Harvard, NU in latest Bracketology

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
It’s only January, and though the nonconference slate is finished and conference play is underway there is still a lot that can and will change between now and Selection Sunday.

But if the NCAA tournament brackets were set on Jan. 22, two of the seven Division I teams from Massachusetts would be in the Big Dance ... and as a bonus, you could buy a ticket to one arena to see both of them.

From ESPN resident Bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest:

Harvard is 11-4 (1-0 Ivy) as the Ivy League slate (which fans famously call the “14-game tournament,” since Ancient Eight has no actual tournament) gets going for good. Wesley Saunders is on the midseason watch list for the Lou Henson Award -- given annually to the best midmajor player -- after averaging 15.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game through nonconference play.

Northeastern is 13-6 overall and sitting atop the Colonial Athletic Association at 5-1, with a matchup against James Madison (11-8, 4-2 CAA) on tap Thursday night. Scott Eatherton is having another efficient season, averaging 15.4 points and 6.9 rebounds a game (both team highs), and Northeastern is third nationally in defensive free throw rate according to kenpom.com.

As Lunardi see things now, the Crimson would be a No. 12 seed and take on No. 5 seed West Virginia, while the Huskies would be a No. 13 seed and take on No. 4 seed Virginia Commonwealth. Both games would be in the East Regional, in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Hodges among those with most to prove

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
Now that bowl season is officially over and a new college football champion has been crowned, NFL draft season has unofficially begun. The Senior Bowl, a prime scouting showcase, will be held in Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday and at least one player with ties to Massachusetts will be involved.

Zack Hodges, the 2014 Ivy League co-defensive player of the year and Harvard’s all time sacks leader, will be trying to prove to scouts he can transition from defensive end (his college position) to outside linebacker (his likely spot at the next level).

Todd McShay has a preview of the 2015 Reese’s Senior Bowl (Insider subscription required) on Tuesday, and Hodges lands on the draft expert’s list of those with the most to prove this week.

He writes, in part:

The questions for Hodges are whether he can effectively drop in coverage and whether he can get to the QB when working against top offensive tackle prospects. He'll be facing a big jump in competition going against the likes of [T.J.] Clemmings and Rob Havenstein in practice, and he needs to have a good showing to cement his place on Day 2.

Hodges, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound Atlanta native, finished his Crimson career with 27.0 sacks, including a league-leading 8.5 in 2014.

The game will be broadcast live at 4 p.m. ET on NFL Network.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

1.The 14 ACC members received revenue shares of $20.8 million at the end of the 2013-14 academic year, a significant increase from the $16.9 million that each member received the previous year. And yet Boston College cast the lone dissenting vote in the decision of the Power 5 Conferences to begin paying cost of attendance to their student-athletes. It might be that the school’s longtime president, Father William P. Leahy, is taking a stand of fiscal prudence. But that ship sailed a long time ago. If Boston College wants to compete in the ACC and participate in its bounty, which is the very reason that the school left the Big East behind a decade ago, than BC has to pay ACC-level bills, too.

2. Alabama fans are holding their breath, awaiting a signal from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin regarding the San Francisco 49ers’ interest in him. If Kiffin leaves – he said last month that he “definitely” would stay, but his past indicates nothing is definite – it would mean Saban would be hiring his third offensive coordinator in four seasons. On a lot of staffs, that would mean chaos. But running backs coach Burton Burns came with Saban to Alabama eight years ago. Tight ends coach Bobby Williams arrived a year later. They are the source of the Crimson Tide’s stability in the offensive meeting room.

3. I checked the NCAA statistical database Sunday to see if the all-time coaching records had been updated to show former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno with 409 wins. I went back Monday to double-check, and all I could find was the listing with Paterno at 298 wins. NCAA statistics director David Worlock assured me I hadn’t been seeing things. An updated database briefly went online. He said that because of the Paterno ruling, his staff will upload all data from the 2014 season shortly so that the 2015 NCAA Football Records Book, with Paterno at 409 wins, will be available soon.

Story of the season: Boston College

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
Alumni Stadium trembled.

Nine Trojans in the box, Tyler Murphy faked a handoff, ran left and made one cut before he sprinted through then-No. 9 USC’s defensive line, untouched, and sped toward the end zone and the upset.

The 66-yard TD run was the play of the Eagles’ season, one executed brilliantly by the player whose runaway success (couldn’t resist) was easily the story of the team’s season.

Boston College 37, No. 9 USC 31. The red bandanna-toting fans rushed the field, fitting on a day Murphy ran for a career-high 191 yards and the Eagles piled up 452.

After escaping the happy scrum, head coach Steve Addazio presented a game ball to the parents of Welles Crowther, a BC alum turned hero in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Then he presented one to Murphy.

