Boston College basketball coach Steve Donahue and the Eagles have been down the same road far too many times this season.
It’s the road that starts with a competitive first half that carries late into the game, only to end in painstakingly close fashion, the Eagles falling just short.
The Eagles were always there, just on the cusp of taking the lead from Notre Dame.
But every time they got close Sunday, the Irish pushed the throttle just enough, making sure they never relinquished their lead in defeating the Eagles, 73-69, at Conte Forum.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Eagles (6-19, 2-10 Atlantic Coast Conference), and the seventh time they have lost by 4 points or fewer this season. Just three days earlier, against Georgia Tech, BC lost when Marcus Georges-Hunt hit a 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left to give the Yellow Jackets a 74-71 victory.
“I think one of the things that we fight is the game was back and forth, and our guys were kind of just really frustrated,” said Donahue. “They want to win so bad, they’re allowing their emotions to hold them back from just playing basketball, instead of worrying about what’s happening and what they think is going to happen.”
Former St. John’s Prep standout and Arlington native Pat Connaughton led the Irish (14-12, 5-8) with 17 points. Guard Eric Atkins added 16.
Olivier Hanlan led the Eagles with 18 points, while Ryan Anderson chipped in 11 points and 11 rebounds. Joe Rahon added 13 points.
Notre Dame pressured the Eagles late in the second half, and a layup by Garrick Sherman gave the Irish a 71-61 lead, their largest of the game, with 36 seconds to play.
Hanlan hit a layup on the next possession, and then Patrick Heckmann drained a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left to cut the Irish’s lead to 71-66.
BC fouled Sherman, who missed both his free throws, and Heckmann answered with a layup to cut the Irish’s lead to 3 with nine seconds to play.
BC targeted Sherman again, but he connected on both free throws, extending the Irish’s lead to 73-68. On the next possession, Heckmann was fouled on a 3-point attempt, but he only converted one of his free throws.
“They have a lot of senior leadership on that team, they’re not just going to give away a game on the road,” Anderson said. “You have to go and win it and we just didn’t make quite enough plays down the stretch and get enough stops. It wasn’t really a scoreboard thing, just focusing on each possession and we weren’t effective enough on each possession.”
It was a homecoming party for Connaughton, who had many supporters in the crowd of 7,138.
“I was talking to the media out at South Bend and I said I’ll probably get a better ovation here than I get back at [Notre Dame],” said Connaughton, who received an ovation when he was introduced. “It was great. I enjoyed it.”
Connaughton, who added five rebounds and four assists in 40 minutes, boosted the Irish down the stretch, helping Notre Dame build a steady lead. He scored 6 straight points as Notre Dame took a 63-57 lead with 3:24 remaining.
“Pat Connaughton set the tone for us,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “He comes home, you’ve got 400 people in the stands, and most kids can’t deliver. He just delivered the whole night. I would’ve been shocked if he didn’t, because that’s the kind of guy he is.”
Zach Auguste, who is from Marlborough and graduated from the New Hampton School, had 10 points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.
“I thought [Auguste] was very good as well,” Brey added. “I’m happy for those two.”
At the end of the first half, the Irish held a 38-35 lead, despite the Eagles’ efficient 3-point shooting. They went 6 for 9 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes as they tried to break Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone.
But the Eagles cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1 for 5 on 3-pointers, and 10 for 26 overall (38.5 percent).
The road only gets tougher for the Eagles, who play at top-ranked Syracuse (25-0, 12-0) Wednesday.
Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.