Finally, a complete effort.
The Boston College basketball team had shown only glimpses during its winning streak. But aside from a five-minute snooze the Eagles took during the early moments of Monday’s 79-58 win over visiting Dartmouth, BC’s fifth straight, this was as thorough as coach Steve Donahue has seen his squad all season.
Part of the wait was because of inexperience, with 11 of 14 players — and all five starters — underclassmen.
Growth in that area helped, but the biggest impact came when Donahue tore apart the blueprint he designed in November. After 7-foot center Dennis Clifford’s nagging ankle and knee injuries became too much, Donahue moved sophomore Ryan Anderson to the post, went to a four-guard lineup, and told them to run.
Forget about the technical stuff, the third-year coach told them. Play harder.
“In reality, the first step is taking it personally, trying to be aggressive, pressuring the ball — and that starts with me,” Donahue said. “I said, ‘It’s my fault. Now it’s going to be your responsibility.’ It’s gotten light years better.”
The first part, moving the 6-foot-8-inch Anderson to center, took more than just Anderson buying in. Using a smaller player with more finesse and touch than power and size, the guards — sophomores Patrick Heckmann and Lonnie Jackson along with freshmen Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon — were forced to become more of a presence defensively, specifically helping out with rebounding.
Anderson, one of two players (Duke’s Mason Plumlee the other) in the Atlantic Coast Conference with two games of at least 20 points and 15 rebounds this season, had another strong showing Monday.
He finished with 12 points, but also chipped in seven rebounds, one block, one steal, and a season-high four assists, three of which led to 3-pointers.
And that’s where the Eagles (8-5) did their damage.
After a five-minute drought in which they fell behind, 6-0, to Dartmouth, a team that fell to 2-9 and hasn’t won since Dec. 1, Jackson drove his man to the basket and dished a quick pass to Rahon, who drained his first of six 3-pointers.
That set off a 28-15 run that included a cross-court assist from Anderson. He took a hard dribble and made a fake before sending the ball to Hanlan, who drained a 3-pointer.
“I think Ryan Anderson has made a great in-season change,” Donahue said. “He got off to such a great start, throwing up 30 a game, it was ridiculous. I think he learned. He took it for granted a little bit, he came out in that Dayton game (87-71 loss Nov. 16) and they handed it to him.
“Then he had the [right ankle] injury, and he was really struggling. Getting through that, understanding what it takes, coming hard to practice and preparing. Today, he was terrific. Four assists and you couldn’t guard him.”
In the second half, Rahon took over.
He finished 6 for 6 from 3-point range, draining five during a 12-minute stretch in the second half. His 24 points represented a high for ACC freshmen this season.
“Joe Rahon might as well be a seasoned senior by now,” Donahue said. “He does everything you could imagine on the basketball court. It’s genuine, he just goes out and learns the game.”
A San Diego native, Rahon has surprised not only with his range, but his ability to drive and distribute. He dished out at least five assists for the fifth time in the last six games.
“All we’re focusing on now is winning,” Rahon said. “We started out the year and it wasn’t very high-intensity practices. We didn’t know what it took.”
The Eagles begin conference play Saturday against 23d-ranked North Carolina State.
BC finished Monday’s game 12 of 25 from downtown, and with a converted center and four guards, conference foes may be able to crack down on a squad that relies so heavily on 3-pointers.
“I think there’s part of that,” Donahue said. “But the thing I like about this team, and I never had these teams at Cornell, and probably not here my first year at BC, we have guys that have the ability to go by you. That’s critical.
“Joe Rahon and Olivier [Hanlan] can go by you. So if you’re going to get up on us, that’ll be part of it.”