The shot clock was nearly drained, but Joe Rahon didn’t want to rush.
He had been in the situation enough times to know better.
All season Boston College coach Steve Donahue has preached poise, and game after game a young Eagles team put itself in positions that tested the limits of its composure.
There was nothing new about trailing Georgia Tech, 64-61, Saturday at Conte Forum with three minutes left, after falling behind by as many as 10 five minutes into the second half.
“We’ve been in that spot before,” Rahon said. “We’re used to it. Not necessarily in a good way, but it doesn’t bother us mentally.”
Rahon caught the ball at the top of the arc and signaled to reset the offense. He sized up Yellow Jackets guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, hit him with a left-to-right crossover, drove hard to the rim, drew contact, and got a tough layup off the glass.
Then, he went to the free throw line, blocking out the fact that he was just a 69 percent shooter on the season, and knocked down the tying free throw. Rahon scored 7 of his 15 points in the closing minutes of BC’s 74-72 win.
In a season filled with dogfights, the Eagles (15-16, 7-11 Atlantic Coast Conference) have figured out how to scramble and survive.
They’ve been down at the half 17 times this season and lost 10 of those games. They’ve trailed with 10 minutes left 16 times and lost 12 of those. But they pulled out a win in their regular-season finale largely because they were able to learn from every battle.
“We’ve been talking all season, even when we were losing those close games, that these are going to help us down the road,” said Rahon. “There are going to be close games down the road and these are going to teach us how to win.
“For us, we’ve put in the hard work and it’s starting to pay off already even this season. So those close games earlier in the year, we learned from it and now we’re getting pretty good at them. We’re able to come through.”
With BC, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Wake Forest all bunched in the lower half of the ACC standings, the Eagles were looking to gain separation and set themselves up going into the conference tournament, which begins Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.
The win secured the eighth seed, and when Miami polished off Clemson to win the regular-season conference title, that locked Georgia Tech into the ninth spot, setting up a tournament rematch between the Eagles and Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech stunned the Hurricanes in Miami Wednesday night, and shot 53 percent from the floor Saturday. Tech coach Brian Gregory knows his team had to regroup in the next five days.
“We’re going to have to play better,” Gregory said. “They shot 70 percent in the second half, you’ve got to defend better than that. If we score 72 points, we usually win. I don’t know what our record is, but it’s usually pretty good.”
The comeback BC put together wasn’t so much a run as it was a methodical crawl.
They attacked the rim and got to the free throw line (14 of 25) and they made sure every shot was a quality shot.
With the Eagles down, 52-42, Eddie Odio went on a run. He converted a layup off a lob, split two free throws, knocked down a three, then tailed Rahon to the rim, caught a bounce pass, and threw down a two-handed dunk to score 8 straight points to make it 54-50.
Then Rahon (seven assists) went into his own zone down the stretch.
“I just thought he was locked in today,” Donahue said. “In terms of understanding the game, poise, wanting it.”
The Eagles went up, 66-64, on a another wild Rahon drive and took control at 71-64 when Olivier Hanlan swiped an inbounds pass and got a quick layup. But it wasn’t over.
Hanlan was so euphoric after after his bucket he forgot to guard his man at the other end. Georges-Hunt drilled a three to cut BC’s lead to 71-67 with 25 seconds left.
“He did that, and I knew the guy was going to make the shot,” Donahue said. “They’re still young. I think as much as they’ve been through, they’re so excited.”
Tech pulled within 73-72 on a Chris Bolden trey with four seconds left, but if the Eagles have learned anything this season, it’s that every second matters.
“It’s our mentality,” Rahon said. “We don’t get down. We play the whole 40 minutes. We know that basketball’s a long game, 40 minutes is a long time. You’ve got to grind out for all 40 minutes.
“No one wavered. No one put their head down. We kept believing in each other and kept pushing. We got stops when we needed to, we made shots when we needed to and we came out with the win.”
BC will face the same team and the same task again on Thursday.
“It’s going to be another dogfight,” said Rahon.