NEWTON, Mass. -- With a famous opponent gracing the hardwood in Conte Forum on Tuesday night, TV cameras beaming the contest across the nation, the Eagles would have been hard pressed to start much better.
North Carolina won the opening tip, but it was all Boston College immediately after that.
The Tar Heels missed their first shot, and Ryan Anderson nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the other end. The Heels turned the ball over, and Anderson slipped out ahead of the racing defenders and finished with an easy dunk.
Add in an Andrew Van Nest 3 and suddenly the hosts were 3-for-3 from the field and up 8-2 almost four minutes in.
But just as the 7,062 in attendance began to think they might have a competitive game on their hands, the good times stopped.
After the teams traded missed opportunities, the Tar Heels found P.J. Hairston open in front of the BC bench for a 3. Then they found him again.
“I think we let him loose early, and then he hits two or three more right in a row,” BC coach Steve Donahue said of Hairston. “I think he’s a McDonald’s All-American. You’re talking about a kid who I thought when I saw him in high school -- he’s an NBA player. And we gave him some air and he made us pay for it.”
Next thing the home fans knew it, the Tar Heels had ripped off a 23-7 run to open a 25-15 lead. The Eagles would get no closer than seven the rest of the way, and that was on the very next possession when Patrick Heckmann hit a 3, as North Carolina finished with an 82-70 win.
The Tar Heels made just one of their first seven shots, but then the Eagles’ Achilles’ heel presented itself again and the ball started finding the mark. The visitors hit 17 of the next 27 (62.9 percent).
“We played poor defense in the first half,” Olivier Hanlan bluntly said.
“Obviously we’re poor defensively,” Donahue said. “And that bothers me, trust me. It’s an awful feeling. As much as people talk probably in the past about my teams and their offense and their skill, we’ve always had really good, tough, solid defensive teams. These guys aren’t there yet, but I’m convinced that as they get older and they understand it more, we’re going to defend.”
Not everything went UNC’s way Tuesday, as there were some scary minutes late in the first half after a collision under the basket on a Heckmann drive left Hairston down for several minutes. Coach Roy Williams and the medical staff attended to him, and after a little while the sophomore tried to stand. But even with two teammates supporting him, Hairston was extremely shaky on his feet and had to sit back down.
The medical staff then called for a stretcher, and Hairston eventually was helped onto it and wheeled off. He was later diagnosed with a concussion, according to the team Twitter account.
Hairston had been on fire for the Tar Heels, shooting 4-for-5 from the floor (4-for-4 on 3s) and 2-for-3 from the free throw line to lead all scorers with 14 points at the time of the injury.
But UNC (14-6, 4-3 ACC) had more than enough to withstand the loss. Four times the Eagles cut the visitors’ lead to 11 in the second half, and each time the Tar Heels answered.
BC didn’t get closer than 11 until the final minutes, when the game was all but decided.
The loss was the fifth in a row for BC, and dropped the hosts to 9-11 (1-6 ACC). That leaves the Eagles right where they were last season, squarely in the basement of the league standings.
And while Hanlan’s performance was a bright spot (game-high 22 points) Tuesday night primarily served as one more reminder that while things are perhaps trending up in Chestnut Hill, these Eagles still aren’t ready for prime time.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.