Boston College never makes it easy, even when they hold a lead from the beginning to the end. Despite their best efforts in the closing minutes, the Eagles escaped with a win over Notre Dame for the first time in 14 years. It’s also the first win in South Bend since January 11, 1997 (which is before I was born by a couple of days). Derryck Thornton had 19 points while Jay Heath had 16. Notre Dame’s TJ Gibbs led all scorers with 22.
Hot shooting in the first half built the Eagles a 38-28 lead, with the team shooting 60% from three and over 55% from the field. Thornton and Heath both put up 11 in the first. Longtime BC arch-nemesis John Mooney, who I swear should have graduated by now, had just 4 first half points (though he would finish with 16). But we Eagle fans know that the game is never over no matter the half time lead.
The Irish threatened in the second half early with hot shooting from three. But BC didn’t get nervy as they have at times this year and stuck to their game plan. The Eagles’ game has continued to be at its best when they played methodical, ball movement oriented offense, with occasional fast break points coming out of an intense team defense.
Notre Dame seemed content to take long shots until it was too late and refused to try to exploit the absence of Nik Popovic. Mooney didn’t get the ball into the post until nearly 8 minutes left in the game. But when he did, it started to spell trouble for the Eagles. For a lot of us, it started to look like so many of the other losses in the four game losing streak – each made shot looked like it would be the one to kick off the 20 point run that killed this team. But the Eagles managed to punch back each time, and whenever the lead was cut to single digits Heath, or Thornton, or the Hamiltons found a few buckets.
Until the closing minutes, when back to back 8-point ND run rendered that halftime lead irrelevant. All of us, myself included, probably expected the worst.
Apparently we were right to expect that. A terrible (and I mean terrible) spell by the Eagles saw them unable to overcome pressure up the court and commit multiple turnovers in the last three minutes. Notre Dame cut the lead to just a single point, and when the Eagles had multiple opportunities to hit game clinching free throws in the closing seconds they failed to convert. But that halftime lead was just enough, and the Irish’s three point heave as time expired careened off the backboard.
It’s a shame, because a lot of the good in this win (90+% of the game) is going to get overruled by the last three minutes. Jay Heath made some big time plays on both the offensive and defensive end, and except for the last few minutes Derryck Thornton made tough shots when the Eagles were late in the shot clock. They didn’t panic for most of it, and they now sit atop the ACC at 2-0 with Louisville.