Leading Providence by 2 points with 30 seconds to play and the shot clock winding down, Boston College made sure the ball found its way into the hands of Joe Rahon.
The 6-foot-2-inch freshman guard dribbled around a screen at the top of the key and drove the lane, keeping an eye out for an open teammate, as the Friars’ defense collapsed around him.
Seeing his chance, Ryan Anderson cut to the basket and collected a nice pass from Rahon. The 6-8 sophomore connected on a turnaround to put the Eagles up by two possessions with 24 seconds left.
The basket gave Anderson 24 points and doubled as the high point of a closely-contested game that saw an Eagles starting five, composed entirely of underclassmen, play with poise beyond their years.
After two free throws and an inconsequential Providence 3-pointer at the buzzer, the Eagles (6-5) walked off the court at Conte Forum with a 71-68 win in the 107th matchup between the schools. The win came in front of 6,102 and snapped a six-game winning streak by Providence (8-3).
“It was a big game for us,’’ said Anderson, who scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half. “Obviously, going home [for winter break] would be a lot different trip with a loss today. The Friars are an [excellent] basketball team. They’re having a great season. It was just a great atmosphere for a basketball game, and to pull it out is big for our program moving forward. We’ve got a lot of young guys so we’re just trying to build it up.’’
Anderson and Providence’s Bryce Cotton went back and forth in the second half, with Cotton scoring 20 of his game-high 33 points after the break. Cotton’s long-range shooting (7 of 14 from behind the arc) and ability to drive to the basket gave the Eagles fits.
Cotton entered the game leading the Big East in scoring (20.8 points per game) and as it turns out, nearly wound up in Chestnut Hill three years ago, according to BC coach Steve Donahue.
“We got to know him a little bit when we tried to recruit him,’’ said Donahue. “We brought him on campus and we probably made a mistake [not getting him to commit]. To me, he is an example of a kid that just wants to be great. No one recruited him. He had nothing. And to me, he’s one of the best guards in the country right now. I thought he played his tail off. We had to overcome that more than anything.’’
Kadeem Batts (14 points, 7 rebounds), who entered the game as Providence’s second-leading scorer, ran off 6 straight points to help the Friars to their largest lead of the game, 42-38, with 16:38 to play in the second half, but then picked up his third and fourth fouls on back-to-back possessions and was pulled by coach Ed Cooley. He returned with a little more than six minutes to play, but fouled out shortly thereafter, trying to stop an Anderson drive.
There were 14 lead changes in the game and neither team led by more than 6 points. The Eagles hit 7 of 18 shots from behind the arc after going 0 for 19 in regulation in an overtime win against New Hampshire Dec. 16.
Freshman guard Olivier Hanlan (17 points, 12 rebounds) became just the second BC player to record a double-double in the past two seasons. With Dennis Clifford limited (sprained ankle) and 6-10 forward Andrew Van Nest out with a concussion, Hanlan’s effort didn’t go unnoticed by Donahue.
“We talked about how [Hanlan] could impact the game without having the ball in his hands,’’ he said. “I think what he brought into today was that he had 12 rebounds. He had nine defensive rebounds. We talked about how undersized we are at times. I think our bigs battle, but [Hanlan’s] ability to go after the ball was extremely impressive.’’
Still, when the game’s on the line, the Eagles know where the ball needs to be.
“I just have so much respect for Joe and his understanding of the game,’’ said Donahue. “He’s just a winner. He wants to make game-winning plays. Someone’s going to have to really step up and stop him because he doesn’t lose his poise. He stays with it, that’s the type of kid he is. I think his teammates understand that if he’s got to the ball [at the end of games] we’ll get good some looks.’’