BC was supposed to take a step back in 2014, losing its quarterback (Chase Rettig), its leading receiver (Alex Amidon), its leading sack artist (Kasim Edebali) and, oh yeah, its Heisman finalist and Doak Walker Award winner (Andre Williams) after Addazio’s first season in 2013.

But with Florida-transfer Murphy in the fold, Addazio and offensive coordinator Ryan Day recalibrated the offense on the fly and the result was another dominant rushing attack (No. 15 nationally, at 254.69 yards per game, after finishing No. 20 in 2013, at 212.46) ... just one that got it done a different way.

In 2013, Williams powered his way to a 2,000-yard season and a spot on the New York Giants’ roster.

In 2014, Day put the ball in Murphy’s hands, asked the quarterback to create, and the Wethersfield, Connecticut, native did -- breaking the ACC single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (ending with 1,179), and setting new single-season and career quarterback rushing records at BC in the process.

He had five 100-yard rushing games, more than the rest of the roster combined (three by Jonathan Hilliman and one by Marcus Outlow). He had 11 rushing touchdowns, second only to Hilliman’s 13. And he added another 1,623 yards and 13 TDs passing.

Oh, and according to athletic director Brad Bates, Murphy also loaded up on coursework during the spring, summer and fall to take his master’s degree with him after just one year.

"I hadn’t been around a lot of fifth-year transfers," Bates admitted. "But that’s the first time I’ve seen that happen."

Murphy did a few things no one at Boston College has seen a quarterback do.

"I’ve been fortunate to be here for all the great QBs," associate athletic director Barry Gallup said, ticking off the list from Doug Flutie to Matt Hasselbeck to Matt Ryan. "Tyler, he’s just unbelievable. If we allowed him to be a captain, he probably would’ve been elected a captain."

Addazio ultimately decided Murphy wouldn’t be eligible for the captain vote, and said the graduate transfer could be an ex officio leader as the team’s quarterback. Murphy never complained, won his teammates’ trust anyway, and became the leader Addazio thought he would.

By the end of the season, which ended in heartbreaking fashion in OT against Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, just about everyone around the Eagles was wishing aloud for more time with Murphy.

But that’s the other part of the story of BC’s season: It was always going to be just one year.

Now BC will have to prepare for another transition, with rising sophomore Darius Wade seemingly the heir apparent at quarterback. And Murphy will prepare for his pro day, hoping plays like the one he made to seal the win against USC -- the one that shook Alumni Stadium to its foundations -- impressed enough NFL scouts to get him a shot at the next level.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

After miss, Heckmann rebounds in BC win

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- It's been said we learn the most not from our successes, but from our failures.

Patrick Heckmann got a close look at that truism in the past week and a half.

The BC senior had a chance to win a game, but he couldn't grab it. His baseline drive with time expiring in a tie game against Pittsburgh ended in disappointment, and BC eventually lost in OT.

So when Heckmann got another chance to help win a game for the Eagles on Wednesday night, he was determined to seize it.

“We learned from Pittsburgh and we finished it strong,” Heckmann said. “Everybody made plays.”

Heckmann helped his mates out to a quick start, assisting first Olivier Hanlan and then Aaron Brown on 3s as BC built an early double-digit lead. When Harvard fought back from a 15-point deficit to force overtime, it was the Mainz, Germany, native who came up big in the extra session.

[+] EnlargeBoston College and Harvard
Nate Shron/Getty ImagesPatrick Heckmann fights to hang onto the ball against Steve Moundou-Missi of Harvard on Wednesday.
Hanlan started the Eagles off on the right foot, and then Heckmann delivered the knockout blows. First he finished a fast break with a dunk off a feed from Brown, then he posted up in the corner and waited for Brown to see him from the baseline.

He’d missed his first two 3-point attempts in the game, but he didn’t let that deter him when Brown fed him in front of the BC bench.

“Coach told me, ‘Don’t think about it, just keep shooting,’” Heckmann said. “AB made a great pass and I was lucky to make that one.”

He drained it and BC didn’t look back, winning 64-57.

“Obviously the big 3 by Heckmann there in the corner was a dagger that pushed it over the top for them,” Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said.

Though at one point Heckmann had Jim Christian crestfallen -- shouting "Come on, Pat!" after he couldn't control a rebound that led to a fast-break bucket for Harvard -- there was more good than bad on balance.

“Was it perfect? No,” Christian said of his team’s performance. “We did a lot of things wrong. But you know what, we needed to bust through this wall and get our confidence back and we did that tonight.”

Heckmann came into the game averaging 7.3 points in 27.1 minutes a game. He had nine points in the OT alone, finishing with 14 -- one of four Eagles in double figures -- in an emphatic followup after the disappointment against the Panthers.

