MEN'S BASKETBALL: Freshman Guards Aim To Be ACC's Top Backcourt
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 23:02
The final minutes of the Boston College game were never supposed to matter to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his No. 4 Blue Devils. With the Eagles within one possession, BC head coach Steve Donahue diagrammed two plays that ultimately put the ball and all the pressure in the hands of his two freshman guards: Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan. The first possession resulted in a corner 3-pointer that clanged off the backboard, while the game’s final shot would miss the rim altogether, sending BC to its fourth loss of the year by fewer than three points.
As that sequence makes clear, Donahue’s rebuilding project is not yet where he wants it to be, but the coach has handed the keys to the future, and perhaps his job, to Hanlan and Rahon. For their part, the two freshmen understand the burden that has been bestowed upon them and are learning from their mistakes as they go.
“The season started off a little rougher than we hoped it would,” Rahon said of his and Hanlan’s trial by error. “Now we’re starting to play a lot better as a team, offensively and defensively. We’re also learning how to win close games and that’s really going to help us down the line. It really comes down to making one play or making a shot. You’ve just got to be ready to knock down shots, especially when it really matters like it did against Duke.”
Perhaps most impressively, the tandem has started all 26 of the Eagles’ games this season, a rarity for a backcourt duo in a power conference like the ACC. To date, Rahon leads the team in minutes played with just more than 35 per game, while Hanlan is a close second with 34.
Donahue’s team has come to depend on consistently solid performances from the pair. One need only consider the Eagles’ four ACC wins to comprehend the role that both play in the fortunes of BC basketball’s present and future.
In the team’s first ACC victory, which came over Virginia Tech, Hanlan filled the box score with 17 points, eight rebounds, five steals, and four assists. Not to be outdone by his counterpart, Rahon posted a career-high 26 points in a win over Clemson, in addition to hitting the go-ahead free throws with just under eight seconds remaining against Wake Forest.
As if not wanting to fall too far behind Rahon, Hanlan contributed his own 26-point effort in the Eagles biggest win of the season Tuesday against Maryland.
As their freshman season progresses, “Joe and O” have endeared themselves to BC fans tantalized by the idea of watching them together for years to come.
“I think we’re starting to show people that we’re a backcourt that is going to have to be reckoned with and be mentioned as one of the top backcourts in the league and the country,” Rahon said. “Moving on, we’re going to keep getting better at playing together, at our individual games and look to do some big things in the future.”
Through the growing pains, the pair has kept their heads up and the Duke game served to help both of them realize that they belong at this level. When prompted to recall the moment when he realized that he and Rahon belonged in the ACC, Hanlan replied, “Probably after the Duke game, because coming in they were ranked pretty high. Everybody thinks Duke is amazing, but once we were out there we realized that we could play with these guys. They put on their shorts just like we put on our shorts.”
While the narrow loss against Duke will be referred to often in this season’s epilogue, it was another tight loss that gave Hanlan and Rahon the belief that they could surmount any challenge that the ACC, and their own mistakes, could throw at them.
In January, the Eagles hosted a Miami squad that has since climbed the national polls to its current perch at No. 2. With the clock almost reading zeroes, Hanlan stood at the free-throw line with his team down one point and one shot remaining. His final free throw would go begging off the rim, sending Miami home victorious.
“[The Miami loss] taught us that we can play with anyone in the country,” Rahon said. “Coaches really broke down the film and told us that the bottom line was if we had gotten the stops, we would have won despite everything else. It paid off against Wake Forest, because we were down seven with two [minutes] to go and held them scoreless in the last two minutes. That allowed us to come back and win. It’s the kind of mistakes where you can learn from them.”
Watching this duo interact, it is clear that a healthy dose of confidence and strong belief in themselves and each other is what sets them apart from other freshmen. They each have Donahue to thank for instilling this confidence into their game and personalities.
“He wants us to play our game and be aggressive,” Hanlan said of his coach. “That means not thinking too much on offense or defense. He wants us to be loose out there and not be afraid to make mistakes. Even when we make mistakes, he leaves us out there just to learn from it. He puts us in big time situations, like against Duke down the stretch and playing almost the whole game against Miami.”
With a trip to Duke up next and the ACC tournament approaching, this young Eagles team will need big contributions from its backcourt tandem.
As Hanlan and Rahon brim with growing confidence, it won’t be surprising to see some of those last second shots finding nothing but net. It is perhaps with this in mind that prompted a bold prediction on the part of Rahon.
“Teams know what [Olivier and I] are capable of and that we’re dangerous,” he said. “For us as a team, we can be the best team in the ACC.” n