC's defense played far better than I expected. They didn't allow Miami to get out in transition and use their athleticism. And they managed to stay at home on defense, preventing Miami from taking very many open threes. The only thing that BC really struggled to do defensively was force turnovers and get chances to run in transition. The Hurricanes had just 6 turnovers to BC's 10, but even that disparity isn't bad. For a team that has struggled on defense all season, this was an encouraging performance.
I already mentioned Olivier Hanlan, but he belongs in this category as well.
Lonnie Jackson had another really strong game. After starting the season shooting horribly from three-point land, he has really turned it around recently. Another 4 of 8 from behind the arc performance allowed him to contribute a super-efficient 16 points on 5 of 9 shooting. BC tried to get Lonnie the ball coming off a screen on the final shot, but Miami sniffed that out. They blitzed Lonnie and forced the ball to go to Hanlan instead. Hanlan was fouled on that attempt, but obviously, a clean look for Lonnie would have been preferred.
Ryan Anderson's patience and decision-making was also impressive. It wasn't an easy matchup and Miami kept bringing late double-teams whenever Anderson got the ball in the paint. I thought he made smart passes when those double-teams came and helped to find open teammates instead of forcing bad shots. Part of being a good player is understanding your limitations and I thought Anderson handled that well last night. Typically, the Eagles will need more than 15 points and 6 rebounds from their star sophomore, but all of the attention that he got from Miami made it easier for his teammates.
Patrick Heckmann is struggling making shots. He hasn't shot the ball particularly well lately and it shows in his confidence. On several occasions last night, Heckmann received the ball on the wing and had space to take a relatively open three-pointer. Instead of firing away, he pump faked and passed to a teammate. The Eagles need to make three-pointers to win a lot of games and in order to make threes, you have to take threes. Heckmann needs to regain that confidence to shoot the ball. He finished just 1 of 6 from the field, but passed up 3 or 4 open looks that I would have liked him to take. A lot of times, an open to semi-open three on the wing is the best shot they'll get. Take the shot. If you miss it, go back and play defense.
The Eagles played with a relatively small lineup for much of the game. Dennis Clifford only saw 18 minutes of action and BC's most effective offensive lineup uses three guards in Hanlan, Rahon, and Jackson. The downside of using a lineup like that is that you make yourself vulnerable to allowing offensive rebounds. I'm not sure what the solution is (other than maybe playing Clifford more), but the Hurricanes got too many second-chance buckets off their 8 offensive rebounds.
That offensive foul at the end of the game on Joe Rahon. He got the ball above the three-point line with Miami's Durand Scott on his back. He turned to face the basket and Scott launched himself onto the ground. The ref called Rahon for an offensive foul because he apparently "used his elbows to clear space." His elbows never touched Scott. It was a flop.The ice skatin' folks at BU would be proud.
I didn't see the exact injury because I was looking away at the time (probably tweeting some Manti Te'o joke). But when I looked up, I saw Rahon on the ground grabbing his ankle and apparently in significant pain. He left the game in the first half, but then returned and seemed fine to play. After the game, however, Rahon walked with an obvious limp to and from the press conference. As Donahue pointed out, that ankle is going to swell up. BC has nearly a week off until their next game, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rahon is at least limited next Tuesday at Maryland.
The free throw shooting. Ugghhhhhh. As a team, BC shot 11 of 18 from the free throw line, including the final miss that sealed the loss. People miss free throws, it happens. But it's still frustrating. As a team, they need to get that percentage up around 75% instead of 60%. A game like this demonstrates that the difference between a win and a loss can literally be at the free throw line.
The Road Ahead
BC has some time to improve. As I said, their next game isn't until next Tuesday when they take on the Maryland Terrapins on the road. That's a tough matchup and Maryland has a lot of weapons. But the improvement in this team is impossible to ignore. Go back to the team that lost to Bryant and compare them to the team we saw Wednesday night. I'm personally excited to see how much they can improve from now until the end of the season.