NEWTON, Mass. -- It was business as usual at Boston College’s practice Tuesday afternoon. Clad in a gold Under Armour shirt, maroon mesh shorts and white sneakers with the BC logo on the heel, coach Steve Donahue led his team through the paces.
Shooting and passing drills. Offensive sets. Free throw shooting. Defensive sets. More shooting stations.
Donahue and assistant coach Joe Jones prepped the Eagles on the next opponent, pointing out areas that were troublesome in the past and giving instruction on how to ensure they wouldn’t be issues in the future.
Of course, in this instance the next opponent is the same as the last opponent. It’s just that the stakes are a good deal higher.
On Sunday, the Eagles played host to Wake Forest in the regular-season finale, an 84-68 BC win. On Thursday, the Eagles and Demon Deacons will renew acquaintances in the first round of the ACC tournament (2:30 p.m.). And since they’re planted firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble, the boys from BC need a win in the worst way.
But you wouldn’t know it from talking to Donahue. The first-year coach believes in keeping an even keel, no matter the stakes of the game.
“I always believe that your approach for every game should be the same, in terms of how you go about your business,” Donahue said. “I always want to win every game, I want to figure out ways to put my team in good situations. But I never want to be the coach that makes the team feel like, ‘This is a pressure-cooker game, you’ve got to play well.’
“I just don’t think that’s conducive to good basketball. I’d rather guys see me the same way every single game, whether it’s against a lower D-I team or whether it’s in the ACC tournament.”
Reggie Jackson & Co. know what they need to do.
“Keep winning from here on out,” Jackson said. “We definitely need to pick up this game Thursday against Wake Forest and then compete against Clemson. We want that matchup again but we can’t look past Wake, we have to get some wins in this tournament.”
A newly minted first-team All-ACC player, Jackson has had his ups and downs as a junior. He’s been the team’s leading scorer and best playmaker, the straw that stirs the Eagles’ drink. And he’s been shuffled out of the starting lineup to the bench, the straw pulled out of the drink entirely. As a result of that volatility, there have been times when the Eagles have gone to Jackson for a sip of success and come up with nothing but air.
“Me and coach sometimes, during those ups and downs, we’re banging heads and not seeing eye to eye,” Jackson said. “Things weren’t going well for the team and it resulted in that. I believe I had poor play and the team kinda suffered because of it. Me and coach weren’t on the same page. But we’re getting back to being one unit, and the result of that is we’re getting wins.”
After dropping a game they felt they needed to have, at home against Miami, the Eagles rebounded with three straight W’s to end the regular season. Two of those were on the road, where BC had not found much success previously, with a 2-6 road record before wins at Virginia and Virginia Tech. Jackson was a key part of each of those wins, scoring 25 points against Virginia, 20 against Virginia Teach and 14 against Wake Forest.
And while Donahue didn’t deny there have been ups and downs this season, he said any instances Jackson saw as butting heads he just calls coaching.
“My job is to maximize everybody individually and maximize the team,” Donahue said. “I do it with everybody, Reggie just happens to be an integral part of our team and he’s so talented that I probably demand more of him than anybody else because I see so much potential. He’s proven it this year, he’s had an incredible season and he’s made us a better basketball team.”
As the Eagles head into postseason play, they’re in the unique position of hoping very recent history repeats itself while also hoping slightly less recent history doesn’t.
Last season, Jackson & Co. beat Virginia in their penultimate regular-season game and were rewarded with a rematch with the Cavaliers in the ACC tourney. The Cavs won the rematch, and the Eagles missed out on postseason play.
This season, the Eagles ended the regular season with a win over league bottom-feeder Wake Forest (which had won three straight versus BC). Sure enough, the reward was a rematch in the ACC tourney. Now the Eagles are hoping some history repeats, but they’re not counting on it.
“Whatever you think is gonna happen based on the last game usually doesn’t,” Donahue said. “Now this is a tournament, it’s a neutral site. You have to take that into account and understand how difficult this game is gonna be. If you’re hoping it’ll be the same as it was, it won’t be.”
“One win against a team doesn’t mean anything, or even two wins. You have to come out, every day is new and you have to live in the moment,” Jackson said. “[The Demon Deacons are] gonna come out and try to punch us in the mouth and we’re gonna try to do the same to them.”
By most accounts, the Eagles need to win two games in the ACC tournament to boost their resume and put themselves in solid position for an at-large bit to the NCAA tournament. Anything less than a berth in the Big Dance would be a letdown after the Eagles got off to a strong start this season.
“I think everybody’s disappointed if you don’t make the NCAA tournament,” Donahue said. “I don’t think I would be discouraged about the way things are going [in the program in general] but yeah, this is something as a college player and a coach you strive for all year.
“It’s such a great event. To not make it, yeah, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be disappointed.”
But while the coach would be disappointed, he remains determined to stay levelheaded on the sideline even as the pressure mounts on the players on the court.
“We feel fortunate to be in the position we are,” Jackson said. “Just knowing that basically we control our own destiny.
“If we don’t get [to the NCAA tournament] we know it’s our own fault, and if we do get there also we can accept that blame.”