Carolina blues for Eagles
Before last night’s game against North Carolina, Boston College coach Steve Donahue said his team’s defense was its Achilles’ heel, a weakness that could ultimately prevent the Eagles from reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Donahue’s fears were realized again last night.
Powered by a sizzling first half in which the Tar Heels made 20 of their first 34 shots (59 percent) and jumped to a 14-point lead, No. 23 Carolina rolled to a 106-74 victory before a disappointed crowd of 7,883 at Conte Forum. It was the most points allowed by a BC team since Jan. 25, 2003, when Notre Dame beat the Eagles, 101-96, in overtime.
It was BC’s third consecutive loss and dropped the Eagles to 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, 14-8 overall. It won’t get any easier Saturday afternoon when Virginia Tech comes calling.
“Obviously Carolina played very well,’’ said Donahue. “Unfortunately, we did not play well on the defensive end. Things started to snowball. They played one of their best games they have played in a while.’’
The first question of the night was answered when guard Reg gie Jackson was introduced as one of BC’s starters. In a motivational move linked to practice habits, Donahue kept his leading scorer on the bench for the start of last week’s 84-68 loss to Duke. Jackson responded with his worst offensive performance of the season (7 points). Despite returning to the starting lineup, Jackson, who was averaging 18 points, was ineffective again, scoring only 6 points.
Donahue tinkered with his lineup some more, moving to a guard-oriented set with Dallas Elmore, Jackson, and Biko Paris starting along with Corey Raji and Joe Trapani. The odd man out was Josh Southern, which made the Eagles smaller, but quicker, with more firepower from 3-point range, which the Tar Heels have had trouble defending.
The switch helped at the start as the Eagles jumped to an 11-6 lead, hoping to set the tone against a Carolina team that had won eight of its last nine games.
Leading the way through the early stages — as he has done more often than not the past few games — was Trapani, who scored 9 of the Eagles’ first 18 points and finished with a season-high 25 points.
“They played the kind of defense we thought they were going to play,’’ said Trapani. “We missed a lot of easy ones. Bad defense compounds bad offense. We had a sluggish offense and we lose by 32. It starts on the defensive end.’’
But the Tar Heels (16-5, 6-1) were not about to let the Eagles break away, and matched BC long-range basket for long-range basket, hitting five of their first seven trifectas, including four by red-hot freshman guard Reggie Bullock, which propelled the Tar Heels to a 31-22 lead at the seven-minute mark.
It got worse for the Eagles as Carolina hit 16 of its first 25 shots (64 percent) and opened a 14-point halftime lead (49-35), largely on the strength of a sizzling 7 of 12 shots from 3-point range, with Bullock and highly-touted freshman Harrison Barnes leading the way.
Barnes, a preseason All-America pick who scored 25 points in an 84-64 win over North Carolina State Saturday, had 26 points last night.
The Eagles needed to regroup quickly against a Carolina team that is starting to resemble the Top 10 outfit most had projected.
Carolina increased the pressure at the start of the second half, expanding its lead to 23 points (63-40) as the Eagles tried to find a solution for multiple defensive lapses.
Donahue kept using different combinations, but the Eagles either missed open shots or turned the ball over and the Tar Heels rolled on, coasting to one of their easiest victories of the season, which was significant considering the Eagles had played the Tar Heels even (4-4) since joining the ACC in 2005-06.
“I don’t know if there is an easy fix to our defense,’’ said Donahue. “Our offense contributed to some of the lapses today. It’s my job to figure out different strategies. It’s my job to figure out how to right this ship.’’
Mark Blaudschun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.