WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Emblazoned in white capital letters across the back of Dennis Clifford’s gray warm-up jacket was the word “Attitude.”
The Boston College 7-footer, out for the season because of nagging knee and ankle injuries, was laughing with his teammates during pregame drills Saturday at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The word on his jacket epitomized BC’s 80-72 win over Wake Forest.
“It’s been a crazy year for us,” Eagles coach Steve Donahue said after the game, his voice raspy and eyes tired. “It’s difficult when there’s a lot of negativity about your team around you . . . I work extremely hard — and our staff and our players — being real positive, but honest.”
Before Saturday, BC (8-21, 4-12) had lost seven of its previous eight games and sat second-to-last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Eagles could’ve coasted until the conference tournament.
Piloted by an unrelenting defense, a balanced offense, and sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan’s big second half, BC led for most of the game and repelled a late rally by the Demon Deacons (15-14, 5-11).
“I don’t want to lose again,” Donahue said. “That’s our motto.”
Hanlan, who on Wednesday became the third player in program history to reach 1,000 points as a sophomore, went through and around Wake Forest’s defense to score 13 of his 17 points after halftime. Entering Saturday, Hanlan averaged 6.5 points in the first half of games and 11.7 in the second.
“There’s a couple things that people do against him to stop him, especially early — that’s your game plan,” Donahue said. “Over the period of the game, the game plan kind of goes out the window for certain teams. And he stays aggressive.”
Hanlan had no explanation for the difference.
“In the first half today I was just missing shots,” Hanlan said. “The second half, when everybody’s trying to get a feel for the game, I just try to catch them slipping and try to get myself to the line and try to get easy points.”
Junior forward Ryan Anderson, quiet and serious during warm-ups, poured in 24 points and provided baskets when the Eagles needed them most.
He also pulled down seven rebounds, which was one of the areas Donahue stressed in practice last week.
“Coach, before the game, also told us that if you’re out there and you’re not going after the ball, then you’re gonna come sit next to him on the bench,” Anderson said. “That’s about as much motivation as you need.”
Donahue switched between a 2-3 zone defense and man-to-man for most of the game and was encouraged by the results.
“I just thought, we can’t guard them man-to-man for long stretches,” Donahue said. “And they still got what they could against the zone. So my feeling was, if we can play some zone [and] save our legs a little bit, we can execute on the offensive end.”
Perhaps no player better embodied BC’s constructive attitude than smiling center KC Caudill, a 6-11, 277-pound Californian who made several plays that didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
With just over 12 minutes left and the Eagles leading, 46-42, Hanlan rose for a 3-pointer and missed. A Wake Forest player grabbed the rebound and turned to throw an outlet pass, but Caudill — who played a career-high 23 minutes — poked the ball away. Anderson grabbed it out of the air, drew a foul, and hit two free throws. BC’s lead never dropped below 3 the rest of the way.