GREENSBORO, N.C. — Boston College men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue said there wasn’t a day in practice in this trying season where he didn’t think his team was ready to go. Even as the losses — many of them close ones — mounted, the Eagles were excited to come to practice and to work at becoming a better team.
“It speaks volumes to the character of the kids,’’ said Donahue, who, as an example of BC’s improved play, cited five bad halves of basketball the Eagles had in 19 Atlantic Coast Conference contests this season. “And not only as basketball players, but people.’’
The 14th-seeded Eagles demonstrated their spirit in a 73-70 overtime loss to No. 11 seed Georgia Tech on Wednesday night in the first round of the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum, rallying from a 61-49 second-half deficit with five minutes left in regulation to send it into OT, where they exhaled one last gasp.
Patrick Heckmann led the Eagles (8-24) with 21 points and provided 7 in an inspired 12-0 run that helped BC tie it, 61-61, with 52 seconds left in regulation. Sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan, who scored 16 points on 5-for-14 shooting in what potentially could be his last game in a BC uniform, hit the second of two foul shots to tie the game, 62-all, at the end of regulation.
“Patrick started that momentum he had late in the second half, and he was making pretty good shots,’’ said Hanlan, who failed to duplicate the career-high 41 points he had in last year’s first-round ACC tourney victory over Georgia Tech. “He was aggressive on offense, getting to the line, so he helped us a lot bringing us back.’’
Junior forward Ryan Anderson was the only other Eagle to score in double figures, chipping in 15 points to go along with a team-high 12 rebounds.
But the Yellow Jackets (16-16) were led by Robert Carter Jr.’s 20 points and 13 rebounds. Georgia Tech, which led, 29-25, at halftime, pulled it out in OT when Trae Golden (14 points) atoned for an out-of-control drive to the basket at the end of regulation by scoring a foul-inducing layup and free throw (courtesy of Heckmann’s fourth personal) to give Georgia Tech a 69-67 lead it would never relinquish.
“I think it’s frustrating to lose a game in overtime,’’ Heckmann said. “I mean, we were close a lot of times this season. We played a lot of close games and lost them, unfortunately. I think that’s just something that we’ve got to learn, even though we’re all juniors and sophomores and we’ll be seniors.’’
Afterward, Hanlan was asked if he had a decision to make on his future.
“I don’t know yet, to be honest,’’ he said. “I still have a lot of time to talk to Coach and talk to everybody and see what’s best.’’
Asked if he would like to come back next season, Hanlan replied, “Obviously, I really like Coach D.
“You guys might think he’s a bad coach, but he’s proven himself over the years that he’s a great coach and I love playing for him.’’
Joe Rahon, who knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer to finish with 7 points, refuted a report, according to team sources, that if Hanlan departed that it would trigger the San Diego native’s return to the West Coast, along with that of Anderson. “It kind of blindsided me,’’ Rahon said. “I immediately sent it to Ryan and he had the same reaction as I did. We were kind of shocked and taken aback by it.’’
Rahon said he and Anderson planned to return next season, regardless of Hanlan’s decision.
“I mean, there’s obviously a lot of unknowns going into this offseason, but from my point of view, I fully expect we’re going to bring everyone back,’’ Rahon said. “We felt like we were so close and we let close games like this one slip away.
“There’s been no thoughts from my end and none from Ryan’s end that I know that there’s any intentions or thoughts that if this happens, then we’re going back home.’’
Donahue, who presided over what he described as “the craziest year in my 30 years of coaching,’’ said he was encouraged by the improvement the Eagles showed in the last month of the season.
“I know it’s hard for fans and alumni sometimes to understand, but these guys have come so far over the last month, incredible growth,’’ Donahue said. “Unfortunately, the last place that shows is the scoreboard.’’
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In other games: Coron Williams scored a season-high 25 points and Wake Forest beat Notre Dame, 81-69. Wake Forest will play fifth-seeded Pittsburgh (23-8) on Thursday in the second round . . . Erik Swoope scored 14 points and hit the go-ahead basket with 2:42 left to help Miami beat Virginia Tech, 57-53. Miami advanced to the second round to face seventh-seeded North Carolina State and league player of the year T.J. Warren.