Joe Rahon faded away in the lane after putting up an awkward jumper that missed the rim. As Eddie Odio grappled with Baye Moussa Keita, Ryan Anderson lurked on the left side of the paint’s block. He was waiting for the ball to drop into his open hands. After a first half of frustration, the junior was starting to get hot in the paint. He had unlocked Syracuse’s defensive shape and was about to change the game.
Leading by three points, the Eagles knew they would have to build their lead without haste to have a chance to knock off the Orange—and that is exactly what Anderson did.
As a monstrous trio of C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, and Keita converged on him under the hoop, Anderson fought his way to the rack, which he had done all night. His lay-up passed through the net, and once the whistle blew, he lost it. He squatted in front of the baseline to let out an intimidating roar. It was a release of emotion.
Anderson drained his shot from the line. The junior was in business, and the Eagles were 16:31 away from pulling off the biggest upset of the Steve Donahue era.
Conte Forum was an electrifying environment again.
When the Eagles took the court on Monday evening, the visitors were primed. Syracuse, No. 2 in the country and arguably the nation’s best college basketball team, were ready to advance to 17-0. Despite BC leading by as much as eight after a dunk from Anderson with just over 15 minutes left in the game, Syracuse mustered an 18-3 run which spanned from 11:57 to 4:43 in the second half. The spurt distanced the Orange from the Eagles, giving the visitors a dramatic 69-59 victory.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone defense thwarted any chance the Eagles had of working the ball inside early in the game. Anderson was used to penetrate the high post, the most vulnerable piece of the Orange’s defense, but BC’s guards could not find the junior. The Eagles looked to lob the ball over Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis, a fruitless strategy.
The zone limited BC to shots from the perimeter, but Donahue’s offense is equipped for exactly that. Olivier Hanlan finished with six helpers, which started when he assisted Lonnie Jackson, who shot six of nine from behind the arc, for the junior’s first triple of the evening after the Orange collapsed on the sophomore in the lane.
Outside shots kept the Eagles in the game, as Rakeem Christmas, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant mobbed Anderson under the rim throughout the first half, severely stalling BC’s inside game.
Just after the 1st half’s midway point, Rahon and Jackson exploded from behind the arc, stringing together three consecutive triples to give BC a 19-18 advantage.
Hitting from the field was huge throughout the night for the Eagles, who knew they had to shoot especially well playing against the 2-3 zone. In both halves, the team nailed half of its shots.
“There’s a couple things that you have to do and one of them [is]: you’ve got to keep adjusting,” Donahue said of Boeheim’s defense. “The best thing that they do is they adjust.”
Once the Eagles’ 3-point shooting picked up, Syracuse quickly took those opportunities away forcing BC to move the ball at a rapid pace.
The Orange’s Cooney helped shut down passing lanes and spurred the Orange’s counter. He went to the rack on consecutive breaks, one of which came from a steal of his own and the other after a steal from Tyler Ennis. A theft by Cooney moments later turned into a dunk to cap off the visitors’ run, which gave them a nine-point, 32-23, lead.
A Jackson 3-pointer, and a put-back from Odio were part of a 7-0 run by BC to close the half.
“I thought Boston College did a great job in the first half defensively,” Boeheim said.
Key stops by BC’s defense kept Syracuse from going on a run that could have put the game beyond doubt at the break.
While Boeheim’s zone was working, the performance of Jackson, who finished with 18 points, seemed to be based on the junior’s newly found self-belief.
“I’m just starting to find a rhythm,” Jackson said. “He [Donahue] has confidence in me, and I have confidence in myself that I can knock down that shot.”
After Jackson started the half with a three, BC began to work the ball inside. It was just another one of the many changes the Eagles would have to make.
“Halftime we said a couple things,” Donahue said. “We’ve really got to attack it [the zone] off the dribble. Now it’s hard and we did it. We did it well. But they made the adjustment.”
Anderson began to find his place. Throughout the first half, he battled with Christmas in the paint, fighting for position. When he got the ball in the high post, he was trapped quickly. But Anderson was able to get to the line, putting Christmas into foul trouble. The Syracuse big man picked up his fourth foul just over 1:30 into the second half, rooting him to the bench for remainder of the night.
With Keita inside, Anderson began to hit from inside the paint and his 10 second half points were tremendous in the team’s upset bid.
While Anderson’s game in the lane picked up, the Eagles did well to beat another part of Boeheim’s defense.
“Part of it was we were trapping and we had good traps, and they made two great plays to get out the traps and not only get out of the traps, but get him [Jackson] the ball in cross-court pressured pass and he stuck it,” Boeheim said.
“I really think tonight, when you trap, we trap in certain situations and usually people don’t get out of there and twice they got out of there and made really hard passes and those were two of his threes.”
Even with his defense being tested by an in form BC offense, Boeheim did not lose his confidence.
“I wasn’t as concerned as I would be because there was time—there was time left,” Boeheim said of his thoughts when his team trailed by eight. “We knew they would take their time, but we just wanted to find—can’t remember his name—Lonnie Jackson. Yeah, I know his name. We just wanted to make sure we didn’t let him shoot. Let somebody else shoot the ball. And I thought we did that.”
Syracuse used its time well. Its massive second half run was capped by a highlight reel jam from an otherwise quiet Grant. The forward’s outstretched right arm stuffed a miss by Fair back into the bucket for a sensational play.
The dunk shook Conte Forum and sealed the game, but BC’s performance was enough to give the team a much needed-confidence boost.
“I think they have great hope in that locker room,” Donahue said.