For BC, defense the key to a NC victory

Will he or won’t he? That is the question.

At least, that’s the question on the minds of many Boston College basketball fans, who are wondering whether or not Reggie Jackson, the team’s leading scorer and a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week this season, will return to the starting lineup Tuesday night against North Carolina after being relegated to the bench to start both halves against Duke.

In his weekly conference call with reporters Monday, the man who makes that decision wasn’t tipping his hand. Instead, he said he hadn’t made up his mind.

“I’m just trying to reward kids that do a great job in practice,” Steve Donahue said of the lineup change against the Blue Devils, which had Dallas Elmore starting in place of Jackson and Corey Raji starting in place of Danny Rubin. “I think it’s something that helps each team come in every day knowing that it’s very meaningful what happens in this practice session, and you’re going to be rewarded if you play well.

“I’ve been very pleased with everyone’s attitude [in practice], including Reggie. He’s done a great job coming in and really working extremely hard, as the other guys have as well.”

Jackson came off the bench in Durham, N.C., and never found a rhythm. He shot just 3-for-11, including 0-for-4 from the 3-point arc and 1-for-2 from the free-throw line, and finished with a season-low seven points.

And after hanging with the Blue Devils for a while, ultimately the Eagles’ defense was their undoing. Duke shot 50 percent from the field (including 45.5 percent from 3) and won easily, 84-68.

Donahue has called the Eagles’ defense the team’s Achilles’ heel, and the stats back that up. The Eagles rank sixth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com, scoring 119.2 points per 100 possessions; however, the Eagles rank 245th (out of 345) in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 105.5 points per 100 possessions.

“Unfortunately, coming in, this has been an issue with this team,” Donahue said. “I think the guys were excited to play this offense, but, in reality, the offense wasn’t the issue last year. We were second in the conference in field goal percentage offense last year. We were dead last in field goal percentage defense.”

Things haven’t changed much in that regard. The Eagles are third in the ACC in offensive field goal percentage (47.4) but 11th in defensive field goal percentage (44.5) so far in the 2010-11 season.

The Eagles’ offense is good enough to overcome that deficit against some teams, but against the cream of the ACC crop the defense is digging too big a hole for the offense to climb out of.

Roy Williams and the No. 23 Tar Heels come into Tuesday night’s game second in the ACC in scoring average at 77.3 points a game, and are shooting 45.4 percent from the field overall. A win at Conte Forum would tie UNC with No. 5 Duke for the best record in the conference (6-1).

So while most Eagles fans may be asking, “Will he or won’t he?” about Jackson, maybe what they should be asking instead is, “Will they or won’t they defend well enough to win?”

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