“I was happy for him,” Christian said. “He’s worked really, really hard. He battles. He’s a very confident kid. That’s why you’ve gotta tell him, ‘Keep shooting, Pat.’ Because he’s gonna hit a big shot.

“He’s a guy that, he wants the ball. He’s not afraid to get the ball in those situations. I thought at the end, him and O were the two guys who I thought wanted the ball most. You could just see it.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Hanlan makes sure BC fends off Harvard

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Olivier Hanlan could see it slipping away.

For the second time in three games, Boston College had let a late lead evaporate. Up by as many as 15 points and by double digits for much of the game, the Eagles needed a last-minute Aaron Brown layup and a last-second stop just to force overtime against Harvard on Wednesday night.

And with the score tied at 49 in the extra session, BC desperately needed someone to make a play.

Hanlan, the Eagles’ junior star, made two. Harassed by Harvard star Wesley Saunders, Hanlan freed himself with a quick step and lofted a soft floater over the defense for a key hoop.

Saunders tried to come right back at him on the other end, but Hanlan pulled away and Saunders traveled to give BC the ball back.

Given another chance, the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder didn’t let up.

“We kind of just fought back, fought back,” Hanlan said. “In overtime, we needed to come out with a punch. I knew I needed to be aggressive. The way they guarded the ball screen, a little hedge, I thought I would just try to beat his top foot and get to the rim.

“I was lucky enough to make a few plays down the stretch.”

He came screaming off the ball screen after Saunders’ turnover, freeing himself to get close enough to the basket to throw it in off the backboard. And when Brown found Patrick Heckmann open in the corner for a 3-pointer a little while later, the nervous crowd erupted along with the BC bench. The Eagles hung on for the 64-57 victory.

“We had to get a win,” BC coach Jim Christian said. “We had to get back into the winner’s circle. When you lose the way we’ve lost the past two games, it’s difficult.”

[+] EnlargeOliver Hanlan
Nate Shron/Getty ImagesOlivier Hanlan, left, got the better of Wesley Saunders and Harvard with some key plays on both ends of the floor in overtime.
BC led by five late against Pittsburgh, but fumbled that away and lost 61-60. Then they fought hard on the road at Miami, but couldn’t close the gap and lost by four.

The recent history in Wednesday’s matchup didn’t suggest a soft landing for the Eagles.

“My past two years, Harvard beat us up pretty good,” Hanlan said. “But going into this game with this new coaching staff, they wanted to make it imperative in terms of just beating them.”

Harvard came into the game having won six in a row over BC, dating back to 2009. Both teams were on three-game streaks, though in opposite directions. BC had lost three straight, and Harvard had won three straight.

So when the Crimson chipped away at the Eagles’ lead in the second half, sharpshooter Corbin Miller getting hot and at one point going on a personal 8-0 run, and took their first lead with a few minutes to play, Christian knew his players were going to be tested again.

“This was a game at the end,” Christian said, “guys who wanted to make plays were going to make ‘em. Both teams. I was proud of our guys because they made them.”

And they made them on both ends -- Hanlan finished with a game-high 17 points on one end and helped hold Saunders to 15 points on just 4-for-19 shooting on the other.

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker praised Hanlan after the game.

“Hanlan is such a tough guard to chase all over,” he said. “It wears you out, chasing him around for 40 minutes or 45 minutes.”

As usual, much of that task fell to Saunders.

“It was definitely a difficult task given some of the sets that they run, the way that he’s constantly moving and coming off handoffs, flares, staggers,” Saunders said. “I definitely had to stay locked in. It was tough. It took a lot of energy.

“And then also to go on the offensive end and try to be my normal aggressive self, it was tough. But I’ve done it before so that’s not really an excuse. It was kind of an off night.”

Both coach and star were quick to credit BC, and with the remainder of the ACC schedule -- including a matchup Saturday with No. 2 Virginia -- staring down at them, the Eagles will gladly take it.

They almost let another one slip away, a game that last season they probably would lost. But not this season, not with this group and this coaching staff -- which with Wednesday’s win has already equaled last season’s paltry total (eight).

“This was obviously a big game for us,” Heckmann said. “We needed another win before we kept playing ACC play. Now we’ve got, I think, a lot of momentum. If we keep playing like that, if we keep guarding like that, then we’ve just got to improve a little offensively and then we’ve got a shot at anybody.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard's Smith leaves with leg injury

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Harvard center Kenyatta Smith left Wednesday night’s game at Boston College with an apparent leg injury in the second half and did not return.

The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder missed all but one game last season with a left foot injury.

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said he didn’t know the extent of the injury after his team’s 64-57 loss.

“We don’t know what the status is,” Amaker said. “Obviously it didn’t look good. He went down and was in a lot of pain.

“He’ll be checked out tonight and tomorrow.”

