Selects by Photo Editor Graham Beck from BC basketball’s win over St. Francis today.

Eagles Allow Second Half To Snowball Out Of Control In Fifth-Straight Loss To Harvard

image

(Graham Beck/Photo Editor)

By Austin Tedesco, Asst. Sports Editor

When head coach Steve Donahue sees his team shoot almost 60 percent from the field, he expects them to win. Despite the apparent offensive efficiency on Tuesday night, the Boston College men’s basketball fell to Harvard 79-63 in the program’s fifth straight loss to the Crimson.

“It’s hard to imagine you shoot 58 percent and lose by 16 pretty handedly,” Donahue said. “There’s a mental toughness side on both sides of the ball that they had and we didn’t. That was, I’m sure, apparent to everybody. In particular, when they pressured us – even though we were scoring we were never understanding and staying poised and confident in our offense. But when we pressured them they just moved like clockwork to the next thing. And like I said it’s kind of mind-boggling to put up those kinds of numbers and lose pretty handedly.”

Ryan Anderson opened the game by scoring 11 of the Eagles first 13 points and it looked as though the Crimson didn’t have an answer for the BC forward, but after the first five minutes his offense began to fade.

“Part of our offense is everyone moves and everyone touches the ball,” said freshman guard Joe Rahon. “Looking back we probably should’ve tried to make more of an effort on the court to try to get it to him when he was hot, but they did do a good job of keying on him. When we were driving they were shading him a little bit more than they did at the start of the game, but looking back we probably should’ve tried to ride him a little more there.”

BC kept the game in reach until the second half, when Harvard went on a run that the Eagles couldn’t match.

“The Achilles’ heel for us is that we allow a play that just happened to snowball to the next play, and it happens in all facets of basketball,” Donahue said. “It’s something that I can’t tell you how many times we talk about it, we harp on it, and we show it to them on film.”

The Harvard players methodically attacked the BC defense on their way to tying their highest point total of the season so far. They made BC defend for the whole shot-clock before finally finding a clean look that consistently fell through the net.

“That’s the two hardest things to do in basketball,” Donahue said. “Is to push it early on and stop them, and then to have the poise and toughness and confidence at the end of the shot clock, and they exploited both ends of that.”

On the offensive end, BC was flustered by the Harvard pressure which broke the rhythm of the motion offense.

“They did a great job of pressuring us and trying to deny easy swing passes,” Rahon said. “I think we didn’t handle it as well as we needed to. We knew they were going to do it. We knew it was coming and we were trying to just get backdoor cuts, get sharp cuts, and move the ball, but they did a good job of taking us out of our rhythm there for a little bit, and we were never really able to turn it around and get over the hump.”

Donahue wouldn’t chalk up the loss to experience, though.

“Can’t say experience anymore,” Donahue said. “I’m done with that. The defense was poor. It’s got to get better. We’ll work at it, but the defense was really poor.”

Although many of the Eagles looked out of sync and worn down during the second half, Donahue said it wasn’t an issue with effort.

“It’s not effort,” Donahue said. “It isn’t. We have to, my staff and myself, get them playing at a certain high level, consistently, all the time, and not missing a beat. It appears at time that it’s effort, but I just think it’s the mental toughness part of it that the guys don’t have the ability to fight through. These guys will continue to get better at it, we’ll continue to bring people into this program that understand it, and we’ll build a culture similar to what we did at Cornell and similar to what Harvard has – but to say they’re not trying? No, they try. They try really hard.”

His players need to be more mentally tough, and he says that will come through failures like this as he continues to build the program.

“I love these guys, as I say all the time,” Donahue said. “I have great confidence that they’ll get it and we’re going to work extremely hard to do it. Unfortunately, and I know I sound like a broken record, but we’re going to have failures here. We’re going to have some extreme frustration, but that to me is the only way you can be successful.”

