After a brutal nonconference schedule left his team battered, bruised and carrying more than twice as many losses as wins (with a 4-9 record), Boston College coach Steve Donahue blamed himself.
His Eagles had their confidence shaken, and only sustained success could stabilize it.
BC got a boost with a hard-fought road win at Virginia Tech on Saturday, coming out on top after a late 3-pointer by Lonnie Jackson, then came back against No. 2 Syracuse to lead late on Monday before fading.
“I thought this midway through the game to myself,” Donahue said, “the reason we’re competing with the No. 2 team in the country is because we’ve been through so much already in this season that it’s not fazing the guys. The physicality, the length, the speed, the talent, the adversity at times.
“Even after we kind of collapsed a little bit in that first half, we just bounced right back and played great basketball. I think that’s a product of the schedule. Now the schedule still has obviously set us back with our record and things like that, but I’m believing that it’s helping us now, it’s going to help us in a month and it’s going to help us next year. And it gave us great confidence.”
The Eagles are past the point of counting moral victories. With one of the most experienced rosters in the ACC, they expect to win games. Falling to 5-12 overall and 1-3 in the ACC with the loss to the Orange, so far they haven’t done that nearly enough.
But they’re not letting it get them down.
“I think they have great hope in that locker room,” Donahue said. “There’s real, sincere hope. Is there confidence? It’s getting there. But there’s not despair, there’s not discouragement. There’s a lot of hope. And [pride] that they’re ready to play for each other. That’s where we’re at. It’s going to take hard work and success to build confidence.”
Clifford out again
Battling knee issues for the past season and a half, BC big man Dennis Clifford was felled again Monday night. Only this time, it was a tweaked ankle in warm-ups that kept him out of the lineup.
“I was told five minutes before the game,” Donahue said. “[My mindset is,] ‘OK, let’s go. Somebody else steps up.’ I didn’t even worry about it. I feel bad for him, I feel bad for us. I thought his physicality could have helped us a little more. Maybe they don’t get  offensive rebounds [if he’s in].”
The 7-footer had played in BC’s previous two games, his first action of the season, and contributed six points, six rebounds and one block in 21 minutes against Virginia Tech.
“Obviously when you don’t have Dennis you have to team rebound,” Donahue said. “I thought we did a terrific job of gang rebounding.”
Without the big man, BC was outrebounded 28-24 and gave up 32 points in the paint (scoring just 12) and 17 second-chance points (scoring just eight).
The task on the glass won’t get any easier for the Eagles, who return to the court at North Carolina on Saturday (12 p.m. ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). The Tar Heels rank 12th in the country with 41.6 rebounds per game.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.