After staying down on the court in obvious pain, Smith eventually was helped off the floor and needed help to hobble to the locker room.

Smith is averaging 5.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 15.5 minutes a game this season.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

BC hires Hutzler to fix special teams

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
Searching for a cure to his team’s special-teams struggles, Boston College coach Steve Addazio has hired Coleman Hutzler as his new special-teams and linebackers coach.

Hutzler replaces Sean McGowan, who will not return after coaching a special-teams unit that struggled badly in 2014 -- three place-kickers combining to miss eight point-after attempts and finish dead last nationally at 81.4 percent on PATs.

“Coleman is a passionate coach who brings tremendous experience working with special teams and linebackers,” Addazio said in a statement on Tuesday. “He is a great addition to our staff and will be an asset to our program.”

Hutzler, 30, spent 2014 as special-teams coordinator for former Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp, following two seasons as special teams/outside linebackers coach at New Mexico.

He was on the Florida staff in 2010-11, when he first got to know Addazio and offensive line coach Justin Frye.

“I am excited to join what is a great staff at Boston College,” Hutzler said in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with Coach Addazio and Coach Frye again and I can't wait to work with Don Brown and the defensive staff. I am excited to be a part of this team and this great university.”

In Hutzler’s one season in charge of special teams at Florida, the Gators missed just one PAT and five field goals (tying for No. 32 nationally with a 79.2 percent conversion rate on field goals).

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

UMass TE Sifrin to declare for NFL draft

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
UMass tight end Jean Sifrin has decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft, the school announced Tuesday.

"As a program, we are very happy for Jean to have this chance to pursue his goals at the NFL level," coach Mark Whipple said in a statement. "When we spoke, we told him that we supported his decision because of how it can benefit him and his family."

Sifrin, 27, played only one season with the Minutemen after transferring from El Camino College in Torrance, California. The 6-foot-7, 250-pounder finished the 2014 season with 41 catches for 637 yards and six touchdowns -- good for second on the team in each category.

The Miami native was fifth nationally in receiving yards by a tight end and posted two 100-yard games, despite not being cleared to play until Week 2 against Colorado. Sifrin was an All Mid-American Conference first-team choice.

If he’s selected in May’s draft, Sifrin would be the third member of the Minutemen to be drafted in the past three years after Michael Cox (Giants, seventh round) and Rob Blanchflower (Steelers, seventh round) heard their names called in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Sifrin does not appear in the ESPN NFL draft database, and was not listed among Mel Kiper’s latest top 10 (Insider) at the tight end position.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

UMass loses Atlantic 10 opener to Bonnies

January, 3, 2015
Jan 3
AMHERST -- University of Massachusetts fans weathering one of the first winter storms of the year were in for a treat Saturday afternoon. The first 3,000 diehards at the Mullins Center were given Derek Kellogg bobblehead dolls.

Though flattered, the UMass coach suggested -- not without legitimacy -- that the bobblehead more closely resembled another leader: Richard Milhous Nixon.

[+] EnlargeDerek Kellogg bobblehead
Marty Dobrow for ESPNBoston.comAfter the first 3,000 fans got Derek Kellogg bobbleheads, there weren't many highlights to be enjoyed by the UMass faithful.
Nixon, of course, had to step down from his coaching position, which led to the presidency of Gerald Ford. Kellogg, who followed a Ford (Travis), is not in any imminent danger of being forced out of his position, but Saturday's listless 69-55 loss to St. Bonaventure had him, well, shaking his head.

"I thought we got beat in every aspect of the game tonight," Kellogg said. "What it really comes down to in conference play is toughness."

In this Atlantic 10 opener, the 7-7 (0-1) Minutemen were clearly out-toughed by the 8-4 (1-0) Bonnies. Any time there was a contested rebound or a loose ball on the floor, it seemed the guys getting there first were wearing the brown uniforms of the visitors, some sartorial hybrid of vintage San Diego Padres and Dunkin Donuts.

"We're not the biggest team, and we're not the most athletic team," St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. "We've got to be the tougher team."

Schmidt, a native of North Attleboro and a Boston College alum, clearly walks the walk -- or at least limps it. While Kellogg was bobbling, Schmidt was hobbling, thanks to a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in practice a few weeks ago. With his right foot encased in a huge gray bandage, Schmidt spent the 40 minutes of game time repeatedly hopping up and down the sideline and occasionally pounding the scorer's table. When the game was over, he got on his little tricycle-like device to go through the line for handshakes, and he promptly tumbled to the floor.

St. Bonaventure senior center Youssou Ndoye, a 7-footer from Senegal who, by the wonders of modern college athletics, finds himself spending his winters in Olean, New York, said he is inspired by Schmidt's example. "Every time I look at him, I just shake my head," Ndoye said. "I really feel bad for him, for the unfortunate injury. It just gets me going. If he's out there trying to help us out, the least we can do is play hard for him."

