by ALEX FAIRCHILD
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — On the weekend of a top 5 storm in New England, Boston College set out to beat a top 5 team. After losing to Miami in Coral Gables by 22, Steve Donahue’s team would not have it any easier upon their return to Conte Forum. Averaging 4 point wins at BC in the last few meetings between the two, Duke had to have known they were in for a struggle.
While the Dukies left snowy Boston with a 62-61 win, it took a full 40 minute fight against an Eagles team desperate for victory at home.
The night’s first surprise came when Steve Donahue started Dennis Clifford. The sophomore captain has had a tough run of it this season, suffering set back after set back. Coach Donahue said last week that the medical crew considered shutting the big man down, though Clifford played 14 minutes on Sunday night. His time on the floor showed promise and what kind of a player he will be in the coming years.
Clifford and Ryan Anderson gave Mason Plumlee a hard time early. Doubling up on the Duke forward in the opening minutes, the pair took away Duke’s inside threat. Quinn Cook finally ended the Blue Devil drought hitting after 5 minutes of play.
BC (10-13, 2-8 ACC) never relented. Patrick Heckmann’s only points of the game came after a great bit of passing from the Eagles.
Steals kept Boston College ahead in the game. They led the category at halftime 7-2. One from Ryan Anderson allowed him to hit Joe Rahon down the floor. The playmaker found Heckmann whose pass to Ryan led to two more for the sophomore, giving BC a 13-5 lead. This 8 point advantage with 10:58 remaining in the first would be the biggest point spread of the night.
Duke (21-2, 8-2 ACC, #4 AP, #4 USA Today) closed it to 14-11, but Dennis Clifford twisted and turned in the paint, drawing a foul from Plumlee. The captain, who hit his layup, knocked down the ensuing free throw as well.
Clifford, Van Nest, Anderson, Odio and at times Lonnie Jackson continued giving Mason Plumlee a run for his money. Duke’s go-to man was troubled by the constant change in personnel that Donahue showed him. Fresh legs limited Plumlee all night, even though he finished with 19 points.
Four minutes from the intermission, Andrew Van Nest hit two from the line putting BC up by 7, but Duke chipped away at BC’s lead after the final media timeout of the period. While Ryan Anderson extended BC’s time ahead by ducking under Plumlee for a basket, Tyler Thornton capped a Duke spurt making it 23-22 Eagles.
Mason Plumlee then mustered a three point play, erasing BC’s lead, but Olivier Hanlan, who led all scorers with 20 points, drained one from beyond the arc to put his side ahead by two. However, Plumlee did it again for Coach K with a monster dunk that took the game into the half tied at 27.
Any hope Duke had of BC losing their momentum faded right off the bat. A Ryan Anderson jumper gave BC a quick lead coming out of the break.
However, Seth Curry and Josh Hairston put Duke ahead by 3.
BC did not give up. Ryan Anderson shoved his way through Duke’s defense, finishing with a dunk of his own to pull his team back within one.
Things looked bleak for BC though. After Plumlee stripped Anderson at the top of key, he trotted the length of the court and finished with a one-handed slam that shook Conte Forum.
Anderson scored again, as BC kept its dream alive, though Quinn Cook’s three point play kept Duke in front by 6.
The pesky Eagles never went away. Lonnie Jackson found the hoop with ease, tying the matchup with a simple layup for his only points of the night.
With a 55-55 scoreline and 5:15 remaining, momentum had shifted in favor of the young Eagles.
After the teams ran up and down the floor, Olivier Hanlan struck with two from the line for Boston College, who at that point took a 5 point, 61-56 lead 3:22 from time.
However, BC would not score again. Coach K’s Duke finished the game with a 6-0 run, which included a three ball from Cook and buckets from the stripe by Plumlee.
With the shot clock off, Steve Donahue put the ball in the hands of his Canadian freshman. Hanlan stalled, took a jump step to get an open look, but missed. His teammate, Ryan Anderson, came down with the board, but was smothered by Plumlee & Co. as the buzzer sounded signaling a 1 point win for the Durham natives.
The legendary Mike Krzyzewski respected BC’s performance, against his number four side saying post-game, “Boston College is what we thought they would be – resilient, tough, they took the fight to us, I thought. Tonight, I thought they were exceptional.”
“We couldn’t get close to the bucket,” said Coach K of BC’s defense, “It’s a game where you kind of have to fight through resistance.
“I thought the second half we played pretty well.. But, they don’t give you points for getting down to the 5 yard line. We didn’t put the ball in the basket.
“It’s a tough loss for them, because they played definitely well enough to win – they were deserving of winning, I’m not saying we weren’t either, but they played really well,” said the Olympic gold medalist.
He was especially happy with the way his team won the game, despite it being in the final moments.
“When you get a defensive exchange to stop, it’s five guys playing as one. For me there’s no better feeling that to win a game that way. You see them on the floor and that red light goes off and it’s pretty cool, it’s a pretty cool thing.”
Krzyzewski also commented on what has been a crazy past few weeks in the college game. The reason Coach K suggested for the early madness – “There aren’t the powerhouses that there have been. To me, the best right now is in our conference – Miami. Their average age is 23 and they don’t play anybody who’s young. They’re healthy, well-coached, and can score from every position.”
Ryan Anderson has been a standout for Boston College since his arrival on campus in 2011. As one of the best all around players in the game, he is a threat to coaches across the nation. Steve Donahue complimented his star man after the team’s victory against Clemson, saying that his forward shows up in so many different spots, that he is extraordinarily tough to track.
Coach K agreed with that evaluation of the sophomore who finished with six rebounds and 17 points saying of the California man, “He’s a really good player. He’s a basketball player. He’s not a position, and that’s what makes him difficult to guard. Whether he’s at the 5 or the 4, he’s really not either one of those. He’s just a basketball player. For me, that means he can handle it, he can shoot it, he can pass it, and he’s strong with the ball. He has good moves.
“Because they can shoot so well, he has operating room. A lot of times, guys are not accustomed guarding a guy like him and he takes advantage of them.”
While the defeat pushed Boston College further towards the bottom on the ACC table, Steve Donahue must be happy with his team’s performance. Their work on Sunday was impressive, especially as Duke looked a threat to run away with it as the game persisted. The Eagles were resilient and impressive from the line – which has been a soft spot for them all year. Under pressure, Donahue’s team went 17-20 from the charity stripe.
In addition, a team known for its three point shooting did not show it tonight. They took a relatively low amount of risks from range, taking a mere 11 attempts for three, as opposed to their usually 20 plus.
The return of Dennis Clifford was positive and the adrenaline rush the captain gave his team was noticeable, as they played with great passion whether or not their leader was on the court.
Rebounding from a devastating performance against Miami, the Eagles’ performance Sunday night, was a preview of the team’s future. With a starting lineup of two freshman and three sophomores, this team has time to gel.
In one year’s time do not be surprised to see Boston College take Coach K’s team to the wire once again – perhaps producing a different outcome.