Column: Breaking down BC basketball’s defensive issues

(Photo by Graham Beck/Heights Editor)

By Austin Tedesco, Asst. Sports Editor

FIU’s style of play and Baylor’s high-skill level could’ve misconstrued where this Boston College basketball team is defensively, but, after falling 87-71 to Dayton on Friday afternoon, it’s pretty clear now. This squad just can’t guard consistently. It’s not that the players are bad defenders, because they aren’t, and it’s not that head coach Steve Donahue has a bad defensive scheme, because he doesn’t. On the court, it looks like a team that has made a really impressive leap offensively while still just not getting it on the defensive end of the court. Most of the players have the potential to be good defenders and Donahue is using typical man principles, but the execution just isn’t there and it will need to be fixed if BC is going to stop losing games it shouldn’t. Here’s a breakdown of what is happening in each aspect of the defense.

Pick-and-Roll:

This is easily the weakest aspect of BC’s defensive game, and all three opponents have attacked it well. The issues begin with the big men defending the screeners. Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford have not consistently been in the right position. The pick-and-roll defense is at its best when Clifford and Anderson step out with their hands up as the ball-handler uses the screen, and then immediately sprint back to their man without losing track of the ball. This has only happened on some occasions. Most of the time, the big man won’t show long enough or won’t show at all, and it leads to a wide open three or a drive to the rim. Andrew Van Nest has done an incredible job at this position, and it’s the reason he’s seeing more playing time.

Another issue in the pick-and-roll is the on-ball guard. Too often, the guard, whether it is Olivier Hanlan, Joe Rahon, or Lonnie Jackson, waits too long to start fighting over the screen. This puts the bigs, especially Clifford who lacks serious lateral quickness, in an awkward position because it means they have to defend a smaller guard for a longer period of time. Hanlan has been the defender in most pick-and-rolls so far since BC’s opponents have been running the play through the point guard. Hanlan has done a good job at times of picking a spot and forcing his way there as he fights over the pick. If the screener tries to keep him from getting there, it should be a foul, as most of these picks are being set while the screener is on the move. If Hanlan can eliminate possessions in which he does his work late and gets stuck chasing his man around the screen rather than cutting him off as he fights over it, then most of the pick-and-roll issues will start to go away. It’s a really difficult thing to do on every possession, but it’s the only way the defense is going to get cleaned up.

Defending the Post:

Post entry has also been a serious problem for the Eagles. For starters, the guards make it way too easy for the pass to get to the opponent’s big men. When BC defends the ball on the perimeter, there hasn’t been a lot of pressure and that has allowed for easy and composed passes to the block. The bigger issue, though, is where and how the BC bigs are defending the man posting up. Both Anderson and Clifford too often find themselves entirely on the back of the man they are defending. Other teams have done a good job of running their post players through some motion before settling on the block, but Anderson and Clifford have to be ready for this. They need to see the post up coming and get themselves in a three-quarter front. Both bigs do this when the post up is obviously coming, but, again, they lack consistency. The three-quarter front, making the entry pass possible only if it is low and near the baseline, takes away so many options for the opposing player in the post and it also makes the guard less comfortable throwing the pass inside. Clifford and Anderson are also not pushing their men off the block enough. This is a tough thing for two young, developing players to do on every possession, but if they keep allowing post players to catch the ball right on the block without pressure, then opponents will keep shooting at a high percentage.

Rotation from the Guards:

Hanlan and Jackson are the biggest culprits here, as Rahon is fundamentally sound on defense and doesn’t struggle with this as much. Both Hanlan and Jackson find themselves watching the ball way too often. They aren’t necessarily losing their men, but they don’t keep themselves in a position to easily help or easily recover. They are choosing one or the other. This leads to both players getting turned around and having to turn all the way back around as they close out to the perimeter. Easy three-point looks for the other team will decrease significantly once Hanlan and Jackson figure out the right position and stay there through each possession.

Transition:

Two issues stand out here. First, the ball is being stopped way too late. Rahon and Hanlan are both very quick and very talented at on-ball defense. They should feel comfortable picking up the dribbler around half court and they should make it their job to do this every time. Instead, the point guard or lead guard in transition is getting near the NBA three-point line before he is slowed down and this is causing too many fast breaks. The other issue is that too many players are finding their man in transition and sticking to him. This just can’t happen. With one or two players still running back on defense, whatever players are already below the three-point line need to favor the other team’s best shooter and buy time in whatever way they can as the other players get back. Transition is a team endeavor, it’s not the individual matching up that is happening too often right now.

