At almost the exact same time Ryan Anderson buried his face in his hands and walked up court, his coach, Steve Donahue, did the same thing, keeping his face covered as he paced painfully down the Boston College bench.
As soon as he tried to wrap a pass behind his back to Andrew Van Nest in traffic, Anderson knew a bounce pass would have sufficed.
“I thought we got way too cute,” Donahue said. “If you execute that, that’s the right play.”
It wasn’t just a bad decision, it was bad timing.
BC had run its lead over Clemson to as many as 20 points Saturday, the biggest lead the Eagles have held in Atlantic Coast Conference play since Donahue’s first season, by shooting at a high clip (57.8 percent), moving the ball (a season-high 20 assists), and scrapping on defense (Clemson shot 23.1 percent in the first half).
At that point, Donahue said his message was, “Let’s put your foot on their throat and put them away.”
But on its way to a 75-68 win, its first home victory in the league, his team seemed to do everything it could to give much of it back.
“We did everything perfect,” Donahue said. “The problem is they start getting into you and then a little doubt rolls in and we just hadn’t been through it enough.”
BC finished 12 of 24 from the free throw line, committed 14 turnovers (five in the final six minutes), and opened the door for a Clemson team that has a habit of hitting the snooze button early in games and then coming alive late.
After Adonis Filer drilled a 3-pointer with 1:17 left, capping an 18-2 Clemson run, a blowout had become a 1-point game.
“We really shouldn’t have had a chance at all,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We fought our way back.”
Nine of the Eagles’ 21 games this season have been decided by 5 points or fewer. Even though they opened up a large enough lead Saturday to feel like they could kick up their feet, they wound up in yet another nail-biter.
“I was hoping we’d make it easy on ourselves,” Donahue said. “But we didn’t.”
They managed to hold the needle just steady enough to snap a five-game losing streak. Anderson fought for a tough lay-up late and Lonnie Jackson knocked down four clutch free throws in the final 29 seconds.
“We’ve been in so many close games all year, and we knew we just slipped up a little bit mentally, I think,” said guard Joe Rahon. “We stopped getting stops and on offense we weren’t moving the ball as much. We just had to get back to that. Everyone did a good job about being poised and keeping their heads about them. No one panicked.”
Rahon’s shooting (career-high 26 points) and Eddie Odio’s hustle (7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks) fueled the Eagles in the first half. For two weeks, Rahon had been playing on a balky right ankle. He had shot 25 percent going back to the Wake Forest game Jan. 12. But from the start against Clemson, his hands were always set to shoot. He knocked down four of his first five 3-point attempts, finished with six treys, and shot 9 of 12 from the floor.
No one was more caught off guard than Brownell.
“We certainly did not expect Rahon to shoot as well as he did,” Brownell said. “He only had seven threes coming in in ACC play. He had six today, six out of seven, that was probably as big a difference as any.”
Entering the weekend, every team in the conference had won on its home floor except BC. The Eagles were dealt a tough hand in the league schedule, hosting North Carolina State (5-point loss), Miami (1 point), and North Carolina (12 points).
Saturday’s win, however rocky, was important.
Donahue said, “Somebody said, ‘How’s the morale on the team?’ I said, ‘The morale is tremendous.’ ‘How’s the confidence?’ ‘Very fragile.’ When you don’t win, it’s hard to stay confident. I think this was a great way to get these guys confident. It was critical in a lot of different ways.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.