For BC, tourney experience a bonus

It’s cliché, sure, but even clichés can be true now and again.

For Boston College, the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament this week in Atlanta is a bonus. Pure and simple.

“Really, we have nothing to lose,” Steve Donahue said Monday in his weekly teleconference with the media. “We’re going to try to play free and really attack and do all the things we’ve been working on all year.”

Finishing the season 9-21 overall and 4-12 in the conference, the Eagles finished exactly where they were predicted to finish prior to the season -- last (tied in conference record with Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech).

As a result, the Eagles were assigned the No. 12 seed in the tourney and will face No. 5 seed NC State on Thursday (2 p.m., ESPNU) at Philips Arena.

Unlike some of its ACC brethren, BC is not playing to improve its NCAA tournament résumé. Barring a surprise run to the tournament title, there will be no dancing for the Eagles this season.

And under the circumstances, that’s OK.

“I think each program is in different stages,” Donahue said. “This is a great opportunity for us to really grow and learn what this stage is all about and let the kids experience it.”

The kids have been the key to BC’s 2011-12 season. After inheriting a veteran-laden squad in his first year replacing Al Skinner, Donahue had to restock the roster entirely prior to his second season in Chestnut Hill. To do so, Donahue brought in nine freshmen and a couple of graduate students with a year of eligibility left.

There were a lot of minutes to be had, and not a lot of players with a claim to them based on seniority. So the freshmen played, and played a lot.

As expected, at times that resulted in ugly, disjointed play, as the inexperience showed through the obvious talent. The Eagles struggled to finish games and didn’t win a true road game all season.

But there were also pleasant surprises: winning their first two ACC home games (vs. Clemson and Virginia Tech); the upset of then-No. 17 Florida State; the play of Ryan Anderson -- who was named to the ACC All-Freshman team on Monday, one of two unanimous selections along with Duke’s Austin Rivers, after averaging 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game -- as well as Lonnie Jackson, Dennis Clifford, Patrick Heckmann and Jordan Daniels.

Donahue has been high on Anderson, Clifford and Heckmann (who was slowed early in the season with a sprained ankle and late with a case of mononucleosis) in particular this season, calling them key pieces of the foundation going forward.

That said, the coach plans to evaluate everyone on the roster after the season and acknowledges that not every player earning big minutes this season will earn big minutes next season. But those who do, Donahue hopes, will take the experiences of this hard season with them and put the lessons learned to good use.

“Like we did most games this year, we’re using [the tournament] as a teaching tool,” Donahue said. “We’ll do it one game at a time. We’re going to try to play our best game of the season on Thursday and try to advance.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.