CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – The first game after Christmas was decidedly a mixed bag for Boston College, more so than one might expect from simply looking at the scoreboard and seeing a 21-point loss. Now the underdog in the matchup with Harvard, the Eagles came in with three straight wins before the break and weren’t expected to win the game by virtually anyone outside of their locker room.
At times, the offense looked excellent. There were crisp passes to cutters, great movement without the ball, and some great reads of the defense that led to some easy baskets. There was a nice 14-3 lead early on, before reality set in and Harvard started getting stops. Even after that, there were times, particularly when Dennis Clifford was in the game and they were able to get him the ball, where the offense was a thing of beauty.
“I was pleased for long stretches of this basketball game,” head coach Steve Donahue said.
But at times, the offense was not good, and it came at a familiar time of the game. All night long, the Eagles defended at least reasonably well, with a pretty good effort at that end of the floor in the second half. While the defense was up to the task, the offense wasn’t after about the halfway point of the second half, and it kept the Eagles from mounting a bigger rally. While they managed to maintain contact, you never had the sense they were on their way to breaking through.
“I thought we lost our way offensively in the second half,” said Donahue. “It seems like every time we shot ourselves in the foot offensively, they took advantage of it.”
Clifford continues to come along well, leading the Eagles with 14 points and being the center of the offense. He hit several cutters early on when the offense was well-executed, and when he went out with early fouls the offense took a hit. Later, Harvard seemed to put an emphasis on denying him the ball, as they didn’t want to let him have a chance to survey the scene and find a cutter or open shooter.
The Eagles got a good ballgame from Patrick Heckmann, who has like all of the freshmen looked like he has unlimited potential at times and looked so-so at times as well. Heckmann had 13 points and looked very much at home in the offense, and he showed his ability to get by his man to score and handed out six assists on the night.
“The thing that I love about Patrick is that even though he makes a mistake, he wants to compete the next time and keeps coming at it,” said Donahue. “He’s got a trait that’s hard to find, a kid at that size that can go by people and still has a sense of passing.”
Most of all, the Eagles continue to improve defensively, holding Harvard to 41.5 percent shooting, including 39.1 percent in the second half. They still have plenty of room for improvement there, but it’s another step for this team a year after a lack of defense probably cost them some games and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Still, there is room for improvement there as the Eagles were out-rebounded 36-22 on the night. For the season, they have been out-rebounded by about five per game. Add that to creating less than 14 turnovers per game while they turn it over nearly 15 times per game, and this is a team that is losing the battle of possessions. That reduces their room for error. The opposing defense, and Donahue’s familiarity with them, does provide a lesson for his young team.
“I think that’s a lesson to be learned with young players developing,” said the Eagle mentor, who coached against many of the current Harvard players at Cornell before coming to Chestnut Hill. “My guys, in two years, you get bigger, you get stronger. Just watching the Harvard guys communicate out there, how they know each other so well and have such confidence and trust in each other. Tommy (Amaker, Harvard’s head coach) has done a fantastic job developing that defense.”
Harvard knocked off Boston College for the fourth straight year on Thursday. This time, it was very much expected, as Harvard clearly has the better team. Boston College gave them a ballgame for a while and had an early lead, and all in all showed signs of progress to go with areas for concern. If they maintained the level of play they had early on, it might have been a different ballgame. Looking away from the bottom line, the game was a mixed bag, but had some hopeful signs for the Eagles going forward.