Hard for Ndoye, the A-10 leader in rebounding and blocked shots coming into the contest, meant a dominating 14-point, 13-rebound, three-block effort.

UMass, which fell into a tone-setting 7-0 hole, rallied to take a brief lead in the first half before they trudged to the locker room with a 28-19 deficit. The Minutemen would close the gap to three, seven minutes into the second half, on a 3-pointer by Jabarie Hinds, but then the Bonnies stomped their way to a 17-1 run that put the game away.

Down the stretch, the Mullins Center was as quiet as the Dubois Library, which famously had to be surrounded by fencing years ago, when a few bricks fell from its sides. On Saturday, the masonry came from the Minutemen, whose 4-for-22 shooting from 3-point land only sounded that good because of two very late makes long after the game was decided. UMass came in to the contest with an abysmal 29.3 percent shooting from behind the arc, which got worse. The Minutemen are giving new meaning to the term "outside shot."

The toughness gap was the larger issue, though. After a mediocre 7-6 performance against a tough nonconference slate (2-5 in their previous seven games), the Minutemen seemed ready for the new year and the start of conference play. There was the inevitable talk of the "fresh start" and the "second season." That optimism was gone almost from the opening tip.

"They beat us today," Kellogg said. "They got more rebounds, loose balls, 50-50 balls. They played a little tougher. That's something that needs to be rectified -- and rather quickly. When UMass has been good -- and you can go back as long as you want to -- we're usually the more aggressive team. Today, it was kind of like watching paint dry."

Kellogg acknowledged his team's personality is a work in progress. "I've been really working on those guys: their energy, their verbal communications skills," he said. "We're still trying to find our identity. I know it's hard to say 14 games in, but we're still working."

UMass, a charter member of the Atlantic 10, began its 39th season of league play with Saturday's dud. In the league's history, no team has ever matched the dominance UMass displayed from 1991-92 through 1995-96, when the Minutemen won five straight regular season and five straight A-10 tourney titles. That culminated in the 1996 Final Four year, which made them the only Atlantic 10 team ever to get that far.

But since that time, UMass has only one shared regular season A-10 title and no A-10 tourney championships. The Minutemen did make it back to the NCAA tournament last year for the first time in 18 seasons, almost completely on the strength of a tremendous, nonconference run. To get back to the Dance this year will require some A-10 attention.

Right now, March looks a lot more like spring break than Big Dance.

Boston University vs. Holy Cross shaping up as great Patriot League rivalry

December, 31, 2014
WORCESTER, Mass. -- Two games does not a rivalry make, and before Wednesday that was how many Boston University and Holy Cross had played as Patriot League compatriots.

Factor in the history in the series, which the Crusaders led 51-12 prior to 2013-14, and it seemed unlikely that BU’s visit to the Hart Center on New Year’s Eve would produce many fireworks.

[+] EnlargeNathan Dieudonne
Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS/Getty ImagesNathan Dieudonne, pictured earlier this season with BU coach Joe Jones against Kentucky, played a key role in Wednesday's win over Holy Cross.
But apparently someone forgot to tell the teams themselves that, as they participated in a taut and increasingly chippy contest to close 2014 and open conference play.

In one exchange, Justin Burrell was whistled for a foul going for a steal. As the Holy Cross senior stated his case to the official, BU’s Nathan Dieudonne informed him that he did, indeed, trip the Terriers’ ball handler.

Burrell, all 5-foot-9 of him, told the 6-7 Dieudonne to feel free to “shut your mouth.”

Happy New Year, indeed.

“It just adds another dimension to the game that’s kinda fun,” Dieudonne, following BU’s 75-72 overtime win, said of the chippiness. “It’s probably a rivalry game now. It’s always been a close game in the past. I enjoy playing them, they’re a really tough team, which is fun, and they’re real close by.

“So hopefully we can build something new.”

If their future matchups -- the teams will play again, at BU’s Case Gym, on Feb. 28 -- are anything like this one they will.

The game went back and forth all afternoon long, seesawing one way (Burrell making two quick buckets in a Holy Cross run) and then the other (John Papale hitting two 3s in BU’s response).

The Crusaders have made a habit of harassing opposing ball handlers this season, entering the matchup with BU averaging a robust 16.4 turnovers a game. Holy Cross has turned over the opposition on 24.6 percent of possessions, good for 15th nationally, and come away with a steal on 14.0 percent of possessions, good for ninth nationally, according to kenpom.com.

And wouldn’t you know it, BU committed 20 turnovers and Holy Cross had 12 steals. The Crusaders turned those Terriers miscues into 19 points.

“Coming into the game, we expected it to be a war,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “I think their guys played really hard. I thought the biggest thing that we talked about was we couldn’t turn it over against their pressure and obviously we did.”

