The day after Boston College lost to Harvard for the fifth straight time, coach Steve Donahue called off practice.
It was probably for the best, he figured. It was a win the Eagles wanted badly. They had five days to prepare. It didn’t help.
Everyone had to clear their heads, Donahue especially.
“I had to take a step back and understand all the things that are happening,” Donahue said. “I want to win every game. But I can’t lose my mind trying to figure out what’s going to be right and wrong for our team the next day.”
With the Eagles’ mixed bag of results — three straight losses in the Charleston Classic plus a puzzling loss to Bryant, but wins over Auburn and Penn State — they could have easily dragged themselves down.
“I didn’t want to come in and act like, all right, now I’m going to crack the whip,” Donahue said. “I wanted us to understand what we’re doing well and what we need to improve on and let them know that I’m happy with 99 percent of what’s going on in this program.”
Donahue had to take stock a different way. He had to look at the Eagles’ shooting percentage (44.6), and the way they were hitting the boards (33 a night, two more than their opponents), moving the ball (13 assists a game), and what they were doing at the free throw line (73 percent shooting). At the same time, he was honest about a team that was too young and not yet tough enough to be good defensively.
“We have a lot of good things happening,” the coach said. “There are stretches of games that are really good, and there are stretches of games that are really bad. That’s a sign of inexperience and youth; that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re trying to progress as a program.”
The Eagles’ 72-64 win over St. Francis of New York Saturday at Conte Forum was dotted with the same inconsistency. They led by as many as 8 in the first half and trailed by as many as 9 in the second. But they rode the waves and figured out a way to beat a bad team and avoid a third straight loss on their home floor.
The aims were simple. They had to play faster. They had to go in with 75-80 points in their crosshairs. And if they weren’t going to be dominant on defense, they had to be troublemakers.
And they had to shoot the 3-ball.
Lonnie Jackson was all that off the bench, scoring 13 points and knocking down three of his seven trey attempts.
“I was coming off the bench, and I saw we needed a spark,” Jackson said. “So I was just going to do whatever it takes to get our team going. Whether it was diving on the floor or making a shot, I just knew I had to do something to get us going because we were lacking energy.”
With the Eagles trailing, 48-41, and 15:19 left, he knocked down a pair of threes (both off assists from Patrick Heckmann, who had a team-high 18 points) that fueled a 17-2 run that seized control of the game.
With the Terriers (2-5) threatening, down just 59-58 with 5:42 to play, Jackson drilled one from NBA range to keep the visitors at bay.
“I’ve been telling him, there’s times when you’re going to be feeling it and you’ve got to let it go,” Donahue said. “I think that’s an easier shot for him than one toe on the line with a guy in [his face]. If he can step back 3 or 4 feet and make it, then that’s his role. He needs to think that way.”
While BC center Dennis Clifford watched from the bench while wearing a walking boot, Ryan Anderson spent most of the second half as a spectator largely because of how the game flowed without him.
“We finally got on that roll and I said, ‘Why mess with it?’ ” Donahue said.
He knew Anderson understood.
“Ryan’s OK with anything we do to help the team,” Donahue said. “I’m constantly convinced of that. I think he understands what happened today.”
The Eagles converted 18 turnovers into 25 points and went 14 for 16 from the line, capitalizing whenever St. Francis gave them a chance.
“It’s a pretty good game for us defensively,” Donahue said.
The vacation after the Harvard letdown lasted only a day. The next practice was predictably hard.
“I challenged them as much as I would if I was angry,” Donahue said.
His reasons were clear.
“The motivation,” he said, “was we wanted to be really fired up to play the next game.”