Boston College and Sacred Heart each entered last night’s game with below-.500 records.
And with many in the BC student body long gone on Christmas break, a sparse crowd of 2,263 made for a strange atmosphere at Conte Forum.
But the Eagles will take their 83-73 victory over the Pioneers, BC breaking the game open in the second half.
The Eagles entered with a two-game winning streak, which wouldn’t be a big deal to a veteran team. But with a roster that includes nine freshmen, all of them going through an accelerated orientation program, it was a boost that Eagles coach Steve Donahue gratefully accepted.
The only problem for the Eagles was that to make it three in a row going into the break (they host Harvard Dec. 29), they needed to put away a Sacred Heart team that not only has veterans, but was not in the best of moods coming off a 106-65 pounding at Notre Dame Monday night.
The Eagles (5-7) used 7-foot center Dennis Clifford in the early going to take a 12-6 lead. Clifford, a freshman from Milton Academy, appears to be gaining more confidence each game and it showed as he put in 7 points and picked up four rebounds in the first seven minutes. He finished with a career-high 16 points and six rebounds.
“Individually, I feel much more comfortable with the guys around me and I think it’s showing,’’ said Clifford.
For junior Matt Humphrey, who had a career-high 18 points and was one of four Eagles in double figures, it was also a breakout effort.
“We were moving the ball around a whole lot more,’’ said Humphrey, who has played solidly in other phases but couldn’t come up with a consistent scoring effort until last night.
Although the Eagles extended their lead to 9 several times in the first 20 minutes, aided by Humphrey’s 13 points, the Pioneers had guard Shane Gibson. The 6-1 junior entered the game needing 12 points to break the 1,000-point career barrier. He did that with ease, pouring in 17 of his 25 points in the first half.
All of which left the Eagles with a precarious 41-35 halftime advantage.
After BC extended its lead to 13 with 11:40 left in the second half, Sacred Heart cut it to 5 over the next two minutes. And the Pioneers did so without Gibson, who spent most of the early part of the second half on the bench.
“I’m not sure why he was out,’’ said Donahue. “He’s as good an offensive scorer as I’ve seen.’’
According to Dave Bike, who has been running the Sacred Heart program for the past 34 years, “He took himself out of the game, kept himself out of the game. That hurt not only him, but hurt us.’’
When asked if Gibson was hurt, Bike shook his head.
“No, he wasn’t hurt,’’ Bike said. “There’s more than just making some baskets. He wasn’t involved in the game in other parts than just making baskets, and that’s why he sat for a long time.’’
But Gibson was part of the reason for Sacred Heart (6-8) climbing back into the game.
By the televison timeout with 7:45 remaining, the BC lead had shrunk to 1 at 61-60. But the Eagles put together a quick 9-2 burst and held on for that third consecutive win.
Which Donahue gladly will build upon.
“It’s huge,’’ he said. “We’ve been through a lot already the last couple of months. I know some people look at [these] as games you are supposed to win. But to just win and keep the momentum going . . . now they can go home and enjoy it. I think it’s huge that they have success and now they can start to enjoy it more and it snowballs.’’