Only the Terriers’ hot shooting (60.9 percent overall from the floor, led by a 75 percent mark in the first half) and a massive disparity in free throw attempts (19 for BU, 5 for Holy Cross) kept the game close.

After the game, Holy Cross coach Milan Brown was hot under the lily-white collar of his lavender and white striped shirt about the calls (or lack thereof).

“If you have to make every shot in order to win the game, because in our own building we can’t go to the free throw line, it makes it hard,” he said. “Especially with us ... We literally shot one free throw in the regulation game. One.”

Tied at 64 late, Burrell had a chance to play hero despite that. He used a pick, freed himself for a pull-up jumper just past the right elbow but the shot kicked out.

There would be bonus basketball.

And our two verbal combatants from earlier, Burrell and Dieudonne, would figure in the outcome.

With 10 seconds left, BU leading by one, Burrell drove baseline and kicked to Malcolm Miller in the right corner. The senior had hit several shots from the same spot in the first half, and he let it fly.

But the long-armed Dieudonne was just quick enough to get a piece of the shot, deflecting it harmlessly away.

“I just knew there was minimal time on the clock,” he said, “and I just flew at him to either make him miss or potentially block him and that’s what happened.”

“It just happened,” Miller said of the block. “Time was running down, couple seconds left on the shot clock, I had to shoot it.”

Justin Alston made just one of two free throws after getting fouled in the rebounding action, setting up Holy Cross with a chance to tie or win it.

And once again, Brown called on Burrell -- his fiery senior -- to take the shot. Burrell knifed into the lane, lofted a floater over a defender and watched it ... kick out again.

That miss made Burrell just 3-for-17 (1-for-9 from 3) for the game, dropped Holy Cross (5-6) below .500 and gave the Terriers (5-7) a badly needed 75-72 win.

The Terriers have now won three in a row in the series, but with games like these who’s counting?

“I think it’s great for the league,” Jones said of the budding Patriot League rivalry. “I think it’s great for both schools. You’re talking about two great academic institutions, two terrific basketball programs with great history.”

And while this one may be history, Wednesday’s thriller made these teams’ second meeting -- which also happens to be the regular-season finale -- a must see.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Five questions for Eagles in 2015

December, 31, 2014
Instead of thunder, Boston College finished the 2014 season with a thud.

A bowl win over Penn State was within reach, but Steve Addazio’s Eagles couldn’t grab hold of it and dropped a thriller 31-30 at Yankee Stadium in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The loss dropped BC to 7-6 for a second straight season, that eighth win again proving elusive.

What lies ahead for Boston College football in 2015? Funny you should ask, as we’ve got five questions that Addazio & Co. need to find answers to.

5. Who can solve the place-kicking problems?

Alex Howell wasn’t the answer. Joey Launceford was a nice story, but he wasn’t the answer, either. And so the scholarship freshman, Mike Knoll, was thrust into the spotlight ahead of schedule.

By now, you know how that went against Penn State.

Addazio knows he needs to find an answer, a suitable heir to the steady Nate Freese. But BC fans would also be wise to remember that Freese had his own early-career issues, including a missed field goal that cost the Eagles a game against Duke.

So who knows, maybe Knoll is the answer after all. Maybe the missed PAT in overtime that allowed the Nittany Lions to win, instead of tie, with a TD and a made PAT makes him stronger in the future, and he takes the job and runs with it.

But right now the question very much hangs over the Eagles.

4. Can the defense take the next step?

It’s easy to blame Knoll for the bowl loss, but lest we forget the Eagles still had a six-point lead after his missed kick. If Don Brown’s defense holds Christian Hackenberg out of the end zone, BC wins.

Heck, for that matter if the BC defense could have held onto the 14-point lead the offense opened in the third quarter, the freshman never would have been in a position to miss that PAT.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, failing to close out tight wins was a bit of a theme in 2014. They let Colorado State score with seconds left, couldn’t hold up against Clemson, and didn’t do quite enough to upset Jameis Winston and FSU.

The defense will lose key pieces this offseason, but if the Eagles are going to get to the next level they’ll need the defense to start making winning plays in the final minutes of games.

3. Is Jonathan Hilliman set for stardom?

Going into the Pinstripe Bowl, Penn State hadn’t allowed a single carry of 30 or more yards all season. Then Hilliman had two runs for 40-plus, including a TD, in the first quarter.

Hilliman finished with 25 carries for 148 yards and a TD, upping his season totals to 211 carries, 860 yards and 13 TDs. The 6-foot, 215-pound Plainfield, New Jersey, product will be BC’s leading returning rusher in 2015, and will no doubt be asked to carry an even heavier load.

Is the big back ready to take the next step?

