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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
BC has work to do as tourney nears

By Jack McCluskey
Special to ESPNBoston.com

NEWTON, Mass. -- If the Boston College Eagles flew to North Carolina on Friday perched firmly atop the NCAA tournament bubble, they returned home after their game Saturday teetering on the edge of it.

Having posted season lows in scoring (46) and shooting (26.9 percent) in a 48-46 loss to No. 19 UNC, Eagles coach Steve Donahue & Co. needed to hold serve at home against Miami to shore up their shaky résumé. Boston College entered the night with an 11-3 record at Conte Forum, the best strength of schedule in the ACC (14) and a number of questionable losses.

Then, for the first 20 minutes Wednesday, it seemed the Eagles could do no right and the Hurricanes could do no wrong.

The Eagles shot 30 percent (11 percent from behind the 3-point line); the Hurricanes shot 53.6 percent (50 percent on 3s). The Eagles grabbed zero offensive rebounds; the Hurricanes snatched six. The Eagles scored six points in the paint; the Hurricanes scored 14.

Steve Donahue
Boston College coach Steve Donahue openly expressed his disappointment with his Eagles after their loss to Miami at home Wednesday.

The Eagles gave up offensive rebounds and second-chance points; the Hurricanes grabbed defensive boards and started the break. The Eagles gave up easy layups and wide-open 3-pointers; the Hurricanes hustled around the perimeter and kept the Eagles flapping ineffectually outside the arc.

And to think, before the Hurricanes blew in to Chestnut Hill, they were just 3-6 on the road this season.

"I thought Miami came out and just really delivered a punch. They were ready to go," Donahue said. "And we did not do a good job of answering the bell. We played extremely hard from that point on [after the half], but we dug ourselves way too big a hole."

BC trailed by as many as 22 points in the first half. And while the Eagles made a valiant run in the second half, it was ultimately in vain.

The result -- a 73-64 home loss to Miami (17-11, 5-8 ACC; RPI 71) -- was bad enough. Add in that the Eagles (16-11, 6-7 ACC; RPI 43) never led in front of 6,138 mostly friendly faces and fell to below .500 in conference with the loss, and suddenly you have an equation for Bracketology disaster.

"It's awful. Just feel disgusted," Reggie Jackson said of the Eagles' failure to launch in the first. "Hopefully, my teammates feel the same way."

Down three touchdowns at the break, BC came out feisty in the second half.

Joe Trapani hit a 3 in front of the BC bench to cut the deficit to 13, and as he turned to run back up court, the senior yelled at the bench and pumped his fist. After a Miami miss, John Cahill sprawled to the floor for a loose ball and was fouled by Durand Scott. The crowd roared its approval of the scrappy kid who literally came out of the stands to contribute for the Eagles this season.

After a Jackson layup and a Corey Raji free throw cut the visitors' lead to 10, Josh Southern found Cahill all alone in front of the BC reserves, who exploded off their seats before the walk-on's triple had even settled through the net. The Miami lead was down to seven.

But Miami calmly dumped the ball into the post, where Reggie Johnson was having his way with BC's big men. A mountain of a man, 6-foot-10 and listed at 303 pounds, Johnson easily overpowered Southern on the next possession and pushed in a layup through the reach of the help defender Cahill, then drained the and-1 free throw for a three-point play.

"Obviously, they were more physical," Jackson said of the Hurricanes. "When we foul, it seems like we're playing pitty-pat with our girlfriends, and when they foul us, obviously, we end up on our backsides.

"That's the difference -- we've just gotta man-up."

Donahue didn't focus on the physicality but questioned the Eagles' shot selection against Miami's matchup zone and expressed disappointment in his team's overall effort.

"We just really settled early on for some poor shots, didn't get the ball inside," Donahue said. "And, obviously, I thought they had a great energy. Frank [Haith] had his group really ready to go, and his kids were really fired up."

After the hosts' initial second-stanza run, the teams traded baskets and the Eagles never snuck closer than five. Trapani led all scorers with 16 and all rebounders with 11, and Jackson added 15 points and three assists. But Johnson finished with 15 points and six rebounds off the bench, three Miami starters hit double figures in scoring and the Canes shot 46.7 percent on 3s for the game.

"[I] thought I could see their sense of panic a little bit," Donahue said of the Canes during the Eagles' run. "I thought we were doing good things on offense, finally attacking the rim, making the extra pass."

But it wasn't enough.

"As a coach, I'm just very disappointed that we got ourselves into that spot," Donahue said.

The Eagles have two days to rebound from the loss to Miami, and they'll need to improve their form away from Conte Forum to do it. Just 2-6 on the road, BC's next two games are at Virginia and Virginia Tech before the regular-season finale at home versus Wake Forest. The Eagles might need to win all three to keep alive any Big Dance chances they have left.

"It's probably one of our poorest efforts," Jackson said. "If we want to make the [NCAA] tournament, we have to start tomorrow in practice."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and contributes to ESPNBoston.com.