|Boston College guard Tyrese Rice (20 points) gets past Wake's Al-Farouq Aminu and gets airborne heading to the basket. (John Bohn/Globe Staff)|
It was a case of split personalities
OK, BC, who are you?
We know this much: You're not Wake Forest.
As amazing as it now seems, BC really did beat North Carolina. Beat 'em fair and square, in the Dean Dome. Well, Wake beat Carolina, too, and last night No. 2-ranked Wake laid one on BC by an 83-63 score in Conte Forum. The game was, and wasn't, that close.
The first half was ug-lee. Wake took advantage of a nonexistent interior defense to embarrass the Eagles with alley-oops and other assorted easy inside shots, few of them properly contested. At the other end, BC was confused and sloppy. The Eagles were never really in the game, and by the half, it was a 20-point game (47-27) and the only real remaining issue for BC was to see if it could salvage some dignity. Sure, Wake is good, but the game was not remotely competitive.
That Carolina game. It really did happen. Right?
Oh, it happened, all right. BC was a very confident, efficient team that evening. It should have been the springboard for great things. Instead, the Eagles are looking at a three-game losing streak, all at home, and all they can hope is that they bottomed out during a first 20 minutes that coach Al Skinner labeled "just a dysfunctional half."
"We just cannot have 13 turnovers from our starting guards," Skinner said. "That's unacceptable. We must be doing something wrong if that's occurring, and we've got to correct it."
Tyrese Rice had eight of those turnovers. "If I have eight turnovers," said the senior guard, "I don't think we're going to beat anybody."
Turnovers are bad policy at any time, but turnovers are positively catastrophic against a team that can make immediate and forceful transitions from defense to offense. Wake Forest is one such team.
The Demon Deacons, now 15-0, are led by a smooth, poised, and versatile guard by the name of Jeff Teague, the son of ex-BU Terrier Shawn Teague. He dropped 34 on Carolina, and he had a classy 29 last night, mixing in everything from a pair of threes to midrange shots to dunks, all emanating from turnovers.
"I think from the second half of last season he played himself into being one of the better guards in the league," Skinner declared.
And he's got a collegiate frontcourt to die for. Sophomore James Johnson is a 6-foot-9-inch young man who can beat you with finesse or power. Freshman forward Al-Farouq Aminu, a highly touted recruit from Norcross, Ga., is a star-in-waiting. Junior center Chas McFarland is an ever-improving 7-footer who can finish around the basket. When this one was over, two had 11 points and eight rebounds, and Aminu had 15 points and eight rebounds. It's a nice mix.
This was a wire-to-wire destruction. The Deacons jumped to a 10-2 lead by establishing complete inside superiority. Very quickly it was 20-10 and the lead went as high as 23 (45-22).
"The problem I had was that we didn't show any physical toughness in the game," Skinner said. "We allowed them to run whatever they wanted to run, and they scored on every opportunity. They ran the same play time and again and got easy shots."
It's impossible to exaggerate how bad BC looked on offense. There were poor decisions and bad passes of every description.
Newly appointed head football coach Frank Spaziani took the mike in hopes of exhorting the crowd during one timeout. He told the crowd to "get it going." BC's response? Back-to-back turnovers coming out of a timeout. It was that kind of night.
Things did get better in the second half. BC played with more urgency on defense and more intelligence on offense, and when Rice (20 points) nailed a three at 7:57, BC had actually chopped it to a 9-point (64-55) deficit.
What this did was give the sellout crowd of 8,606 an opportunity to see a well-drilled, well-rounded team go to work. Unfortunately, that team was Wake Forest.
Johnson first took it to the hoop, then hit a soft jumper from the left baseline. Teague took off on a fast break from a Joe Trapani 3-point miss, and now it was 70-56. So much for that.
And so much, too, for any hopes the big win over North Carolina was going to propel BC into the upper echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference. What that game demonstrated was what BC is capable of doing. The problem is that BC hasn't come close to doing that for a second time.
Ballhandling, Skinner insists, should be a BC strength. But now he sees a team settling for a first option, failing to recognize its opportunities, and simply playing impatient offensive basketball. "Some of that has to do with confidence," he said. "That's why it takes so long for a team to come together. We thought we had it, but we didn't."
Wake Forest definitely has it. A year ago, almost to the day, BC beat a young Wake team by an astonishing 112-73, racking up 67 second-half points. Every major player on this team, with the exception of Aminu, played in that game. Everyone in the league knew Wake was a talented team that needed to learn what the game was all about, that the Demon Deacons' day would come, and would come fairly soon.
Deacons coach Dino Gaudio spoke of their "basketball maturation." Skinner lauded them by saying, "They have a nice demeanor about each other."
It's not about talent. It's about how you apply that talent.
Speaking of another sport, Yogi Berra once said that "90 percent of this game is half-mental." He could have been talking about Al Skinner's BC Eagles. They'll get that North Carolina feel back. The question is when.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.