SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For much of the game, Jim Christian stood relatively motionless with his right arm crossed over his chest, his left arm resting on his cheek.
But with each game-tightening 3-pointer from Olivier Hanlan, the first-year Boston College coach and his bench grew animated, as BC searched for a marquee, come-from-behind road win over No. 10 Notre Dame.
Hanlan’s heroics — 28 points, including six 3-pointers — pulled the Eagles (9-12, 1-8) within 6 in the final minutes, but the Fighting Irish held on for a 71-63 win Wednesday night in an Atlantic Coast Conference game at Joyce Center.
“We couldn’t have started the game any worse,” said Christian, whose Eagles trailed, 26-7, midway through the first half.
For the second straight game, an early double-digit deficit — one that swelled to as large as 25 — proved insurmountable for BC. The Eagles fell behind at the outset against Clemson on Saturday and found themselves in a similar predicament Wednesday night. Hanlan said BC’s effort was “horrible” against the Tigers. That improved, in part, against the Fighting Irish.
“It’s hard to spot a team of Notre Dame’s caliber that type of a lead,” Christian said. “I’m proud of our effort to try to get back in the game, but we can’t be happy with how we played.”
Notre Dame’s elite offense, which ranks second in the country in field goal percentage and seventh in scoring, gashed the Eagles early. The Fighting Irish (21-3, 9-2) connected on 10 of their first 14 shots, including four 3-pointers.
“Everything on defense was sloppy in terms of closeouts and guys rotating,” Hanlan said. “Notre Dame being the team that they are . . . you can’t really get caught doing that against a good team like that.”
On the other end, BC only hit double digits as a team with 4:47 remaining in the first half when graduate transfer guard Aaron Brown connected on a 3-pointer from the right wing. Brown’s bucket snapped an 8-minute, 16-second stretch without a made field goal by BC.
“We wanted to play defense better,” said Notre Dame star guard Jerian Grant, who tallied 17 points and seven assists. “We struggled defensively against Pitt [in a loss on Saturday], so our main focus was getting stops.”
The Eagles did sandwich a 10-0 run around the intermission to cut it to 12, and they stayed in range throughout the second stanza. In the final minutes, Hanlan buried triples on four consecutive possessions in a span of two minutes, cutting the deficit to 67-61 with 1:47 left. The Quebec native finished 11 for 16 from the floor and 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. The rest of the Eagles shot 34.1 percent.
“I try to read and try to be aggressive,” said Hanlan, who began the night sixth in the ACC in scoring. “Whenever I have space I just knock it down. I just caught fire and everything seemed to go in.”
The Eagles outscored Notre Dame, 38-30, in the second half and, 54-37, over the final 25 minutes.
“We just have to have a different approach coming into the game,” Brown said. “If we would have played the way we played the last five minutes, I think we would have been right where we needed to be at the end of the game.”
BC grinded through an offensive slog for much of the first half. Notre Dame, which surrendered 76 points in an upset loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday, clamped down BC’s offense. That improved defense, coupled with Notre Dame’s potent offense, spelled defeat for the Eagles.
Junior center Dennis Clifford started for the first time in two weeks and notched 6 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. The 7-footer logged just 13 total minutes in the previous three games while battling an illness.
“He’s not healthy at all,” Christian said. “You could see he gets tired in about two minutes.”
Clifford acknowledged he’s out of shape and tires quickly, but said he’s close to where he should be.