CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Finally. The waiting game of sorts is over for Boston College.
So many good battles against top ACC teams, so many tough losses. That was the story for Boston College, especially during a nine-game losing streak that started in late January. They would give the likes of Pittsburgh, Miami (twice each), Syracuse, Louisville and North Carolina all they could handle before succumbing late. Rarely were they never really in a game, like a week earlier against Notre Dame. Surely it had to be a matter of time before they would break through and pull one of these out. And indeed, it wasn’t even a matter of pulling it out – they were never seriously challenged on Saturday. NC State got no closer than 12 in the second half, and that only lasted for 14 seconds.
“We’ve played that way the whole year,” said head coach Jim Christian. “With the exception of one or two games, we’ve played hard the entire time, we’ve just run out of gas because we don’t have a lot of numbers and we’re over-matched in some spots.”
Through all of the losing, Olivier Hanlan was playing great basketball, which raised the question of whether history could repeat itself – could a player on a last-place team win ACC Player of the Year? It happened a couple of years ago, when Erick Green of Virginia Tech did that. That’s another discussion for another time, though there are plenty of great candidates for the award this season. But the junior guard is putting up quite a season, especially of late. The ACC’s leading scorer is blowing away others in that category in conference games, and over the last eight games is averaging 27.5 points per game, topping 30 points four times. He isn’t doing so in volume, either, as he’s shooting nearly 54 percent from the field in that stretch, including 46 percent from long range.
“Everything starts with Hanlan, he was terrific, and he’s a great player,” said NC State head coach Mark Gottfried.
No matter how mentally tough anyone is, losing like this adds up. It’s not easy to take, especially since, as Christian noted, he inherited a veteran team, and that was a point Gottfried noted on the other side regarding the difficulty in preparing for them. Those veterans have lost quite a few games since the beginning of last year, but not because they have been out of their league.
“Late in February, losing nine in a row, I don’t know how many groups of seniors would have rolled over and just played it out,” Christian reflected. “We’ve been competing, we still practice with a lot of spirit, they play hard every night, and they fully deserved to win this game.”
Added Hanlan: “I just feel like everybody was positive. Even when we were losing, we took it to practice and worked hard at practice. Everybody kept their heads up. That’s how you’ve got to do it.”
This was a game the Eagles started fast, and then they finished the first half even faster. They took a 43-26 lead into the locker room, aided by a buzzer-beating three-point play by Aaron Brown, and it looked like there would be no way to collapse and lose this one. And while NC State would slowly cut into the lead later, the Wolfpack had nothing in the tank and the Eagles regrouped more than enough to keep them from thinking they could make a late rally.
Foul trouble mounted in the second half for the Eagles, and that points to one of the things Christian talked about that has hurt them this season. He said that by his count, they have had 92 man-games lost by scholarship players to injuries, noting that practice suffers from it and it removes room for error, something they had little of to begin with.
With a week to go before the ACC Tournament, there is hope for the Eagles to climb out of the cellar of the ACC. Christian said he knew it wasn’t going to happen right away, and the schedule didn’t help as the Eagles have played much more of the top than the bottom thus far. They have continued to compete, and on Saturday it finally paid off on the bottom line when the final buzzer sounded.