They had shown glimpses of the good side, of what could happen if they finally learned how to put together 40 minutes of good basketball.
They flirted with closing the deal against Providence, against Rhode Island, and even, for a short stretch, at North Carolina last weekend.
But for coach Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles, the final results reflected only frustration and disappointment.
Not last night. Against a Clemson team coming off a 20-point victory over Florida State, and with a roster filled with talented, athletic players, BC hung in early, hung in late, and held off a Clemson surge for a 59-57 victory.
For a BC team with nine freshmen, a team searching for confidence, verification, and its first Atlantic Coast Conference victory, last night carried more significance than simply improving the record to 1-1 in the ACC and 6-10 overall.
“Clemson is good basketball team,’’ said Donahue “They beat a very good Florida State team by 20. For us to come out and compete and get a win, you know the rest of the league is saying, ‘You know what? They’re playing.’ There is some respect.’’
The Eagles are hardly a finished product, and both Donahue and the Conte Forum crowd of 3,829 understood that. BC trailed by only 2 at halftime (28-26), then watched as Clemson surged to a 39-32 lead.
But as they did against North Carolina, the Eagles didn’t concede anything.
“For the first time, we saw great resolve,’’ said Donahue. “They were going to get it done. It was mano-a-mano. I’m proud as heck.’’
Leading the way was 6-foot-3-inch guard Lonnie Jackson, who has shown sparks of brilliance but also disappeared for stretches.
Last night, he stepped up big-time. With Clemson (9-7, 1-1) holding a 43-39 lead, Jackson went on his own surge, scoring the next 9 points on a pair of 3-point shots and a basket and a foul shot, putting the Eagles into the lead.
“They were doing a great job on me in the first half,’’ said Jackson, who finished with 14 points. “I made the adjustment in the second half. Coach put me in position to show what I can do. I came through when I needed to.’’
Also coming through was 7-foot center Dennis Clifford, who led all scorers with 15 points, picked off 7 rebounds, and most importantly made 5 of his 9 foul shots.
It was a Clifford dunk that tied the score at 56-56 with 2:55 left, and it was Clifford who scored what turned into the winning points on a layup with 41 seconds left, giving the Eagles a 58-56 lead.
And even though Clifford missed a pair of free throws with 10.5 seconds left, he made plays he needed to make.
The Tigers squandered their chances with missed foul shots, the final opportunity coming with one second left and BC leading, 59-57. Devin Booker missed the first of two foul shots, which sealed the deal for the Eagles.
“It was definitely important for our team confidence,’’ said Clifford. “Going down the stretch, we know if we keep fighting we are going to have a good chance of winning.
“A couple of games at the beginning of the season, we were fighting and it slipped away from us. Now that we got a W like that, it’s really important.’’
Jackson felt the same boost in confidence.
“Those games prepared us for tonight,’’ he said. “We’re taking steps each game. We’re getting more chemistry as a unit. I think it’s showing and you guys saw it tonight.’’
Donahue went back to what other teams had done against the Eagles this season.
“They could feel it,’’ said Donahue, talking about Clemson’s power boost at the start of the second half. “It was, ‘Let’s put this team away.’
“It didn’t happen. It was terrific.’’