Eagles Fall Just Short Against Tar Heels

When Boston College clashed with No. 12 North Carolina on Saturday, the Eagles were not projected to be much of a test for the perennial powerhouse. However, as they have done all year, the Eagles proved to be a difficult matchup. Unfortunately, like other games against ACC ranked opponents, the Eagles came up just short down the stretch, falling 68-79.

The story of this game, like many of BC’s other contests, is not well represented by the score. Two UNC points, for example, came as the Tar Heels were dribbling out the clock and as the Eagles were essentially not playing defense and gave up an easy layup. Ignoring that bucket, this would be the Eagles' eighth single digit loss of the season and sixth in the ACC. As always, The Eagles make every single game close—and this one was especially interesting.

Hall of Fame UNC coach Roy Williams couldn’t have been more right when he said that “It was a weird game" with "contrasting styles.” Just think about these numbers—BC had 32 points in the paint, UNC had 46. BC had 23 total rebounds, UNC grabbed 37. BC took 23 threes, UNC took only 5.

If you can’t tell, these two clubs came to the game with very different game plans. The Eagles knew that if they were going to beat any ranked powerhouse like UNC, they were going to have to do it from being the arc. Sadly, tonight they only hit 5 of their 23 from the arc. UNC, on the other hand, is a very deep team with some skilled players on the block. Coach Williams flatly said that they “looked to get the ball inside all the time.”

Tori Fisher/ Gavel Media.

Tori Fisher/ Gavel Media.

The Tar Heels' focus on winning this game on the block was tough for the Eagles, considering their general weakness in the front court, lack of depth, and missing big man Will Magarity. Magarity by no means takes Hicks or Johnson out of the game, as post defense isn’t where he excels. However, he is far better than the alternatives, and the extra body would have been a huge help. John Cain Carney did his best to fill for the injured Magarity, and gave a valiant effort, but just couldn’t do anything about the length and skill in the post of the UNC big men.

Ultimately, the sole reason the Eagles were hung in this game was Olivier Hanlan. A college basketball game is two 20 minute halves—40 total minutes. Hanlan played every single one of them, and finished with a game-high 30 points. Both coaches spoke on the play of the BC star. “He’s a heck of a player,” Williams said. “I love his toughness and competitiveness. He’s a load, it’s hard to keep him out of the paint, and it’s hard to keep him from making threes.”

Hanlan’s minutes this season have been very high, including his absurd 40 tonight. Though Hanlan excelled, Coach Christian spoke more his team’s reliance than on Hanlan. When asked if there was too much of the offense resting on his shoulders, Christian didn’t hesitate with his answer. “No,” he stated bluntly. “I think he makes the right plays. I think he’s playing as good as anyone in the league right now without question. So if I’m going to be relying on anyone it’s going to be the best player on my team.”

The bold assertions from Coach Christian about his star aren’t unwarranted. Coming into the game, Hanlan was the only player in the ACC to be ranked in the top 5 for points and assists during league play. Just look at his last two contests—he torched Jerian Grant of Notre Dame, one of the best players in nation, to the tune of 28 points. Then the next game, against preseason first team All-American Marcus Paige of UNC, he tops his previous total and puts up 30.

Tori Fisher/ Gavel Media.

Tori Fisher/ Gavel Media.

Unfortunately, Hanlan’s efforts just weren’t enough for the Eagles, as they couldn't get stops inside against UNC's inside game when they needed them. BC had UNC's lead down to 5 points three separate times in the last 5 minutes, but never had the interior defense to take the lead.

The game obviously had positive attributes SuperFans can be happy about. Using high ball screens and small lineups to stretch the floor, the Eagles were able to run their offense pretty well against a much more inside-oriented and athletic team.

Yet, Coach Christian seemed a bit frustrated with his team's continued close losses in ACC play. He attributed the losses to essentially the lack of showing up down the stretch of games. “The last five minutes is a byproduct of how much work you put in, how much you put in for your career. And when you get to that mark, you have to put enough work in where you are unwilling to lose, and that’s what we are witnessing from these other teams.”

Christian went on to speak about his own team saying, “That’s the point we have to get our program to. You need to have the confidence in those last few minutes that you can look that other guy in the eye and know that you have worked harder than him for your whole career.”

Christian did say that his team played hard and played well, but he pointed out that in the ACC you often play hard, play well, and still lose.

Hopefully this loss doesn’t hurt the Eagles too much. The Eagles' next opportunity to bounce back behind a raucous crowd will be this Wednesday night against rival Syracuse at Conte Forum.

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Carter Montgomery