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COLUMN: Hanlan’s Emotional Moment Gives BC hope After Heartbreaking Loss

Sports Editor

Published: Monday, February 11, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 11, 2013 01:02

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Graham Beck / Heights Editor

 

A poignant knife cut through the usual press conference in Conte Forum.

At first, Boston College head coach Steve Donahue opened with his regular statement on not wanting to disregard wins and losses.

“I hate to lose,” he said. “I hate to lose as much as anybody. I’m in this to win.”

Nevertheless, he said he had to appreciate all of the progress his team had made this season, coming within one pull-up jumper of defeating No. 4 Duke just 15 minutes earlier.

He repeated the message that he has said, while sitting in the exact same seat, every time his Eagles have come close to that statement win which continues to sneak out from under their fingertips. He said he’s seeing everything out of his guys that he needs to see, and it pained him that they couldn’t be rewarded for it on that night.

“That’s why I wanted to win,” he said. “I wanted these guys to get a little reward for a tremendous effort tonight, but more importantly just what they’ve been doing for the last two months.”

But nothing that he said could have communicated how painful that one point differential in BC men’s basketball’s 62-61 loss to the Blue Devils better than the freshman point guard sitting next to him.

Moments later, a question was directed to Olivier Hanlan about stopping Duke’s offense from going on deadly runs.

 “I think we broke down a few…” Hanlan began, in a hushed but hurried tone before losing his words. The heartbreak over the loss couldn’t be hidden from his demeanor.

He shook his head. He hardly resembled the same player that, with less than one minute left in the first half and the Blue Devils erasing BC’s lead, drained a three in the face of Duke’s Quinn Cook, fell on his back, hopped right up, and jawed at the blue-chipper as he back-pedaled to his own bench with a cocky hitch in his step.

“We broke down on defense a few times off a few rotations,” Hanlan continued after the brief pause, “so that kind of…” And then he shook his head again. Hunched over the table with his head down, Hanlan went on. “.. Backstabbed us, in the back.”

The usually articulate Hanlan couldn’t get the right words out. There was no way his mind could’ve really been on defensive rotations in that moment. 

Finally, the question came that matched up with his thoughts. It was about the last play of the game. The play that wasn’t even drawn up for him. The play that could have sent Duke home without an impending No. 1 ranking. The play that could have given BC a hard-earned reward.

“On the last play…” Hanlan started, before taking one deep breath and describing the play in detail, still with the hurried, hushed voice. 

Right then, he barely looked like the guy who, after Duke took the lead back from BC with eight minutes left in the game, answered by drilling a two-point jumper and then throwing up a pair of 3-goggles directed at Cook. 

He looked like the guy who, with his team down one and the clock expiring, had missed a shot wide left off the glass that eliminated the potential for an upset. He looked like a guy who saw it all as his fault.

“I’m still getting used to this environment,” he said when next asked about the pressure that came with that shot. “I could do a way better job in these types of situations.”

And then he let in, a little bit, how deep that pain went.

“Same thing when I missed those free throws at Miami,” he conceded, with a third shake of the head, his eyes still down at the table. Donahue looked up from the stat sheet at which he had been gazing and patted his point guard on the back.

It had been 25 days since Hanlan had missed the third of three free-throws that could have sent BC into overtime with now top-ranked Miami. The same Miami team that blew out this Duke squad by 27 points. It had been 25 days, but Hanlan still wouldn’t let it go.

“I’ll … I’ll play better in the next game to make up for it,” he said, and then the questions were over and he walked out.

Donahue wasn’t going to let the biggest reason the Eagles even competed with the Blue Devils leave on that note, though. After Hanlan walked out, the first question for Donahue was about Hanlan and that last shot.

“He has a pretty good look and he’s pretty good at those shots,” Donahue said. “And I didn’t feel that he was nervous from the moment. The thing about Olivier is that he just does this every day. This isn’t just a game. This is his life. He wants to be great, and he takes every advantage to try to do that. He’s obviously extremely disappointed and probably a little hard on himself as well.”

Donahue then shook his head, just like his point guard, but not with the same intent.

“Even the Miami thing—Let’s be honest, the reason that we can play with Duke is because you have Olivier Hanlan,” Donahue said. “A lot of it has to do with his ability to—when they pressure you, they force you to go by them and he got to the rim, he got fouled, he makes 11 out of the 12 foul shots. I just thought he played great.”

Hanlan did play great. So did Ryan Anderson, Eddie Odio, and the rest of the Eagles, at least in spurts. But their confidence is fragile, and this is the kind of the loss that can derail a group of young players.

On top of all the heartbreak, though, there was strength in that room. Hanlan left assuring himself, his coach, and everyone else that he was going to use the pain to help him improve. 

Donahue stood tall, confident in his system and confident in his belief that whether that last shot was wide left or not, he had to appreciate where his team stands.

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