CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- When Boston College freshman guard Rakim Sanders entered the postgame press conference with Eagles star point guard Tyrese Rice, he started to take the left seat at the podium. As he reached for the chair, though, Rice quickly stepped in, muttering that was always his seat. Sanders smiled and sheepishly sank into the other chair. Such is the learning curve for a first-year player.
Fortunately for BC, Sanders isn't having that same kind of learning curve on the court.
He played great today. Like I told a lot of people, when he's on, he's on. ... I tell him all the time he can post up anybody because he's big enough. If you get it going on the inside, maybe the outside jumper starts falling. He realized that today.
In just his fourth college game, Sanders supplemented Rice's game-high 24 points with 21 of his own, including a huge 3-pointer with less than two minutes left, that helped push the Eagles past Rhode Island, 76-72, Wednesday afternoon at Conte Forum. It was Sanders' second 20-plus point performance after he poured in 22 in the Eagles' opener against New Hampshire.
"He played great today. Like I told a lot of people, when he's on, he's on," Rice said. "He just has to figure out, like on a day when his shot's not falling, where he can get [his points] it from. I tell him all the time he can post up anybody because he's big enough. If you get it going on the inside, maybe the outside jumper starts falling. He realized that today."
It took BC, now 4-0, 20 minutes to realize what kind of game it needed to play. After quickly jumping out to a 10-point lead, Rhode Island dropped a 26-5 run -- fueled heavily by easy baskets in transition -- on the Eagles and eventually led by seven at the break. The first stanza was played at a breakneck pace, where each team had over 40 possessions. The result: The Eagles shot just 13 for 38, and URI had 26 points in the paint, mostly on fast-break layups.
"I think we lacked a little concentration once we got the lead," Rice said. "I think we were up 17-7 or something like that, and then we just started taking a lot of bad shots, which led to their transition buckets, and that's exactly what they wanted to do."
After the break, though, BC did exactly what it wanted to do, spreading the ball around and slowing the game down. It worked to the tune of 63 percent shooting and 46 second-half points. It also showed that the Runnin' Rams, who dropped to 5-1, need some work on their halfcourt sets if they are going to fully deliver on their potential.
"We didn't shut guys down," said Rhode Island star forward Will Daniels, who had a game-high 25 points. "They got inside on us. They hit shots which slowed down our tempo so we couldn't run on them like we originally planned. I think that was the reason behind us running sets instead of pushing the ball."
The 6-foot-5 Sanders has overcome much more just to make it to this point. The soft-spoken freshman from Pawtucket, R.I., said he chose BC over Providence, in part, to get away from his hometown, where he and four other siblings had been raised in a housing project by their older sister Nyisha, now 25, since their mother died in 2000.
And Sanders has found a mentor in the junior Rice.
"He's been doing it for awhile, so just watching him play at the level he can play at and excel at the level he has [helps me]," Sanders said. "For him to be there for me and tell me the right and wrong things to do and telling me to stay focused, I'm just thankful to have someone else to tell me right and wrong, on and off the court."
In return, Sanders seems ready to provide the Eagles with a consistent second offensive threat, one they clearly will need if they are going to be competitive in the ACC.
The slimmed-down Shamari Spears, who posted 12 points and 12 rebounds for his second straight double-double, looks like he can be effective. But Sanders showed the diverse offensive game -- drive, post-up and jumper -- that you can see working in places like Chapel Hill and Durham.
Still, both Rice and Eagles head coach Al Skinner were hesitant to put too much on Sanders, who is averaging 15.8 points through four games, just yet.
"It's not necessarily his responsibility [to be that second scorer], but as a team we will do that," Skinner said. "It's going to be different people on different nights, and we recognize that. We're still right now trying to get a feel for what we want to do as far as our offensive execution. It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but it's improving."
One guy who doesn't need much improving is Rice, who will be the player to carry this Eagles team as far as it goes. He's a wonderful talent who can get his shot whenever he wants, although that might be a mixed blessing on this young team.
Against URI, he went 4-for-15 in an ugly first half before taking only six shots (making four) in the second as the Eagles rallied. More notably, with the departure of so many talented upperclassmen over the past two seasons, the junior understands his leadership role, as well.
"There just can't be a day where I'm down," he said. "I have to bring it every day, every night, and just show them and lead the way, because they're going to do exactly what I do. The way I act on the court is going to be the way they act. I just have to realize every time I step on the floor, that I have seven, eight new guys that are going to be watching me and taking after me."
It seems Sanders is watching, and if the result is the way he played against the Rams, he appears to be a very quick learner, as well.
Andy Glockner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage and is the host of the ESPNU College Basketball Insider podcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.