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Boston College in a much better place entering ACC play

January 2, 2013 Columns No Comments

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Non-conference play is in the books for Boston College, and this time things are a little different than a year ago. That was to be expected given the youth of last season’s team, but at times in the first couple of months one might have had to wonder since the Eagles went 0-3 in the Charleston Classic, lost to Bryant and played poorly in losing to Harvard for the fifth year in a row. But the Eagles rebounded from that and will enter ACC play on a good note after Monday’s 79-58 blowout of Dartmouth.

A year ago as ACC play beckoned, Boston College was 5-9 and lost their last two games. This time around, the Eagles will enter ACC play with an 8-5 mark and a five-game winning streak. Granted, all of the wins came at home, and none were against teams that are a lock to be in the NCAA Tournament. In one they trailed by double digits for a significant period before rallying to win in overtime. Still, they are winning this time around and that has to make a big difference for them.

“We’re feeling good, we’re playing well going into the ACC, and we’re going to try to keep it going,” said freshman guard Joe Rahon.

There’s much more to like than just the record or the current winning streak. The Eagles are out-rebounding opponents by more than two per game, they’re taking better care of the ball as the season goes on and the ball movement is better on offense as well. This was an unselfish group to begin with, but now the ball is moving more freely and there appears to be a better feel for each other and more trust. They have also done this with a limited Dennis Clifford, as he missed three games after his ankle was rolled over at Penn State and has been limited since returning. Clifford’s knee has bothered him as well, and only rest will heal that fully.

What’s more, you can see the maturity of this team individually, and it’s not just freshmen becoming sophomores. Lonnie Jackson overcame some brutal shooting early on, while Patrick Heckmann has had a full season thus far as opposed to an early case of mono basically short-circuiting his freshman season and is starting to live up to his talent in shooting over 41 percent from long range.

“I tell anybody that (Jackson) is going to wind up being around 40 percent on the year from three-point range,” said Donahue, who added that Jackson has played well all year save for shooting the ball. “He’s too good a shooter and works too hard at it.”

Besides that, the Eagles are finding a way while going smaller. Anderson has been playing center of late, and while he’s far from ideal size for that position he is managing with this group and they are playing a way that suits the personnel. He’s also an example of this team overcoming some adversity during the season, as he started off with nice numbers before coming back to earth.

“I think Ryan Anderson has made a great in-season change,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “I think he probably took it for granted a bit when he came out in the Dayton game and got it handed to him a little bit. Then he had the injury, and he was really struggling. He’s been really good this month.”

The Eagles are also doing this with a freshman backcourt, and by now it’s clear that Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan are upgrades to the departed Jordan Daniels with Jackson and Heckmann at times trading starts unless the Eagles go smaller with essentially four perimeter players, as they did on Monday against Dartmouth. Rahon had a big game on Monday as the very competitive point guard got hot from long range in the second half en route to a career-high 24 points, making all six of his shots from long range.

Donahue wasn’t sure about this unit given how young last year’s group was and the growing pains they had, but they have performed beyond what he expected to this point. That just furthers the notion that they are a clear upgrade.

The Eagles had some adversity early in the season, and some of it surely had some wondering if this season might just be more of the same as last year. They aren’t loaded with talent, so many wonder if this isn’t a team that is about to get it handed to them often in ACC play. What will give them a chance is that right now the intangibles seem to be at a very high level, and that might help them do a little better than some might expect, especially if you add that they appear to have found lineup combinations that work.

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