The Boston College Eagles basketball team is trying to kill me. Whether they are slogging down the pace and making it unwatchable or losing to Bryant, this team just wants to make me suffer. Wednesday night, the Eagles took on the Penn St. Nittany Lions to help close out the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Going into the late night games, (BC/PSU and Ohio State/Duke), the ACC was trailing by two wins and could only salvage a tie. The Blue Devils did their part and held off the Buckeyes at home while Olivier Hanlan led the Eagles to a comfortable-but-not-too-comfortable 73-61 win.
Eagles leaders: Points: Hanlan, 22; Rebounds: Anderson, 9; Assists: Hanlan, 4
The Eagles played a pretty solid first half of basketball. It was nothing ground-breaking and it was fairly ugly (not as ugly as the first half of OSU/Duke though). Regardless, Steve Donahue and the boys led by 7 at halftime and seemed to have most of their stuff working. They were holding an admittedly offensively weak Penn St team to just 24 points and seemed to be executing relatively well in their own sets. They went into the locker room with a nice lead, although nothing was guaranteed when you consider the blown game against Bryant earlier this week. While we as fans were understandably disturbed by the near-collapse later in the game (more on that in a minute), you have to be somewhat impressed by the way that BC started the second half.
The Eagles had increased focus on defense and started to drain some big shots. Powered by Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan on the offensive end, the Eagles started raining threes and the lead ballooned to 20 points at 59-39 with 5:23 left in the game. For those math majors out there, that means the Eagles started the 2nd half on a 28-15 run over the course of about 15 minutes. The scoring was thanks to a bunch of made threes and Hanlan's free throws, but the defense (one of BC's biggest problems this year) really locked down. Penn St was without their best player in Tim Frazier and it showed during the ten minute stretch from 15:45 to 5:15 in the second half. Jermaine Marshall hit a jumper to make it 39-33 with 15:45 remaining and Penn State didn't make another field goal until Marshall hit a three with 5:15 left. During that disgusting stretch, Penn State hit a few free throws but went 0 for 14 from the field. By the time Marshall hit that three, BC led by twenty and the game seemed out of reach and a BC victory was certain
But as you know, there is no certainty when this BC basketball team is involved. With five minutes left and the lead cut to 17, PSU ratcheted up the intensity of their full-court press and it gave BC a world of trouble. The Eagles committed three turnovers and fouled a three-point shooter in a 60 second time frame, allowing PSU to go on an 11-point run and cut the lead to six at 59-53 with 4:00 left. Hanlan hit a free throw to stop the bleeding momentarily, but another Marshall three and PSU free throw trimmed the lead down to just three points with 3:08 left. To recap, the Eagles went from up 20 to up just 3 in 2:07 of game time. That's not good.
Some may say that this young Eagles team let up too soon and was starting to crack under the pressure of finishing out a game on the road. Others will say that basketball is a game of runs -- BC had theirs early, this was just PSU's run. Reality, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. BC's inability to crack the full-court press was apparent. Donahue simply doesn't have a five-man unit that has strong ball-handlers at every position. Hanlan and Rahon are good ball-handlers, but if they get trapped, they are forced to give it up. Once it gets into the hands of Patrick Heckmann or Ryan Anderson, they seemed to panicked and force a bad pass. As they saw the lead gradually disappear, I'm sure it just became harder and harder to be patient and execute properly to break the press.
It was interesting that Donahue chose not to call a timeout while the lead went from 15 to down to six. It was only a minute of game-time, but there's definitely an argument to be made that Donahue should have called time and helped his team figure out how to deal with the press (and the pressure of closing a game on the road). Ultimately, he seemed to opt to let them fight through the struggles and work it out on their own. Maybe he thought that a 15-point lead was sufficient. Maybe he figured that they would learn more by just playing through it. BC was able to limit the damage and hold onto the lead before Hanlan took over and closed out the game. But if the Eagles had choked this one away, Donahue would probably take some heat for not having a more hands-on approach during that stretch.
I guarantee that opposing teams will watch film of this game and see how BC struggled with the full-court press and try to replicate PSU's success with it. I also guarantee that Steve Donahue will spend a good amount of time in the next practice working on breaking the press. In college basketball, most teams don't have good enough ball-handlers throughout the court and full-court pressure is a viable option. Therefore, it takes good communication and execution to break the press. If a team has an elite ball-handler (think Kyrie Irving while he was at Duke), the press backfires and he just dribbles through everybody. BC has no such guy and a relative lack of familiarity among the team makes them an ideal target for the full-court press. They'll work on it, but it's an interesting thing to keep an eye on. More teams will probably start to use it.
Other quick observations:
Ryan Anderson is not 100%. He turned his ankle during the Charleston Classic and hasn't looked the same since. He says that it only bothers him when he jumps. Oh is that all? Just when you jump? Hopefully he gets a chance to heal up before BC's next game (vs. Harvard next Tuesday).
In the meantime, Olivier Hanlan is the Eagles' best player. Since Anderson has been hurt, the freshman point guard has taken over. He scored 9 points in the final 3:51 of this game to help close it out and hit 15 of 19 free throws in total. He finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. His scoring totals in the past three games: 19 points, 19 points, 22 points. The kid is the real deal.
BC is kind of fun to watch when they are moving the ball and hitting their threes. While they opened up the 20-point lead, they were just raining threes. It was awesome to watch them continuously move the ball and find the open man. Joe Rahon and Lonnie Jackson shot the ball pretty well. This team needs to hit threes to win games and 8 of 18 is a good sign.
The defense was better. They held PSU to just 35.3% shooting. While part of that was the fact that PSU is a pretty terrible offensive team without their best player, it's still good progress. Keep in mind that BC previously lost to Bryant, so we can't take anything for granted.
This win marked BC's first road win since March 15th, 2011 against McNeese State. That's 20 months ago, folks.
The Eagles try to climb back to .500 when they host the Harvard Crimson at Conte Forum next Tuesday, December 4th at