CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – This wasn’t how the season was supposed to start. The best case scenario was, obviously, 3-0. Given who they had to play in the first three games, 2-1 would look good, and 1-2 might seem acceptable. But 0-3?
That’s not what anyone had in mind with Boston College. That’s what the reality is after Thursday night’s 95-92 loss to Toledo at Conte Forum. And a subdued Steve Donahue sounds like someone who is going back to the drawing board.
“I’m obviously disappointed,” said Donahue. “We’ve got to go back to work tomorrow and figure it out.”
The biggest thing the Eagles need to figure out is defense. It was their Achilles heel last season and has been doubly so this season, even though their offense has left something to be desired at times. Offense wasn’t a concern on Thursday night as they shot 51 percent from the field and had 14 assists against ten turnovers. Through three games, opponents are shooting nearly 50 percent from the field against the Eagles and are out-rebounding them by over 12 a game. Toledo shot 57.1 percent and out-rebounded the Eagles 31-27, including a startling 21-6 margin in the second half. For a team that doesn’t turn opponents over (Toledo committed just six of those), those are dangerous numbers.
Perhaps most concerning of all is that the Eagles are being out-scored by almost 11 points per game in the second half. Thursday night, that was exactly the difference as Toledo out-scored them 55-44 in the latter frame, hanging around until they took the lead in the final minute.
“I think it’s a lack of valuing a lot of little things out there,” said junior forward Ryan Anderson. “Any time you give up over 50 points in a half, whether it’s the new rules or not, you’re not going to win many games. So we just have to do a better job of finding any way to get a stop.”
Speaking of the new rules, Donahue has continued to talk about them and how this team hasn’t adjusted to them. He isn’t blaming officials, merely noting that the Eagles have not found a way to adjust to the way the game is getting called. It’s affected them on several levels, from foul trouble and the lack of depth due to injuries all the way to not dealing with the games having a different flow because of stoppages of play.
“We haven’t done a good job of guarding without fouling,” said Donahue.
This wasn’t supposed to be an issue. The Eagles aren’t a young, inexperienced team anymore. This is a team whose core has been together for two seasons, whose primary players have played a lot of minutes together. These aren’t players who haven’t had to make in-game adjustments before. They aren’t playing tough teams for the first time. And with all of that, plus the progress the team showed last season, the expectation is that this team will at least be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Right now, that seems like a pipe dream. Sure, the Eagles have played three tough teams; Providence and UMass are similar in that they should at least be in the NCAA Tournament conversation, while Toledo should contend in the Mid-American Conference. But if you’re going to be an NCAA Tournament team, you need to win a few of these games, and while BC has several games left that will have RPI pop before ACC play, going 0-3 doesn’t suggest they will win many, if any, of those games.
Donahue talked a lot about what he has to do. On several occasions after Thursday’s game, he took responsibility for something. It’s clear he’s feeling challenged right now, and as if that’s not enough, there’s more chatter about his job status among the masses, ridiculous though it may sound. He’s been through a lot with this group, and may be going back through how he guided them through adversity earlier in their career, when they suffered some very humbling defeats and had to grow a lot. It seems this team still has some growing pains in them.
“These guys, if anything, they want to win too much, so maybe it’s nervous energy,” said Donahue. “They’re not sure yet how to do it as a group.”
Given that, the expectations and the tough start, might they be pressing? Donahue thinks that’s possible.
“I don’t think they know how to channel it,” he reflected. “I think there’s a tightness about us when things go bad. There’s not a belief that we can do it. Once again, that’s me. I’ve got to get them positive, got to get them back on track and figure this out.”
With the schedule they have ahead, they don’t have much time to figure it out. Next week, they play Connecticut and either Indiana or Washington in New York, with the Huskies being a team that should be in the NCAA Tournament and Indiana and Washington having good, albeit young, talent. They head to Purdue and USC ater that, and still have to play VCU in Brooklyn and across town at Harvard.
Donahue has reiterated a few times during this opening stretch that he has plenty of confidence in this team. With the strides they have made thus far, there is reason to have that. But as a team strides forward, the next strides always get tougher, and right now Boston College is finding that out. No one expected it, and that makes it harder to stomach right now.