CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Steve Donahue knows this will be different, but has to keep reminding himself. He’s used to having veteran teams, but not only does he have a young team, but he has one that is youthful and lacking in experience from pretty much every angle. His Boston College team has nine freshmen, just one senior and not a single player who played for the prior head coach in just his second season at the helm. In other words, it’s not even like he has a team full of sophomores that has at least practiced and played together for a year.
Donahue was already understanding what this entailed from practices and the team’s exhibition game. After Monday night’s 67-64 win over New Hampshire, it was driven home further.
“I probably didn’t have the right approach to the American International game,” said the Eagle mentor. “I’ve been very fortunate the last four years with winning a lot of basketball games and being on the right side of the ledger and player very well. I have to realize that we’re going to make a ton of mistakes out there, and I have to react properly.”
There was certainly a lot of room for growth from Monday night’s game. The Eagles were out-rebounded, didn’t shoot as well from the field as the Wildcats and shot less than 55 percent from the foul line. Only one player – graduate student John Cahill – had more assists (3) than turnovers (1) and the team had twice as many turnovers (14) as assists (7).
The Eagles didn’t look bad, but their effort on Monday night probably won’t win many ACC games. That’s to be expected, certainly, given the inexperience. Mostly, this team looked like a team that hasn’t played together much. They had good moments and bad ones, bright spots and concerning areas.
Three of the Eagles’ freshmen scored in double figures, with Ryan Anderson posting a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Patrick Heckmann wasn’t far from that as he had eight rebounds to go with 19 points. But Heckmann also had three turnovers without an assist, while Matt Humphrey, the Eagle with the most Division I experience entering the season, had five turnovers with one assist. It wasn’t all bad for Humphrey, as he looked more comfortable on the floor than he did in their exhibition game.
Donahue remembers how the last few teams he had at Cornell were so good that they pretty much ran themselves. Last year’s Boston College team was a veteran group as well, and one that had played together a lot, so they were similar in a key respect. This year’s team has neither of those attributes, so the contrast is apparent.
“For this group, there’s a lot of energy, a lot of stuff goes into each and every practice, a lot of work watching film and figuring out what’s best for this group,” Donahue said.
Heckmann, whose mother made it to town and took in his college debut, said the players knew there would be ups and downs. They came quickly, with the Wildcats having a six-point lead in the first half before the Eagles went on a 14-1 run to close out the half. The Eagles looked like they might be on the verge of breaking the game open in the second half, leading by 11 at one point, but they allowed the Wildcats to get within one possession several times. That led to one big bright spot on the night.
Every time New Hampshire got within a possession, Boston College would come up with an answer at the offensive end or a key defensive stop. They never surrendered the lead in the second half, making big plays when they needed to almost as if they were a team of seasoned veterans who didn’t get rattled.
Certainly, that wasn’t quite the case, and it helps that New Hampshire isn’t exactly a senior-laden team. But their ability to show some poise and make big plays is a plus, something one wouldn’t expect from a team like this.
Boston College started the season well on the bottom line, and showed an unexpected positive along the way. Still, Donahue knows what this season may look like, and it’s not necessarily a mirror image of Monday night.
“I’m going to be mentally prepared to realize that this isn’t going to look pretty. It’s just not,” said Donahue. “It’s unfair for me to assume that.”