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Penn State 62, BC 54

Growing frustration as BC loses another

MATT HUMPHREY Leads BC with 15 points MATT HUMPHREY Leads BC with 15 points
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / December 1, 2011
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Officially, it was part of the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but for coach Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles, each night is a challenge, as a young team goes through growing pains.

Sometimes it is painful to watch, especially for Donahue, who has brought new meaning to the term “rebuilding’’ with nine freshmen on a roster that at times has looked overmatched and overwhelmed.

Last night may have been painful to watch for purists who may have a hard time equating BC-Penn State to being in the same conference challenge as Duke-Ohio State Tuesday night, but for BC it was even more frustrating, as the Nittany Lions held on for a 62-54 victory in which the Eagles had more than their share of chances in the closing seconds.

“It was very frustrating,’’ said guard Matt Humphrey, who led the Eagles with 15 points. “It was a collective group as a team not making plays. We got our heads down.’’

The tough part came in the final minutes as the teams, who exchanged the lead nine times with four ties, looked for an edge. That came with 6:48 left when Penn State guard Tim Frazier, the only returning starter for the Nittany Lions, hit a 3-pointer that broke a 48-48 tie.

BC (2-5) never led again, and at one point went more than nine minutes without a basket.

Not that Penn State (6-2), led by former Boston University coach Pat Chambers (one of Donahue’s close friends), could fill the role of a veteran unit. Only one starter returned from a team that made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. Only four players on the roster appeared in games last season, with 80 percent of the scoring and 68 percent of the rebounding gone from last season’s 19-15 team.

“It was a hard-fought game, with two teams trying to find their identity,’’ said Donahue. “Give Penn State credit. They got the key loose balls. The margin for error for us is not real large because our offense is not that efficient.’’

The Eagles, who already have suffered one-sided defeats to state rivals Holy Cross and UMass, raced to a 9-2 lead.

But Penn State had started slowly before, most notably in a 65-47 loss to Saint Joseph’s last Saturday in which it fell behind, 22-0, and shot a mind-boggling 4 for 38 in the first 20 minutes.

Last night, the Nittany Lions trailed only 29-26 at the half, mainly because of Jermaine Marshall, who came off the bench to score 15 of his 22 points.

For BC, the first 20 minutes was another case of Donahue mixing and matching in search of the right combinations.

Then, the second half was a combination of sloppiness, ineptness, and signs that things will get better for both teams as experience is gained. Neither team was good enough to pull away, and the game came down to the closing seconds.

It also came down to each team looking for someone to step into a leadership role. BC, which missed eight of its last nine shots, couldn’t find it, but Penn State could, as Frazier scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half.

Donahue knows he has a lot of building and teaching to do as the Eagles continue what could be a rough season.

“It’s a very unique situation, the type of youth that we have,’’ he said. “There’s been nobody who has ever played for Boston College. What you are seeing are guys who are trying to find their way in college. It’s all so different and there is no guy to really look over there on the left and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on now?’ The execution is not where it has to be.’’

Donahue takes stretches of good play - such as the opening of both halves - as booster shots because his team is still unsure of itself.

“I thought we did a terrific job in the first half,’’ he said. “I thought we came out and competed and did some nice things in the second half. There is no reason for this year to get too low about any aspect. This is all about building. We have one class in and we’re trying to get these guys as ACC-ready as we can, and we’re going to build on that class every year.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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