Commentary

Boston College finds win at foul line

When shots weren't falling for Eagles against Virginia, they got points at charity stripe

Updated: January 20, 2011, 1:35 AM ET
By Jack McCluskey | Special to ESPNBoston.com

NEWTON, Mass. -- Against Miami on Saturday, Joe Trapani needed 30 minutes and 12 shots to score 14 points. Against Virginia on Wednesday, he needed only about 20 minutes and just eight shots to reach that total.

And since Trapani had some time left over against the Cavaliers, he didn't stop there.

Boston College's starting power forward finished with a game-high 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-5 from the free throw line, to help the Eagles (14-5, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) win 70-67 before 4,628 fans at Conte Forum.

Although they hit just three of their first 13 shots, the Eagles withstood the Cavaliers' early charge thanks in large part to Trapani. The senior from Madison, Conn., has struggled with his shot recently, but a steady diet of touches in the paint got him back on his horse versus Virginia (10-8, 1-3 ACC).

Trapani had two three-point plays in the first half -- both coming on drives on which the 6-foot-8, 232-pounder absorbed contact and finished his shots -- helping spark the sleepy BC offense to a 13-2 run. He had a chance for a third with a little more than a minute left in opening frame, but the free throw rimmed out.

[+] EnlargeJoe Trapani
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIJoe Trapani had a game-high 18 points for the Eagles against the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

"I thought that was a huge stretch and I thought Trap played terrific," BC coach Steve Donahue said of the first-half run. "If he doesn't make those baskets, we were struggling. I thought he did a great job attacking the rim and getting to the line and really helped us maintain our lead in the first half."

The Eagles shot well less than their season averages in the first half, hitting just three of 12 3-pointers (25 percent) and 11 of 28 shots overall (39 percent). BC entered the game shooting 39.5 percent from the 3 and 48.4 percent overall.

Since the long ball wasn't falling, the Eagles took it to the hole.

"Yeah, I mean, Coach [has] always said if your shot's not falling, obviously keep shooting but try to find other ways to get into the mix," Trapani said. "And on offense, I was able to take it to the basket and finish."

BC guard Reggie Jackson said the Eagles knew they were in for a tough one when the shots weren't falling early and added, "But even when the 3s fall, we know we're gonna have to scratch and fight [in ACC games]."

The Cavaliers were clearly up for the tussle. Assane Sene, Virginia's 7-foot junior, gave the Eagles issues all night. The long, lean and physical Sene repeatedly tipped rebounds away from BC bigs Trapani, Josh Southern and Corey Raji to secure six offensive rebounds. On the other end, Sene used his length to swat five shots. He finished with 11 points as one of four Cavs to score in double figures.

"Part of our strategy at the end was trying to get a body on him," Donahue said of Sene. "I thought Joe Trap was doing a good job on the defensive end getting a body on him and then using his athleticism to go get the ball. Sometimes Josh had a hard time with that big a body reaching over him almost."

The Eagles took a six-point lead into halftime but things tightened up in the second half. There were eight ties and eight lead changes in the game, most of them coming as the teams traded punches in the second half.

After K.T. Harrell hit a long 3 at the buzzer in the first half, the Cavaliers seemed to find the range from behind the arc. After hitting just 3-for-12 in the first, the visitors shot 6-for-11 down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the Eagles never really found the distance; they shot just 3-for-9 on 3s in the second half and finished 6-for-21 (28.6 percent). But they learned from Trapani's first-half example, took the ball to the basket and got to the line.

"They're a very aggressive team, on ball, so when we had our chances, we were able to kind of utilize our athleticism and get by our guys," Trapani said. "Reggie, me and even Josh was able to get a couple baskets in that second half, which were clutch. Corey's a great offensive player but when his stuff isn't going, he usually finds his confidence on the glass, which he was able to do, and he hit a couple of big shots for us.

"We were able to hit foul shots down the stretch, so that was pretty much the difference in the game."

Indeed, the Eagles went to the line 25 times in the game, making 20. The Cavaliers went just 12 times, making eight.

"They guarded us well," Donahue said of the Cavaliers, who he said disrupted the Eagles' offense all night. "I give our kids credit for fighting through it for the most part, getting to the foul line, not turning the ball over. What good teams do to figure out how to win games, I thought we did that tonight."

Asked whether the close win was particularly rewarding given the Eagles' close loss in Miami on Saturday, Donahue said any league win is a good one.

"What I enjoyed tonight was another way we won a game," the coach said. "We didn't shoot 50 percent and 40 [percent] from 3, have the 3-to-1 assist-to-turnovers game -- we had a grind-it-out game and we did two things really well: We shot foul shots and we got to the line."

"I thought that was the difference," Donahue added, "we got to the line and guarded them without fouling."

The Eagles were whistled for just 11 personal fouls in the contest; the Cavaliers were whistled for 21.

And although BC didn't hit a shot from the field after a Jackson 3-pointer with 3:36 remaining, the home team was 8-for-8 from the foul line in the last 1:30. Jackson, who finished with 16 points (giving him 1,005 for his career and making him the 39th Eagles player to reach four figures in scoring), hit four of those freebies, including a pair with 2.8 seconds left that created the final margin when a Virginia heave fell short.

After the game, Jackson acknowledged what an effect the Eagles' foul shooting had on the game.

"Free throws are big because it very much puts pressure on the other team," Jackson said. "If I don't hit the last two, maybe that miracle goes down and hurts us."

Luckily for the Eagles, the charity stripe lived up to its nickname Wednesday night.

As the Eagles head to Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday to play the Florida State Seminoles (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU), one thing's for sure: If the shots aren't falling from long range, Trapani & Co. will make sure they mix it up in other ways.

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

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