CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Perhaps it’s too much rose-colored rewinding to call Boston College’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener a success.
North Carolina cruised to a 21-point lead early in the second half, and finished off BC late, dropping the Eagles to 5-10.
Yet, the fight the Eagles showed against the talented Tar Heels gives coach Steve Donahue something to build on, even if the scoreboard read “UNC 83, BC 60’’ at the Dean Smith Center yesterday afternoon.
In January 2009, the year of the Tar Heels’ last national championship, the Eagles came away with a stunning 85-78 victory in Chapel Hill. Last season, Donahue’s first at BC, his team trailed by 13 with 7:40 to play on Tobacco Road, only to lose, 48-46, when a last-second shot rimmed out.
For a moment yesterday, the Eagles had a similar opportunity, cutting a 21-point deficit to single digits and making 20,582 fans more than a little antsy. When Patrick Heckmann, one of five freshman starters for BC, made a 3-pointer with 9:19 remaining, the Tar Heels’ advantage was 59-50.
“There was a stretch of really good basketball,’’ Donahue said.
The Eagles were spreading the floor on offense and playing unselfishly. They hustled back on defense, limiting a potentially lethal North Carolina fast break to just 8 points.
“If we execute the way Coach D wants us to, we have a chance,’’ said freshman forward Ryan Anderson. “I feel like in that stretch we were executing very precisely. If we play that type of basketball every game, we can play with any team in the country.’’
North Carolina is not just any team. The third-ranked Tar Heels (14-2, 1-0) did not allow this one to get any closer, as their bigger and more experienced front line eventually wore on the Eagles.
Harrison Barnes finished with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, making 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Seven-footer Tyler Zeller made 8 of 12 shots for 20 points. Long-limbed John Henson bothered numerous BC shots, blocking three and scoring 14 points.
Point guard Kendall Marshall, a player Donahue praised for his unselfishness, finished with 11 of the Tar Heels’ 18 assists.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams came away impressed with the Eagles.
“Five freshmen and they never got really shook,’’ Williams said. “I think he’s going to have a really good club. It’s hard to do it with five freshmen in this league, but he’s building a program. He’s not just coaching for today.’’
Donahue was not hailing the outcome as any sort of moral victory, but he said the Eagles showed they can play better than some of their earlier results this season.
“If the [North Carolina] kids look at what we’ve done, what we’ve been involved with over the last month and a half, it’s hard to sense that this team’s going to come in and give you a game,’’ Donahue said. “There’s no team in the country with a chance to grow more than we do . . . I sense that every day these guys come in, they’re more comfortable being a college basketball player.’’
For the second consecutive game, BC brought junior guard Matt Humphrey off the bench. Though Humphrey said he’s still adjusting to the role, he made 6 of 12 shots for a team-high 14 points. Anderson struggled with his outside shot (1 of 7 on 3-pointers), but had 13 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Humphrey said the Eagles have to keep attacking this season, the same way they did when cutting into the big deficit.
“We just went at them,’’ Humphrey said. “They probably expected us to make it a grinding game and slow it down, but in reality, that’s the way we play as well.’’
The Eagles committed 20 turnovers and went just 3 for 9 from the free throw line. Still, for stretches BC looked much better than a team with seven double-digit losses.
“Just watching guys compete, I can try to visualize where they’ll be 10, 20, 50 games from now, playing in this environment,’’ Donahue said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good upside.’’