CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Let’s just put this right out there: Boston College needed Sunday’s game. Badly. They almost didn’t get it, and if that happened it wouldn’t be pretty.
They pulled out an 82-79 win over Florida Atlantic, and while the questions about this team will keep coming, the Eagles come away feeling like this is the beginning of better things.
“Now that we’ve got it in our back pocket, I think this is going to get the ball rolling a little bit and we’re going to start to play good basketball,” said sophomore guard Joe Rahon.
That may sound good in theory, but turning it into reality is another matter. What the Eagles have shown thus far, including in Sunday night’s win, isn’t very encouraging, especially for a veteran team. Injuries have also been a concern, and that may hurt them more than anyone originally thought, but that’s not all.
On the health front, the Eagles got Lonnie Jackson back on Sunday, but lost Eddie Odio. Odio has been banged up all along and gamely battled through it, but finally on Sunday just couldn’t go. That hurt on the glass, an area that continues to be a problem as the Eagles were again out-rebounded, this time 36-31. More concerning is that they continue to get pounded in the second half, this time to the tune of 25-13. That’s where a lack of depth comes in, and while Dennis Clifford, out for at least another few weeks, isn’t going to own the boards, he would be one more big body to help distribute the frontcourt minutes and help there.
Things have gotten so bad up front that on Sunday, K.C. Caudill played some meaningful minutes. It helped that in this case, there was someone he could match up with, as he’s slow and has never gotten into good shape. He didn’t have a rebound on Sunday, but he did eat space and give the other big men some rest.
Instead, the Eagles have needed some minutes from freshman Will Magarity while also having to go small often. On a night where Ryan Anderson just didn’t have it (seven points on 2-10 shooting, although he had seven boards), Magarity came up big late, sticking back a miss with 1:25 left to make it a two-possession game. That salvaged the night at least, but any way you slice it, the big men had a bad night on the glass as Anderson, Caudill and Magarity combined for nine rebounds. Florida Atlantic’s Justin Raffington, their starting forward, had 11 all by himself.
“I think at this point, teams sense our inability to guard down low, so they take us down there, throw it up on the glass,” said head coach Steve Donahue.
That area is only one problem, however, although there appeared to be real strides in another problem area: offense. The Eagle offense hasn’t looked like it should through the first few games, with the ball not moving as well as it should, Olivier Hanlan letting the game come to him perhaps more than he should, and as the struggles continued they seemed to press. On Sunday, Florida Atlantic scored the first seven points of the game, and you could see the Eagles trying to do too much offensively. They were trying to get it all back at once, until, interestingly enough, Jackson came into the game.
Jackson had just three points and three assists, but he brings a lot to the table to potentially be a stabilizing influence. Since he can shoot, he’ll draw some defensive attention, and his passing ability is underrated. He’ll have to shake off a little rust and continue to get back into shape, but it’s clear his addition will be a welcome sight even as Garland Owens has emerged as a suitable starting wing.
“He just knows the game, how to play, he knows how to be in spots,” Hanlan said of Jackson. “Even when he was injured, he was kind of a coach on the sideline, so having him out there is fun.”
Rahon got untracked on Sunday, and it didn’t hurt that he hit a buzzer-beater from just behind midcourt to put the Eagles up by five at the half. He finished with 17 points, but had just one assist as the Eagles just couldn’t capitalize on some of the chances.
Hanlan finally started to play like the player many expected. He averaged 20 points in the first three games, which isn’t too shabby, but didn’t look like himself in doing so. Rather than attack often, even to create for others – and he admitted he was trying hard to involve his teammates – he tended to let the game come to him, and that may not be best for this team since he and Owens are the only Eagles who can reliably get by a defender. His Sunday line matched the appearance, as he scored 38 points on 11-19 shooting from the field and 12-14 from the line. While no one will expect 38 points a night, this kind of play is what they need from him – attacking and trying to put the defense on its heels, especially since the way games are being called can also help him get to the foul line often.
That’s a big step forward for this team, and if there is something encouraging, it’s that the Eagles have been close despite the fact that they have not played a complete game yet. Hanlan wasn’t quite himself in the opener and wasn’t any better against UMass, while Rahon had one assist with five turnovers and no one up front had a good night on the boards against Toledo. Anderson struggled on Sunday night. If they can get everyone playing well in the same game, wins might be a little easier to come by.
If Rahon is right, the Eagles may soon turn a corner. They will have chances to make up for the early losses, with Connecticut on Thursday and either Indiana or Washington on Friday in New York. While Connecticut should be an NCAA Tournament team, the Eagles may match up with them reasonably well from the standpoint that the Huskies aren’t very big or deep up front. Indiana and Washington are both younger but very talented.
But while making up for the losses will be nice, the Eagles need to solve some of their ongoing issues. They need to rebound better, be a better second-half team overall (they have been out-scored by an average of 8.5 points per game in the second half and have been out-scored in all four games in the latter frame) and run the offense the way they are capable of. Getting Jackson back should help with the last one, while the other issues require more from all of the players. If they solve those issues, Sunday night can potentially be more than just a case of stopping the bleeding.