COLUMN: Donahue Shows Promise
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 23:02
The year that Cornell advanced to the Sweet Sixteen stands out in my memory among 10 plus years of painstakingly filling out brackets. A win over Temple? Maybe in some strange alternate reality. Over Wisconsin? Never. But there they were, written in red over my surefire picks, more than 10 points separating the Big Red from their opponents in those big post-season wins.
At the helm of that effort was now Boston College basketball head coach Steve Donahue who, in his 10th year at Cornell, killed many a March Madness dream. The team had been on an upsurge for the past three seasons, managing to make the first round of the tournament by winning the Ivy League each of the two years before their Sweet Sixteen berth. Before those strong years, however, the Big Red didn’t have the same satisfying post-season performance.
For the first two years of Donahue’s coaching career at Cornell, the Big Red finished seventh out of eight teams in the Ivy League. The next two years, they settled for fifth. Then, in Donahue’s fifth year, a second-place finish vaulted Cornell into contention.
As of now, BC sits second to last in the ACC standings. So many times, it has appeared that the Eagles would follow through, that they would pull off an ACC win, but as the final seconds wind down, human error leaves BC with another tally in the loss column.
Many of the same sentiments that I was feeling during Cornell’s tournament run came back.
A win over Miami? Maybe in some strange alternate reality.
Olivier Hanlan barely misses his third free throw. Top-ranked Miami comes away with the 60-59 win.
Over Duke? Never.
BC leads for much of the game until the final minutes, and Hanlan’s jumper hits the back rim as the clock winds down — 62-61 Duke.
Wake Forest takes the first meeting between the two by three. A five-point loss to NC State. Another fiver goes to Maryland. Three points to Florida State. Six close conference games. Six losses. A total deficit of 18 points—one 3-pointer per game.
It’s a storyline that BC has become almost used to over the course of the season. Each loss still stings, but each is enhanced with an unpleasant sense of familiarity.
It is not, however, time to lose hope in the Eagles. They’re not going to win the ACC. They’re not even going to finish in the top half, but the experience that this young team is gaining in these near losses will prove valuable down the road.
There is not a single senior on the team. Apart from grad student Andrew Van Nest, only two players are in the latter half of their time at BC.
Some of these players have already made a strong impact early on in their careers. Sophomore Lonnie Jackson has become a go-to for shots from outside the arch. Fellow classmate Ryan Anderson leads the team in scoring and is shooting 48 percent on the season. Freshman Olivier Hanlan is in contention for ACC Rookie of the Year. The other rookie, Joe Rahon, remains cool behind the free throw line and managed to turn the tables against Wake Forest, tallying two free throws in the last minute to give BC the go-ahead.
Not only does this mean that the players themselves have time to grow and to improve, but it also allows for a close relationship between the sophomore-heavy team and their sophomore coach, Donahue.
In his time at Cornell, Donahue showed that he can build a program, bringing it from the bottom of a conference to the top. In his sophomore season at BC, he is already showing signs of a similar ascendancy.
While the Eagles’ schedule shows an ugly ACC record of 4-9, a closer look finds a young team on the verge of success in a competitive conference. This is a group that doesn’t like to lose. With a favorable bounce here or there, they could have downed Duke or Miami. Those wins wouldn’t have come during the NCAA tournament, propelling an unlikely team into the Sweet Sixteen. But if sometime during the next couple seasons they do come, you can bet they’ll make a lasting impression.