GREENSBORO, N.C. — The alarm kept going off.
It rang when Marcus Georges-Hunt knocked down his first three. It got slightly louder when Mfon Udofia drilled another one from the top of the arc. Then it started howling when Chris Bolden went to the line and split a pair of free throws.
Georgia Tech was constantly sending reminders to Boston College that this was indeed the first game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but despite all the early wake-up calls, the Eagles spent the first five minutes Thursday in a slumber.
They missed their first seven shots, they turned the ball over four times, and they went into the first TV timeout down, 15-0.
“You don’t have too many of those where you fall down by 15 before the first timeout,” said BC coach Steve Donahue.
But they had been in holes before, so they didn’t panic. Just five days earlier, they were in a 10-point, second-half ditch against the same team and came away with a 2-point win to close out the regular season.
In their huddle, freshman guard Joe Rahon said, they just looked at the scoreboard, did the math, and broke out the smelling salts.
“Being down 15 with 35 minutes to go is much easier than being down 10 with 10 minutes to go,” said Rahon. “That kind of loosened us up a little bit and made us get going.”
That BC was able to snap out of the spell and run the Yellow Jackets out of Greensboro Coliseum, 84-64, and advance to the ACC quarterfinals seemed to be a surprise to everyone but the Eagles.
“We’ve been through a great deal this year,” said Donahue, “with a lot of adversity, a lot of times where we didn’t play well and we came back, and I think that’s what we relied on at that point.”
No one woke up more than Olivier Hanlan. The freshman guard’s first two shots were missed threes, and Georgia Tech took it as a sign that it was OK to sag off him.
But Donahue left the green light on.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to take that,’ ” said the coach. “That’s something I’ve harped on all year, taking the three. That’s got to be a weapon that we use.”
Hanlan didn’t miss another one.
His 41 points were a record for a freshman in the ACC tournament and marked the third-largest scoring outburst in tournament history.
Hanlan, who was 14 for 18 from the field — 8 for 10 on threes — is the first Eagle to go for 40-plus since Tyrese Rice hung 46 on North Carolina in 2008.
“He made the plays that we needed to win the basketball game,” said sophomore guard Lonnie Jackson. “Ultimately, he’s a competitor. He wants to win and he did what it took to win.”
It started with innocuous plays. Hanlan got a turnaround jumper from the short corner to rattle in and make it 15-6.
Then he started getting scrappy, stealing an inbounds pass after a Patrick Heckmann lay-in, immediately going up with it, drawing contact, getting the layup, then knocking down the free throw.
“It was bang-bang — we score, we steal, we score — all of a sudden, the momentum’s going our way,” Donahue said.
Things started to snowball. BC closed out the first half on a 38-18 run. During that time, Hanlan outscored the Yellow Jackets by himself with 21.
“It was pretty crazy,” said sophomore forward Eddie Odio. “He was just shooting and everything was falling. He sparked us. He brought confidence to all of us.”
The more he scored, the more they fed him.
“I was trying to get him the ball, get him shots,” Jackson said. “I was just telling him to keep going, keep flowing, keep shooting it.”
Eventually, even his teammates had to guard against becoming spectators.
“He was putting on a show,” Rahon said. “As a player on the court, you try not to get caught up in it.
Even though he was the conference’s Freshman of the Year, Hanlan came into the tournament with a relatively low profile, playing for a team that was picked to finish last in the preseason poll.
But ever since last season, when the Eagles were a one-and-out team in the tournament, Donahue has been spreading the word about a game-changing guard he was bringing in from Quebec.
“I remember talking to Coach Donahue at the ACC tournament last year and we were talking about how young his team was,” said ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla. “I remember specifically Coach Donahue telling me, ‘We’ve got a guard coming in out of prep school from Canada that’s going to be excellent.’ As it turned out, he was very prophetic.”
Hanlan’s last shot of the game — the 3-pointer that capped a record-setting tournament debut — took a lap around the rim and bounced off the backboard before finally falling.
It gave him eight threes for the game, one shy of the tournament record. It was the last of 12 straight makes from the floor.
Afterward, Hanlan grinned and said, “It was a lucky shot.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.