MEN'S BASKETBALL: Jackson Gives Rahon The Confidence To Close
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 03:02
Joe Rahon came crashing down directly on the arm he needed to save his team.
“Don’t shoot them if you can’t,” his teammates told him, as they scraped Wake Forest defenders away and helped him up off the Conte Forum floor.
He ignored them and made his way to midcourt, bending and extending that precious shooting arm again and again, mixing in attempts at a shooting motion.
“I’m not coming out,” Rahon thought. “That isn’t an option.”
Lonnie Jackson rushed to Rahon and told him to forget what everyone else was telling him.
“Go up there and knock them down,” Jackson said. “You’re not hurt. You’re fine. Just go put them in.”
With seven seconds left and the Boston College men’s basketball team trailing Wake 62-63, Rahon stood at the line, staring down the Eagles’ eighth crunch-time loss of the season if the freshman guard couldn’t knock down the two free throws he had earned on a late drive. Both shots would fall, lifting a nearly season-long weight of not being able to close games off of this young team’s shoulders, and Rahon’s squad went on to win 66-63.
Moments earlier, BC had forced a Deacon turnover on a five-second inbounds call. Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik was screaming for a timeout as the official’s outstretched arm struck five, but no one saw him, and the Eagles caught a break.
“Stuff has this way of evening itself out,” said BC head coach Steve Donahue, harking back to a missed five-second call in the Eagles’ failed upset-bid against then No. 4 Duke on Sunday. “But I didn’t think it would be this quick.”
The turnover led to, after a few failed attempts and one extra timeout, Rahon running a pick-and-roll with sophomore forward Ryan Anderson on the left side of the court. The same spot that fellow freshman guard Olivier Hanlan initiated an identical screen with Anderson three nights earlier.
Then, Hanlan came off the screen and halted for a jumper that sailed wide-left, ending the game in heartbreak. On this night, Rahon flew past the spot Hanlan pulled up from and assaulted the rim as hard as he could, but two Deacon players collapsed on him, forcing the freshman to desperately toss the ball up at the rim from outside the lane. The ball hit the side of the backboard, not much different than the whiffed 3-pointer Rahon clanked off the top of the backboard against the Blue Devils before Hanlan’s miss.
The whistle blew, though, as Wake’s Codi Miller-McIntyre forced Rahon to the floor and into the cheerleaders.
Rahon swished the first shot to tie both teams at 63 apiece. All he had to do now was sink the game winner, but Donahue didn’t consider that the most important free throw of the game.
Two minutes earlier, the Eagles trailed 56-63 and Wake’s C.J. Harris was tearing through the BC defense on pick-and-rolls. No one, not even BC’s best defenders in Hanlan and Rahon, could check him. He had just scooted past the Eagles for a layup, but Hanlan answered by driving on Harris and forcing a foul. Donahue called a timeout before Hanlan’s two free throws.
“I thought they were the biggest foul shots of the season,” Donahue said.
He told his team that games like this are never over, down seven with two minutes to play. The Eagles saw that against the Blue Devils, letting a five-point lead slide through their clutching hands against an elite opponent.
Hanlan made both, and then Donahue switched his defense to a full-court man which dropped back into a zone in order to slow down Harris.
The Deacons didn’t score another point the rest of the game.
Rahon swished his second free throw to put BC ahead 64-63. The freshman who Donahue had trusted so many times before in those seven last-minute losses finally came through for his coach with the game on the line.
“We’re learning how to close games and it’s starting to pay off,” Rahon said.
Bzdelik called a timeout and did everything he could to set up Harris for a potential game-winner. Harris inbounded the ball from the baseline and then got it right back, streaking down the floor past midcourt and through BC defenders. No one cut him off, and it looked like Donahue might be right. Things might not even out until later.
But before Harris could get off a shot, he shuffled his feet and was called for a travel. The Eagles then inbounded the ball safely to Jackson, who sunk two free-throws of his own to put a cap on the BC rally.
There was no serious celebration as the clock expired. Nothing close to the storm that would’ve ensued if Hanlan’s shot had fallen three nights before, but a few fist-pounds among teammates was all Donahue’s players needed.
“It wasn’t beautiful but we got it done and that’s what we’ve got to do every game,” Jackson said. “It’s the little things. I think our team is maturing in that sense that not worrying about what they’re doing individually. It’s about the team. It’s about winning and being competitive and that’s where we’re going.”