2. Who replaces Tyler Murphy under center?

Murphy’s single season in Chestnut Hill was an eye-opener, as his 1,179 rushing yards finished second in the country in rushing yards by a QB (behind only Navy’s Keenan Reynolds at 1,191).

He made big plays in key situations -- his upset-sealing, 66-yard TD run against then-No. 9 USC comes to mind -- and helped the Eagles to a second straight seven-win, bowl season. He also missed his fair share of throws, including likely touchdowns to Shakim Phillips and Josh Bordner that were overthrown early in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Someone will need to take his place next season.

Will it be touted recruit Darius Wade? The coaching staff seems to be high on him, but he appeared in just four games and threw a grand total of eight passes as a freshman.

1. Will the Eagles be able to get back to, and past, the seven-win mark in 2015?

For the third straight season, Addazio will have to rebuild key parts of his team. The offense graduates all five starters on the line and its QB, and the defense loses its leading producer of both tackles for loss (Josh Keyes) and sacks (Brian Mihalik).

“Last year, this year and next year, to me, they’re the same years,” Addazio said prior to the bowl. “Because we don’t have the depth yet, we don’t have the talent pool yet that we can say, ‘Oh, we’re all set now.’ Not that you ever can. Last year, this year, next year, how many wins you get is pretty fragile, really.

“It will take every bit of four years. Because you need to have three [recruiting] cycles in here. So we’re still a work in progress. My only thing is I hope everyone understands that. OK, we’re all pumped by what we’ve been able to do the first two years, but don’t look at the third year and go, ‘OK, now you’re all set and anything less than whatever is a disappointment.’ No, I mean we’re in the process of building. It’s gonna take a while. But it’s getting built right.”

How will the rebuilding project go in Year 3? That’s by far the biggest question facing the team in 2015.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Aaron Brown gives BC jolt of energy

December, 29, 2014
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Jim Christian knew Boston College needed an infusion from the transfer bank this offseason to get its record back to health quickly.

The first-year BC coach wanted a winner, a competitive player who would push as hard in practice as he did in games. He wanted someone who would buy in to what Christian wanted to do on the court and, maybe more important, off of it.

Aaron Brown has been everything Christian hoped for, and then some.

“Yeah, I think he has without question,” Christian said. “But I knew that. I think he knows now that he’s going to be tested on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out. And I think that’s his next improvement, and he’ll tell you that himself.”

One play early in Monday afternoon’s 70-47 win over UMass Lowell illustrated just how big an impact the graduate transfer from Southern Mississippi can have on the Eagles.

Brown saved a Lance Crawford miss from going out of bounds, leaping in the air and throwing the ball back in to teammate Will Magarity before sprinting upcourt on the far wing.

The ball moved quickly around the perimeter from right to left, landing back with Brown. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder blew past his defender and went baseline for an easy layup.

That bucket made it 19-4 Eagles. It seemed like the visiting River Hawks would be in for a long afternoon.

But the hosts would hit only one more field goal in the rest of the half and Pat Duquette’s scrappy squad settled down and chip, chip, chipped away until the BC lead was down to two late in the half.

[+] EnlargeAaron Brown
Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY SportsAaron Brown went on a personal 8-2 run in the second half to help keep UMass Lowell at bay.
The River Hawks had two chances to tie or take the lead, and D.J. Mlachnik had good looks at 3s but couldn’t hit. The Eagles hit five of six free throws and the lead was seven at the break.

“I think during that drought we missed four layups,” Christian said. “I think we missed two wide-open 3s. Sometimes it happens, but we can’t afford to do that. We’ve got to make defenses pay because the defenses we’re about to face -- they don’t give you many opportunities.”

When Olivier Hanlan missed a running floater in the lane to open the second half, BC’s field goal drought stretched beyond 10 minutes. Someone had to stop the skid.

And wouldn’t you know it, Brown delivered.

Patrick Heckmann drove through the lane and threw a skip pass to Brown in the left corner, and Brown drilled the 3. River Hawks leading scorer Jahad Thomas tried to counter with a layup, but then another skip pass found Brown in the same spot for another 3.

And on the ensuing possession Brown came up with a steal at half court, sprinted to the rim and finished with a one-handed slam to cap a personal 8-2 run and put BC back up 15.

Asked about the one-man run, Brown said it all started on the other end.

“I think as a team we had a history of letting teams outscore us in the second half,” Brown said. “Coach spoke on that at halftime. So [I was] just bringing energy from the defensive end to stop them and just to lead to the offense, so we could get ahead and get a lead early in the second half.”

Brown finished with a game-high 22 points on efficient 9-for-12 shooting.

“Aaron’s been unbelievably consistent,” Christian said. “His numbers over the last five games are staggering.”

He’s averaging 18.5 points in his past six games, and it’s no coincidence that BC is 5-1 in that stretch.

