The Three-Pointer: Eagles sent packing after loss to Virginia

March 11, 2010 - 3:59 pm

Just over a week ago, on March 3, Boston College won for the third time in four games, beating Virginia at Conte Forum, 68-55. That Cavaliers team featured Sylven Landesberg, the fifth-leading scorer in the ACC, and senior Calvin Baker. So when BC was matched up with a Virgina squad minus those two players '€” Landesberg was suspended for academic reasons while Baker left the team for personal reasons '€” for the first round of the ACC tournament on Thursday, it was natural to assume that BC had a good shot at moving on to face top seed Duke on Friday. But like so many times this season, the Eagles and coach Al Skinner were left shaking their heads as another game against a seemingly inferior opponent went the other way. Sharpshooter Sammy Zeglinski had a season-high 21 points, including 16 in the first half, to lead Virginia into the second round in Greensboro, N.C., after a 68-62 victory. The loss ends a disappointing season for the Eagles, as their 14-15 record makes them ineligible for an NIT berth. BC proved to be the tonic for what ailed a struggling and undermanned Virginia team, as the Cavaliers ended a nine-game losing streak with the victory. BC received a game-high 22 points from Rakim Sanders, while Reggie Jackson added 18 in the losing effort. Dallas Elmore was the only other player for the Eagles in double figures, contributing 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting off the bench (and 2-for-2 free throws). But this game really was a microcosm of what ailed BC all season, as the Eagles showed many of the traits that led to the disappointing sub-.500 record. Here are three things we learned as the Eagles were bounced in the first round of the ACC tournament for the first time. CONSISTENCY '€” THE MISSING LINK All season long, Skinner preached that his team was looking for consistency. Week after week and game after game, the Eagles were hoping that they had found the pieces to the puzzle to get an extended run of strong play. Skinner tried to shuffle his lineup, and the insertion of Reggie Jackson into the starting point guard spot seemed to give BC some life. And there were times when it looked like BC was putting things together, particularly with a 75-69 win over Clemson and a close 66-63 loss to Duke. At the same time, however, BC lost to the likes of St. Joseph's, Harvard and Maine during its non-conference schedule. The Eagles were not able to have any continued success, as evidenced by the fact that BC was only able to string together one winning streak '€” consecutive wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech in late February'€” over the course of the ACC schedule. That consistency Skinner kept searching for never materialized, and that was seen on Thursday. BC held a six-point lead midway through the first half before letting Virgina go on a 17-4 run to close the half. The Eagles trailed 34-27 at the break. "I am a little disappointed in this year's club," Skinner told reporters in the postgame press conference. "There are a number of different reasons for it. We had some injuries throughout the season, there were some lineup changes. A lot of inconsistencies throughout the year. And so we just weren't able to bring about any consistency in our club. I've always been able to have some stability within my team and there wasn't enough of that this year for a number of different reasons." The lack of steady production also was seen in individual play. Joe Trapani, the team's leading scorer at 14.6 points a game, had flashes of brilliance but seemed to disappear at times. One game after dropping a season-high 31 in a 79-75 comeback win at Miami, he was held to just six points vs. Virginia Tech. On Thursday, Trapani struggled mightily, going 0-for-7 from the field and finishing with just two points, and remaining on the bench down the stretch. Corey Raji was playing his best basketball of the year before hurting his shoulder Sunday against NC State, and never got going against Virgina. Even Rakim Sanders, whose 22 points tied a season high, had his share of struggles thanks to an early season injury that never really allowed him to put things together and make the leap most people had expected after his great sophomore campaign. Even when one or two players came to play, the team as a whole did not regularly come through with solid performances. More than anything, that is what this team was missing this season, and what Skinner hopes it will find next year. "There are times that we played some great basketball, when we fought and did the things that we had to do," Skinner said. "But we weren't able to always sustain it and I think if we have learned nothing else from this year, with these guys returning next year, is to develop a little bit more mental toughness to sustain it. And I'm talking about throughout the season. There were games that we had it when we fought and did what we have to, but it's got to happen from game to game to game throughout the season." EXECUTION ISN'T EASY One of the more frustrating aspects of this season for BC was that a veteran team '€” the Eagles had no freshmen, and every player had been with the team the year before '€” continually struggled. On Thursday, BC went through stretches where it fell in love with the outside jumper and played lax on defense, particularly during a run at the end of the first half that propelled the Cavaliers to a lead they would never relinquish. Some of this was just a lack of execution on the court, both within the Eagles' flex offense and on the defensive end. But a part of it also was the mental toughness that Skinner alluded to, something his team lacked at times this season when it failed to get off good looks at the end of the game in close losses to the likes of Duke and Virginia Tech. Then there were efforts like on Feb. 9 against Wake Forest, when BC went off for its highest point total during ACC play but could not put things together defensively in a 92-85 loss to the Demon Deacons. In all, there were few nights during the season when BC was able to execute successfully on both ends of the floor for entire games. That continued against Virginia, the Eagles cut the lead to three at 49-46 with just under nine minutes remaining and seemed to have some momentum, but they lost their defensive intensity. "On the defensive end we just did not maintain our concentration," Skinner said. "We let guys kind of get away from us. When you are in that situation you have to make sure that your execution on both ends of the floor is proper, and it wasn't what we needed it to be. Now, [Mike] Scott made a tough turnaround shot, which you have to deal with. But we gave up a number of open looks, and that means we were not as alert as we needed to be on the defensive end." Offensively, the Eagles never got into a rhythm against a surprisingly effective Virginia defense. Skinner was not pleased with the way his team passed the ball over the course of the game. "The other thing is, when you look at our club and we only get nine assists for a game '€” that is not our club, we usually get that in a half," Skinner said. "That means that the ball is not moving and we are not making good decisions on the offensive end." Altogether, it added up to a win for Virginia in a game that BC never really gave itself much of a shot to win. The Cavaliers had not won in the ACC tournament since 2006, but they sent BC packing early. NO PLACE LIKE HOME Whether it was on the road or in a neutral setting, wins were hard to come by for BC away from Conte Forum. The loss to Virginia gave BC a 4-10 record away from home. It was a relatively surprising aspect of the season considering that Conte Forum is not known as a hotbed for basketball fans, but the Eagles played to their potential at home, minus a 73-57 debacle against Maryland on Jan. 16. Again, one would expect that a veteran team would exhibit the mental toughness that it takes to win games in hostile environments. The fact that BC was unable to get the necessary victories it needed on the road was surprising when you consider that it was largely the same team, minus stalwart Tyrese Rice, that went into North Carolina and beat the top-ranked Tar Heels the year before. Perhaps Eagles fans should have been warned heading into Thursday's game after losing on Sunday at NC State, a team that had won just four ACC games before that contest. It would have been a little much to ask for the Eagles to suddenly go on their longest winning streak of the season and win four straight games in Greensboro. Still, the loss to Virginia has to be labeled a disappointment for BC, as does the 2009-10 season as a whole.