Eagles hope struggles makes them stronger

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
12:44
PM ET
The new year is supposed to represent a fresh start, a time to wipe the slate clean and begin anew.

Anything is possible, and any negatives that might have dogged the last days of the old year will disappear when the pages flip on the calendar.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way.

When Boston College traveled across town to take on Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion, it was looking for a reboot. After closing out 2013 with a 1-5 December, Steve Donahue & Co. desperately needed a good start to 2014.

Then the shot clock malfunctioned on their first possession of the New Year’s Day matchup, and both teams were forced to linger by their benches for a couple of minutes as the officials and the timekeeper tried to get the equipment up and running.

It wasn’t a long layoff, but both teams started cold from the field after it. Harvard hit the mark first, sprinting out to a 8-1 lead and never looking back in a nearly wire-to-wire 73-58 win.

[+] EnlargeSteve Donahue
Elsa/Getty ImagesBC coach Steve Donahue says his team has "played OK" but needs to reach another level to beat the high-level opponents they're facing.
BC struggled from the floor in the first half, shooting just 26.9 percent (7-for-26), and while the Crimson defense no doubt had a hand in that, the Eagles also watched a number of good-looking shots rim out or go almost all the way in only to spin out.

“Your margin for error in games of this caliber is very slim, and I think that’s kinda what you saw in the results,” Donahue said after the loss dropped the Eagles to 4-10. “I think we showed a lot of good signs. You’re just not gonna beat really good teams if you don’t play really well. We’ve played OK, we haven’t played great but we haven’t played awful, either.”

Against the brutal nonconference schedule BC created for itself in 2013-14, playing OK just wasn’t going to be enough.

“Obviously Harvard is a very good basketball team,” Donahue said. “We haven’t lost to a bad team. No one at the high-major level has played a nonconference schedule like this, ever. Go look at it. We haven’t played road games, we’re playing these teams at neutral sites and home sites. The thing that’s hurt us the most is our confidence. I feel bad that I put that on our guys.”

According to ESPN’s Daily RPI, BC’s nonconference schedule ranks ninth in the country. BC played road games against Providence, Purdue and USC and neutral-site games against UMass, UConn and VCU. It lost all six.

The game at Harvard is another example of BC’s aggressive scheduling. As an ACC school, BC didn’t have to give Harvard a home game. But in Donahue’s math, the chance for a road win over Harvard outweighed the risk of a road loss.

It was the Eagles’ first trip to Cambridge since Dec. 4, 1991, a year to the day before junior big man Ryan Anderson was born. In fact it’s been so long since BC played at Harvard, only two members of the Eagles roster were alive for that previous matchup at Lavietes, Danny Rubin (born July 26, 1991) and Alex Dragicevich (born Dec. 1, 1991).

Dobbs We haven't lost to a bad team. No one at the high-major level has played a nonconference schedule like this, ever. Go look at it. We haven't played road games, we're playing these teams at neutral sites and home sites. The thing that's hurt us the most is our confidence. I feel bad that I put that on our guys.

-- BC coach Steve Donahue
After the New Year’s Day loss, the sixth straight in the series between the teams, it may be a while before the Eagles play in Lavietes again.

Entering ACC play, which begins Saturday with a home game against Clemson (4 p.m. ET, on ESPN3), the Eagles need to find a way to recapture the confidence they’ve lost during their rough first two months of the season.

“We knew going into the season we had one of the toughest nonconference schedules in terms of just playing against good teams and playing on the road,” said Olivier Hanlan, BC’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game as a sophomore. “That’s not easy. We try to stay positive about all of that.”

It’s not always easy to do that, however, as it’s only human to get down when things don’t go your way. Especially when that happens repeatedly.

“Here’s my battle, my battle is I’m gonna stay in the process,” Donahue said. “I’m not gonna stay in the short-term results, that’s for everybody else except me. That’s the only job I’ve got. I’m going hour to hour to be positive and build this program the way I want to. I put the schedule out there. We’re gonna have two great practices and get ready for the ACC and Clemson on Saturday.”

There are four games remaining on BC’s schedule against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, including two games against No. 2 Syracuse. So the road doesn’t get any easier for the Eagles.

“I honestly feel this schedule is gonna benefit us at some point,” Donahue said. “Is it Saturday? Is it a week from now? Is it a month from now? Or is it when these guys are seniors? We’ve played everybody, everywhere, can we benefit from this? My job is I’ve gotta get them back feeling confident, feeling good about themselves and their teammates. Feeling good about what we’re doing. That’s gonna help us win on Saturday.”

Having learned there’s no such thing as a clean slate, the Eagles have to hope the blows they’ve absorbed will make them tougher -- and that any added toughness will lead to better results -- in this new year.

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

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