There’s a process to closing out games, and over the past month Boston College had finished on the down side of so many late-game see-saws to know how it worked.
The Eagles easily could have gotten into the same kind of back-and-fourth, first-mistake-loses, last-shot-wins scenario against Maryland Tuesday night.
With the 9-point lead the Terrapins piled up in the first half and the scrambling BC had to do to get back into it in the second, the game already had been a roller coaster.
But the Eagles found themselves ahead, 51-50, with 5:04 to play, looking to cobble together a closeout, piece by tiny piece.
“It takes small steps,” said freshman guard Olivier Hanlan.
The first was at the free throw line. In the last five minutes, BC made 16 straight free throws.
The second was getting stops. In the last four minutes, Eddie Odio swatted Dez Wells, Alex Len, Charles Mitchell, and Nick Faust and added a steal.
The last was clutch shot-making. In the last three minutes, Hanlan, tired but composed, weaved through traffic and knocked down a free throw line jumper, and later grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a turnaround that put the Eagles up 9.
They were able to protect that lead, ultimately securing a 69-58 win.
The Eagles had lost so many conference games by thin margins, especially early in the season, that it was hard to keep from soul-searching. In the past nine days they had lost to Duke and Florida State by a combined 4 points and beaten Wake Forest by 3.
Coach Steve Donahue stared at the numbers from those close games long and hard — foul shooting, rebounding, turnovers — twisting them around to figure out just how close “close” really was.
“A lot of things about the losses bothered me,” he said. “We’re a very good foul shooting team, but the first five games of the ACC schedule, I think we got to the line more than anybody in the league and we missed 50 foul shots in five games. Four of them could have been pretty easy wins and now what would we be talking about?”
The Eagles didn’t shoot the lights out (39.6 percent), and their star Ryan Anderson hardly left a fingerprint on the game (2 points on 1-for-4 shooting in 30 minutes), but they won largely because of things that didn’t show up in the statistics.
“I think we’re playing good basketball,” Donahue said. “It’s close. We haven’t come in and just been not ready, like, ‘Where was that effort?’ We haven’t done that once this year. I thought we competed every night.”
If there was one difference Tuesday night, though, it was a battle-tested calm in pressurized moments.
No one showed it more than Hanlan, who scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half, knocking down tough shot (see the baseline step-back that made it 46-45) after tough shot (see the catch-and-shoot 3 that made it 49-47).
“Every time it was tough, I thought he got himself squared at the last second and got a really good look,” Donahue said. “The game was really going slow for him.
“His confidence brings everybody else up as well. It’s not just him out there, we all trust him. You believe in what he does.”
Hanlan added seven rebounds and went 5 of 6 from the line, and the Terps had no answer for him in the second half.
After stunning Duke just days prior, gravity came quickly for Maryland in a road game that sat in the middle of the week like a trap door.
“This was a tough game for Maryland,” Donahue said. “They’re a very, very young team. They came off a huge win, going on the road to a team that’s in the lower part of the division. It’s a tough game for a young team mentally. I thought that. I think Mark [Turgeon] knew that. So I think we got some fortunate timing as well, but we took advantage of it.”