Bob Picozzi, who called the game for ESPN with Jay Williams, accused BC of lacking fight and not wanting it as much as Dayton on Friday. That’s not what I saw at all. A team doesn’t take this many charges without fighting hard. There was probably an emotional letdown from the Baylor game and, with a short rotation, the back-to-back games couldn’t have been easy on the body. All four of these fixes on defense take a whole lot of effort on the court, and if the Eagles can fix all of them it wouldn’t just make a good defensive team, it would make them elite. That won’t happen in the next week or even month, but over the course of the season all of these concepts need to improve. The offense is finally getting there. It’s time for the defense to catch up.

"I think we’re used to it. Even though we had some [seniors] this year I think we’re all used to the youth. I think what it’s going to enable—and the biggest thing I’m trying to get from these guys— is that I’ve got to have leadership. There’s got to be a step, someone or more than one, taking the team and being a leader and taking ownership of this team. Not the coaches telling you everything that has to happen. Somewhere for us to be a great team that locker room has to take ownership and they’ve got to take this to the next level. If you can do it as sophomores, then holy cow, will that help you as juniors and seniors. Once again, it may be more difficult next year because we don’t have that leadership and that older guy that helps you, but I think in the long run we make look back, and I believe this, you’ll say that really makes us great now because they went through all this stuff as younger kids."

"We didn’t name a captain last year, and I think I’ll wake up one day and I’ll know it or they’ll know it. We don’t know it yet, and that’s just part of our issue right now. It’s just a unique team since nobody’s been through it yet. I don’t feel like anybody’s ready to do it if they’re being honest. They don’t feel like they’re secure enough in themselves to lead and serve the others when they’re still worried about themselves, and I understand that. It may happen over the next six months and it may not, but it’s going to happen. We’re going to constantly challenge them to take that and we’ll get somebody, we will."

— Coach Donahue on the lack of upperclassmen given Matt Humphrey’s departure and his squad’s current lack of a captain.
I think the offensive side, and the defensive side, are light-years away from where we’ve got to be. That’s not how we’re going to play. We were basically trying to design a plan where our guys can compete for 40 minutes in the ACC against those teams. It’s not like we were trying to figure out how we’re going to beat teams in the long run. We’re going to play fast, we’re going to try to score 75 to 80 points, we’re going to mix up defenses, we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to play nine to 10 guys. All the things I just said just weren’t realistically options with such youth and inexperience and weak bodies and cardio fitness. All those things have got to be terrific—and, you know, just not enough pieces. So I think we are really far away, but what I do like is I think the guys are willing to learn, I think there’s a good skill level, I think as they get bigger, stronger, and more experienced you’ll see all of the things we’re trying to do come into light as each guy gets better at every position. — Coach Donahue when asked at what point in the season his team really got a grip on his motion offense.
I think we all have challenges at every program to sell playing time and opportunities, but you know what I’m pretty honest with every kid—and this is nothing against the guys who are here. I told these guys that no one earned the starts this year. It’s not like they beat out a sophomore or junior or senior who had been playing. Essentially, someone had to play, and that’s where the challenges are. I told them that everyone coming in here, I’m trying to get guys that will help us win in the ACC, so they’re probably going to want your job. Your responsibility is to get better and better, so personally you don’t lose your job if you’re playing already. You’re trying as a sub to beat those guys out, and then all of us are trying to get better. I think it’s actually, if I’m honest with a guy, I’m saying that no one’s secured this spot. I may say in two years, you know, returning now look at this kid’s freshman and sophomore years and now he’s our junior, and at the same time I’m recruiting a guy at the same position, that’s a lot harder. Right now, I think there are still great opportunities, and I said that to our guys. That’s the challenge. You’ve got to continue to get better. No one really beat someone out and earned it this year. You’re going to have to do that from now on. — Men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue on if the number of players in the rising sophomore class make recruiting more challenging. Check out the full interview in tomorrow’s issue of The Heights.