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Jackson sticks to Eagles' game plan

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Boston College coach Al Skinner didn't like what he saw when he sat down earlier this week to watch film from his team's loss to Florida State. The problem wasn't just that the Eagles shot 33 percent from the floor. They were also running an offense that was borderline unrecognizable to their coach.

"We were way too anxious," Skinner said. "Guys weren't waiting for screens. We were slipping screens and expecting to receive the ball. Our point guards were over-handling. There was a lot that was going wrong. Those are things that are correctable -- and we corrected them."

Did they ever. The Eagles moved the ball on Saturday as crisply as they have all year, finishing with 17 assists against just seven turnovers and outplaying North Carolina down the stretch to earn a 71-67 victory.

Point guards Reggie Jackson and Biko Paris combined for 11 assists and just one turnover, and versatile wing Rakim Sanders had three assists of his own. Whether it was of the spectacular variety -- Sanders' lob to Jackson for an alley-oop stands out -- or a routine pass for a baseline jumper, the Eagles' ball movement looked as good as it has all season.

"Clearly, that's the most patient we've been on the offensive end -- and, in saying that, it's along with good execution," Skinner said. "We end up getting good looks at the basket. I was very pleased with our execution and when guys were getting their shots.

"Ball movement is key because it gets the defense on their feet and gets them jumping," said reserve forward Evan Ravenel, who matched a career high with eight points off the bench. "A team like North Carolina, they like to play defense really aggressively. If you can keep the ball moving and get people off-balance, you get easier shots and get ill-advised fouls on the other team and get free throws and get a win."

Skinner didn't break down the Florida State film all by himself. He summoned several of his players into his office for one-on-one looks at the way the Eagles had executed -- or failed to execute -- in one of the most lackluster efforts of the season.

One of those meetings was with Jackson, the explosive sophomore whom Skinner inserted back into the starting lineup on Saturday for the first time since early January. Jackson has tended to have the ball in his hands at the end of games, but Skinner had grown weary of watching his Eagles fall behind in the opening minutes before a Jackson-led bench sparked a rally.

If Jackson was going to start, though, he was going to have to play the way his coach wanted him to play. That meant less dribbling and more passing, less improvising and more sticking to the script. Jackson can turn the tide of a game with the ball in his hands, but he's also been prone to making bad decisions that have cost the Eagles games. He took two or three extra dribbles in the closing seconds of losses to Duke and Florida State at home, trying to do too much himself rather than sticking to his coaches' game plan.

"I tend to want to break the mold a lot when things are going bad," Jackson said. "I just want to get up quick shots. Even my teammates, I encourage them to just hurry up sometimes. Being the point guard and being a leader on this team, today, when things were going wrong, I just tried to remember what [Skinner] told me."

Jackson played a game Saturday that was more solid than spectacular. Most of his five first-half assists were relatively routine: a pass to Joe Trapani for a 3-pointer; a pass to Corey Raji for a baseline jumper; a fast-break bounce pass to Raji for an easy layup. About his only highlight-reel assist was a length-of-the-court lob to Ravenel for a two-handed dunk behind a North Carolina defense that was slow to get back. Other than that, BC's new starting point guard simply made the easy pass when it was there for him. Early in the second half, Jackson pulled down a tough offensive rebound but then pulled the ball out, eventually feeding Raji for another baseline jumper.

"I know that's what my teammates look to me to do," he said. "Sometimes they want to get out and run, and even today, I've seen them calling at me because they wanted the ball so fast on the rush. But the best thing, I know, is that sometimes we have to pull it out and get a play set."

But it wasn't all about Jackson. Perhaps the most impressive sequence came late in the first half when Sanders took a feed from Raji and then threw a great pass to Ravenel in the low post, a pass Ravenel turned into a wide-open dunk to give the Eagles their first lead of the game.

When North Carolina deployed a full-court press in the final minute, the ball flew from Jackson to Trapani to Ravenel to Sanders and back to Jackson almost without pausing and almost without touching the floor. The ball movement drained 20 seconds off the clock before UNC's Will Graves could get his hands on Jackson to foul him.

Jackson might have been the sparkplug, stepping back into the starting lineup for the first time in more than a month. But patient playmaking is about more than just a point guard.

"We had a much better comfort level," Skinner said. "I didn't feel like we felt like we were in a hurry. Guys really showed some patience, really took their time to see where the plays were, and really moved the ball. ... I thought we were much more patient. I just felt a little more calm than we've had in previous games."

Brian MacPherson is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. His email address is brianrmacpherson@gmail.com.