The Eagles improved to 7-4 with the win, boosting their home record to 6-1. Christian’s crew needs just one more W to match last season’s paltry total, with 19 games left on the schedule.

Though they’ve dropped winnable games to West Virginia and USC, for the most part the Eagles have taken advantage of a nonconference schedule (which has one game left, versus Harvard on Jan. 14) designed to give them an easy entry to the season.

That’s important, as Boston College will begin the 18-game ACC gauntlet schedule with a trip to play No. 2 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. As of Monday, BC’s ACC slate includes six games against Top 25 teams, half of those in the top 5 (Duke, No. 4 Louisville and No. 5 Virginia).

Wins may be tough to come by in the season’s second half.

“As I told our team, the best thing about conference play is everything is magnified,” Christian said. “Every little thing becomes a huge thing. And hopefully we prepared ourselves well to understand that. What I take out of the nonconference is ... the games when everybody understood the importance of the little things, we’ve been good. And obviously the games that we didn’t, we have not been good.”

Apart from the long shooting slump in the first half, the Eagles were pretty good on Monday. Brown led three BC scorers in double figures, followed by Dennis Clifford with a career-high-tying 19 and Hanlan with 10.

After, Clifford was asked what Brown brings to the Eagles.

“Aside from leadership and having another guy that’s been on a winning program and [can] help us out with all the off-court, intangible-type stuff,” Clifford said, “he’s a great player, as you can see. He can score the ball.”

Then the big man paused, before continuing with a smile, “and he got me a lot of my buckets today, so I’m pretty happy with that.”

To compete in the ACC, the Eagles will need Brown to continue to leave opponents frowning and teammates smiling.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Recruit and return: BC looking up

December, 28, 2014
In the "recruit and return" feature on ESPN.com's college football coverage (Insider content), BC and coach Steve Addazio draw praise for the 2015 class. Here's part of the entry:

The Eagles have been in and out of the ESPN Class Rankings for much of the 2015 recruiting cycle, but BC currently finds itself just outside of the top 40. That doesn’t matter, because the 2015 class is shaping up to be one of the better efforts for the Eagles in quite some time. Steve Addazio’s style of developing players and not chasing stars doesn’t lend itself to scoring big in recruiting rankings, but know that his class is widely respected by fellow ACC coaches.

Instant-impact freshman: The Eagles will lose [center Andy] Gallik, a four-year starter, but gain ESPN 300 interior offensive lineman Wyatt Knopfke in the 2015 class. Knopfke, the nation’s No. 27 offensive guard, was recruited by some schools to play center, and the Eagles love his physicality, strength and run-blocking ability. If he’s given time to mature, he could easily become the Eagles’ next multiyear starter at center.


NEW YORK -- Christian Hackenberg wasn't losing this game.

The sophomore quarterback rallied Penn State from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half Saturday to narrowly defeat Boston College in overtime, 31-30, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Hackenberg drove his team downfield with a little over two minutes left in regulation to set up a 45-yard field goal that tied the score. He then found Kyle Carter for a 10-yard touchdown in the end zone in the first overtime to win the game.

Boston College shanked a PAT on its first overtime possession, so Penn State's Sam Ficken simply needed to make his to end the game.

Penn State ends the season at 7-6, while Boston College falls to 7-6.

Gameball goes to: Hackenberg. Just when it looked as if this team was once again set up to lose, trailing 21-7 late in the third, Hackenberg turned it up and played his best when the most was on the line. He finished 34-of-50 for 371 yards and four TDs, and he came away with a critical 16-yard scoring pass on second-and-goal to tie up the score at 21. Then he drove PSU downfield to tie the score at 24 in the closing seconds of regulation. Oh, then he had the game-winning TD. PSU wouldn't have won without him.

It was over when: Ficken nailed the extra point in overtime to hand PSU the 31-30 victory. Boston College's kicker simply shanked the PAT on the Eagles' previous overtime possession. BC led 30-24 after the first possession, but Hackenberg's TD to Carter -- and Ficken's PAT -- ended the game.

Stat of the game: 239. That was the number of rushing yards by Boston College at the end of the third quarter, against the nation's top-ranked rush defense. It was the most PSU allowed to a team all season. Ohio State previously recorded a season-high 219 rushing yards against PSU -- but that took four quarters and two overtimes to reach. Boston College was averaging 7.7 yards per rush.

Best play: The most impressive touchdown might have been the Nittany Lions' first. On third-and-12, following a false start, Hackenberg dropped back and threw a long pass to true freshman Chris Godwin -- who caught the ball in stride, shook off a tackle and sprinted another 35 yards or so to complete the 72-yard touchdown.

It was the second-longest TD pass of Hackenberg's career and the longest career reception of Godwin's.