Dennis Clifford saw the writing on the boards after his freshman season for the Boston College men’s basketball team.
After averaging 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds, the 7-footer from Bridgewater and Milton Academy came into this season with points to prove.
“I was really looking forward to proving to people that I could play,” Clifford said. “I think there was a lot of doubt last year about the things I could do. So I really took it upon myself in the offseason to fix that. I was really looking forward to helping my team as much as I can.”
A chronic left knee injury, though, has stalled his sophomore season.
After playing all 31 games as a freshman, he has been limited to just 10 starts this season and hopes to be more of a factor Tuesday night against Maryland than he was in 19 largely hollow minutes in a 5-point loss to the Terrapins last month.
“It’s been frustrating,” Clifford said. “I’m doing better. Just trying to get back into the swing of things now. I think everything’s starting to come around for me, I’m starting to work out more, get into the flow of the game.”
Teammate Ryan Anderson said he knew Clifford came into the season with questions surrounding his play.
“He’s had a lot of ups and downs with a lot of different injuries,” Anderson said. “It’s really tough for us because he was looking great before the season started. I thought he was going to have a breakout year.’’
Clifford played 17 minutes in a loss last week against Florida State, the most he has played in a month.
“I think it’s something that I can play through,” Clifford said. “It’s been bothering me for a little while now. It just kind of kind of crept up on me this season. For the future, I just think it’s something I have to deal with.
“When I’m out there, I just think about how much I love being out there. The same thing with practice. When I get the OK, I don’t think about anything else except how much I love to play. It’s kind of like this has been put in perspective for me, just sitting out, watching. Then when you get out there, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is what I love.’ So you just want to give it 110 percent.”
Ghost busterEven though they came in a loss, the four free throws Olivier Hanlan calmly hit at the end of the Florida State game were the product of ghosts of free throws past, namely the one he missed in a set of three that would have sent the Eagles into overtime against second-ranked Miami a month ago.
“That free throw haunts me,” he said.
He went 5 of 10 that night, but in eight games since he has made 29 of 36 (81 percent), including 11 of 12 against Duke.
“I saw the tape of that game, and on all my free throws I was kind of bouncing back,” Hanlan said. “I was kind of moving. Since then, I’ve been focusing on staying solid and finishing.
“It’s really, really important. Through practice and extra workouts I really focus on just staying calm and poised at the line and just finishing every shot.”
The Eagles have struggled at the line in ACC play, but coach Steve Donahue said he was confident in his freshman guard.
“He’s a good foul shooter, so I have confidence in him,” Donahue said. “It’s so early in his career. I think he’s going to be a guy that you can count on.”
Sizing things upInitially, Patrick Heckmann landed in the starting lineup when Donahue benched Lonnie Jackson for missing a film session. But Donahue gave Heckmann the nod again against the Seminoles, looking to add size in tinkering with his lineup.
“I think we’re still trying to figure out what’s best for us in terms of size,” Donahue said. “I like Patrick’s size, playing the ‘3’, matching up. It gives Lonnie a chance to come off the bench. Teams don’t have an initial scout. And I think hopefully it’s a better step defensively.
Heckmann scored 14 points against Wake Forest and 10 against Florida State.
“It felt good,” Heckmann said. “I wasn’t really confident the past couple games, but I knew coach wanted me to play, so I just did what I could.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.