January 10, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- Boston College coach Al Skinner, not known for employing a deep bench in his days at BC, is more than happy with the nine-man rotation the Eagles now employ, after the returns of Akida McLain and Sean Williams.
"I prefer nine," Skinner said recently. "It gives you more flexibility. You don't have to focus in on any one individual and make sure they're going to have a great night for you. It creates better unity within your team. It makes for great team character."
When BC lost to Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 6, Skinner used only seven players. Freshman guards Tyrese Rice and Marquez Haynes were the only players used off the bench. At the end of the game, the Eagles looked tired, and it wasn't mere coincidence that they suffered their first loss of the year.
At the time, McLain was serving what turned out to be a seven-game suspension for passing phony $20 bills in his native Pittsburgh area back in May. Williams wasn't even on campus, instead taking classes at Houston in his home state while his legal situation after a May marijuana arrest was sorted out.
When all of this started, the general feeling was that, when the two sophomores returned, BC would go with eight, with fellow sophomore John Oates, who had been starting at center with Williams out, virtually dropping off the depth chart.
But a funny thing happened with Oates while Williams was gone. (Williams returned on Dec. 22.) Oates gave Skinner some quality minutes. So the plan in mid-January was still to have Oates starting, with Williams coming off the bench, thus creating the nine-man rotation.
With 12 on the roster, the only scholarship player not getting serious time was freshman forward Evan Neisler. The other two players are walk-on guards Ted Dunlap and Tyler Neville.
Skinner seems sure the deeper bench will have the Eagles better prepared for both the long haul of BC's first season in the ACC and the postseason. Don't forget, BC has never gone to the Sweet 16 under Skinner.
As far as the flexibility the coach was talking about, the two players who came back from suspension are both long and lean. McLain is 6-8. Williams, who set the school record for blocked shots as a freshman, is 6-9.
Both players will allow Skinner to do some of the pressing he loves to do when the roster is right. The roster appears to be right, and BC showed flashes of what it is likely to do the rest of the way when it hammered Massachusetts in the first game of the new year.
In his first six games back, McLain averaged 9.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in about 17 minutes per game. He even exploded for a 17-10 effort in 18 minutes at Duquesne. Williams, looking rusty at the start, had eight blocks while averaging 12 minutes through four games.
"We're a work in progress," was a mantra Skinner used throughout the early going. He noted that the team that lost to Maryland (minus Williams and McLain) in the school's ACC opener back on Dec. 6 is not the same team that will go the rest of the way.
"That's for sure," the coach said, clearly feeling more comfortable with the group he now has, a much deeper bunch than he's been used to at BC. "Obviously, Akida and Sean are going to help."
STRONG ROAD TEAM 0-2 IN ACC
Before his team (then ranked No. 11) faced Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Skinner said, "If you expect to have any success in your league, you've got to win a few games on the road. That's always a challenge."
Well, the Eagles, again missing too many free throws and showing poor judgment on key possessions, lost to the Yellow Jackets, then N.C. State to fall to 0-3 in the program's brief ACC career.
The 60-58 loss to Georgia Tech, which saw BC blow an eight-point, first-half lead by going the final 9:07 of the half without a field goal, snapped a five-game winning streak that started after the Eagles lost at Maryland in their ACC debut. BC made only five of 15 attempts from the foul line in that game, and just 10 of 19 against the Jackets.
So, a team that was 16-8 on the road in league play in its last three years in the Big East suddenly was 0-2 away from home in the new league. Now the Eagles will have to wait until Jan. 21 -- at Miami -- for another shot at their first ACC road victory.
Preseason All-American forward Craig Smith was rock-solid for BC down the stretch in Atlanta, scoring the final 10 points (no one else scored over the last 6:37) to finish with 26. That topped his previous season high of 23 points, and both of those efforts had come in the two ACC games.
But while Smith was impossible to stop, two key possessions before his closing run helped turn the game around. On those, guards Louis Hinnant and Tyrese Rice fired up long-range shots, rather than trying to get the ball inside to Smith or forward Jared Dudley, who combined for 40 of BC's 58 points in the game.
As far as the nine-man rotation goes, it was still clear that Williams wasn't quite in the basketball shape he needs to be, meaning that the substitution patterns still need some work.
"I think we all recognize that we're going to be better three weeks from now than we are today, and that's good," Skinner said. "I mean, you want to continue to build and get better as the season goes along. It's going to help us with the depth that we've had so many guys (who) don't have to play as many minutes. But more important, guys don't have to play out of position, and we keep them comfortable."
While the Eagles had out-rebounded their opponents in seven of their previous eight games and nine of the 13 played before Georgia Tech, the Jackets basically wiped the floor with BC on the boards. Tech out-rebounded the visitors 31-20 overall and grabbed 14 on the offensive end, two more than the Eagles had defensively.