WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Signs that Boston College’s men’s basketball program is on the rise were evident in recent weeks, as the Eagles had won six of their previous seven games entering Saturday.
But against Wake Forest, they also showed there still is work to be done.
Poor shooting and inconsistent defense negated the young Eagles’ tenacity throughout the game in a 75-72 defeat at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Boston College made 41.7 percent of its shots (20 for 48) and connected on just 30.4 percent in the second half as it dropped the second leg of a two-game trip that began with Wednesday’s win at Virginia Tech.
The Demon Deacons made 51 percent of their shots and placed an emphasis on containing forward Ryan Anderson, who finished with 12 points (on 5-of-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds.
Lonnie Jackson led BC (9-7, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) with 23 points and freshman Olivier Hanlan had 18 for the Eagles, who host Miami on Wednesday.
“I definitely think we’re making strides,’’ third-year coach Steve Donahue said. “We came within a possession of winning two straight road games in this league, which is very hard. We didn’t play great today, but we competed, and that’s what I hoped we would do.
“We’re growing, but we’re not there yet. Guys are developing, and the last place you see that development sometimes is on the scoreboard.’’
Despite its shooting woes and 17 turnovers, BC had a chance to win in the final moments.
Trailing, 69-59, with 5:08 remaining, the Eagles pulled within 73-72 on a pair of free throws by Joe Rahon with 1:28 left. With a chance to give BC the lead, Rahon made a strong drive to the basket and drew contact. But the ball bounced off the rim, no foul was called, and Wake’s C.J. Harris grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 4.2 seconds to play.
Harris made both free throws to nudge the lead to 3 points, but the Eagles still had a chance.
Wake Forest intercepted Dennis Clifford’s long inbounds pass but was whistled for traveling, setting up the Eagles at midcourt with 1.5 seconds left. However, BC’s final hope fizzled out when Hanlan’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer came up short.
“[The loss] was our fault for how we came out in the first half,’’ Hanlan said. “We weren’t aggressive on defense, and [the Deacons] were shooting the ball well. We were getting open looks, and we had a chance to win it. But they played harder than us. Those little mistakes down the stretch really hurt us.
“We’ve just got to work on bringing it every single day and really pushing ourselves from the first half to the middle of the game to the last part of the game. It’s a learning experience.’’
For most of the game, BC had no answer for Harris, who poured in 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
“We’re not guarding like we can,’’ Donahue said. “We’re playing a lot of guys a lot of minutes. We probably need to make some adjustments so guys aren’t as tired. I think that’s where you see some of that youth and inexperience most, is on the defensive end.’’
And despite their recent success, the Eagles acknowledged that Saturday’s game showed they cannot be satisfied.
“I thought we played very streaky today,’’ Anderson said. “We had a lot of ups and downs; we’d make a run, and they’d make a run. We just didn’t play consistent enough to win the game.
“We know we can play well. You look at the times you played well, and you also learn from the times that you played bad. You try to string as many good streaks as you can. We’re all about getting three good defensive stops in a row and stringing those together. It really starts with defense with us. We’ve got to make the adjustments.’’