CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Lately, the Boston College men's basketball team has looked a bit like a teenage driver in a snowstorm.
When the Eagles try to accelerate too quickly, their wheels spin and they go nowhere. And once they finally get going, they go too fast and when they need to throttle down and use a light touch instead of a heavy hand, their brakes lock up and they lose control.
Against Clemson on Saturday, the Eagles mostly spun their wheels ineffectively in the first half -- shooting 4-for-16 from the floor for 17 points, with 10 turnovers and just one assist, what coach Steve Donahue termed "absolutely horrific offense" -- and though they got going in the second half, they knew they would need a very fine touch to maneuver to a win.
"We told our guys they're gonna make a run in the second half," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, "you've gotta weather the storm."
Trailing by 14 at the half, the Eagles were much crisper in the second and cut the Tigers' lead to just three with 6 seconds to play. After a BC timeout, Clemson alertly fouled Olivier Hanlan just after he dribbled over half court.
The sophomore, a perfect 8-for-8 from the line at the time, would have two shots with the Eagles needing three points with 2 seconds to go. To give BC a chance, Hanlan would have to make the first and intentionally miss the second and hope for an offensive rebound.
With that strategy, success would require incredible control.
"Missing free throws, like on purpose? I worked on it," Hanlan said. "You kinda try to just hit it off the edge. And having guys like Eddie [Odio] and Garland [Owens] that are pretty athletic to try to slap it out, it gives us a pretty good chance to get another opportunity. I guess it's pretty hard to do."
Hanlan calmly drained the first and then, just as calmly, missed the second off the right rim. Last season's ACC rookie of the year barreled down the lane after the miss, secured the carom and threw up an off-balance shot through contact.
The whistle blew, and after a brief review to check that the foul came before the clock hit zero, Hanlan was back at the line for two shots with a chance to tie the game at 62.
When he stepped to the line, Hanlan had already delivered an astonishing second half, scoring 22 points on 12 field goal attempts after managing just five points on four field goal attempts in the first 20 minutes.
The 6-foot-4, 184-pounder stepped to the line for freebies No. 11 and 12, with his only miss having come on purpose. Those left of the 5,268 in attendance clearly sensed overtime.
Hanlan's first free throw looked true ... and then clanged off the front rim, and the air went out of Conte Forum.
"I thought we executed it perfectly, and gave our best player a chance to knock down two free throws," BC big man Ryan Anderson said. "He didn't make it, but we still did the same thing [Hanlan intentionally missing the second free throw] and we almost got a tip on the second time.
"I think it's something that we're confident in if we're ever in that situation again."
After Clemson secured the final rebound and the horn sounded to seal a 62-60 Tigers victory, a relieved Brownell said he felt bad for Hanlan.
"He's gotta go back to the line," Brownell said of BC's star guard. "In a pressure situation, you just missed one [and] even though you're intentionally missing it, it's still not good for you. And I think that played into him missing the last one."
Though the result was still lacking in the 62-60 loss, the first-half struggles digging too big a hole for the 4-11 Eagles to climb out of, Donahue was happy with the effort he got in the second half.
"I was really proud of our group," the fourth-year coach said. "I thought we really fought. Nothing's coming easy for us right now. They just really battled today. Clemson's really physical, really smart on defense.
"For us to fight through and have a shot to win it, I'm just really proud of our guys."
Beleaguered BC showed signs of progress in the second half, scoring 43 points, cutting the turnovers from 10 to three, turning up the defensive pressure and producing 10 points off turnovers after not producing any such points in the first half.
But the slow start, those wheels spinning in place, proved to be too much to overcome Saturday. And if the Eagles don't correct that issue quickly by learning from experience how to handle potentially treacherous conditions, they may not be able to get this trip back on track.