Joe Rahon was the hero for just a moment. He hardly had time to enjoy it.
The Boston College freshman guard took the ball with less than a minute left, drove past two hulking Auburn defenders, and made a reverse layup, giving the Eagles a 4-point lead at Conte Forum Wednesday.
The whistle blew for a timeout. The hero celebrated. The bench players showered him with basketball’s version of love — firm shoving followed by hard smacks on the rear.
Seconds later, the hero was the villain.
Auburn’s Frankie Sullivan launched a 3-pointer and Rahon fouled him to the ground. The 3 went in, and Sullivan nailed the free throw to tie the game at 49 in the closing minute.
“He doesn’t make too many of those freshman [mistakes],” coach Steve Donahue said after the Eagles held on for a 50-49 win. “He was just competing so damn hard.”
Olivier Hanlan was fouled on BC’s next possession and made a single free throw, giving the Eagles’ a 1-point lead. With the ball again in the hands of Sullivan — who finished with a game-high 23 points — Rahon had his last chance to strap on a cape and fly off to Metropolis.
There were 10 seconds left. Rahon pressed the aggressive point guard. Sensing the need for a sidekick, Hanlan ran over for the double-team. Rahon then jarred the ball out of Sullivan’s hands and the horn blew seconds later, completing Rahon’s full circle from hero to villain to hero again.
Rahon finished the game with 15 points. After scoring just 8 total points in the Eagles’ first two games, the 6-foot-2-inch guard from San Diego has scored 44 points in the last three games.
“I just can’t tell you how much confidence I have in him as an all-around player,” Donahue said.
While Rahon and Hanlan scored 34 points from the guard position, it was the BC defense that made the difference.
Entering the game, BC (2-3) had allowed at least 70 points in each of its first four games.
The Eagles tried directing traffic outside against Auburn (2-3), but with sophomore forward Ryan Anderson, the former Gatorade Player of the Year at Long Beach Poly High (Calif.), playing at less than 100 percent, the Tigers were able to do damage in the paint, where they outscored the Eagles, 24-10.
“I thought we allowed too many catches in the lane,” Donahue said. “We were being more aggressive, because we were so passive the first few games. But we’re still not there yet.”
The Eagles ran an up-tempo offense that thrived off taking chances from beyond the arc. Their first three baskets came via the 3-pointer, with 6-foot-10-inch graduate student Andrew Van Nest, who spent the last four seasons at Harvard, giving the Eagles an early 9-8 lead with an uncontested long-range jumper.
With back-and-forth play that featured 12 lead changes in the first half, Hanlan and Rahon found success on offense to keep the Eagles close.
After 7-foot sophomore center Dennis Clifford settled into a rhythm, making a pair of blocks before laying in a hook shot, the Eagles put together a 9-4 run to start the second half and held the lead until Sullivan’s 4-point play in the game’s fading moments.
“If you mess up, it’s not the end of the world,” Rahon said. “Our team is going to have our back.”
Failure often comes with a chance at redemption. Rahon took his Wednesday. The Eagles have at least 26 more games to get theirs.