February 26, 2008
CHESTNUT HILL Al Skinner couldn't have been more blunt.
"The guys that were starting weren't ready to play," the frustrated BC coach said after the Eagles' loss at Florida State. "They didn't meet the challenge that was offered to them."
The numbers backed up the coach's words. Star point guard Tyrese Rice had 17 points, under his scoring average. The other four starters wing guard Rakim Sanders, wing forward Tyler Roche, power forward John Oates and center Tyrelle Blair did the following: 73 minutes, 4-for-16 from the field, 2-for-8 from three-point range, 11 points, 12 rebounds.
The bench allowed the fast-sliding Eagles to come back in the game, but the end result saw BC lose for the seventh time in eight games, and left Skinner and his staff still searching for answers.
Even Rice had one of his off games in the loss, going 4-for-14 from the field, 1-for-4 from three-point range. And only three of his points came in the second half, all at the foul line.
Basically, when Rice doesn't dominate offensively which is always a tall order for a small guy with no inside help BC has trouble competing. This team showed a real ability all year to rally, but slow starts usually have been too much to overcome.
Now, while Florida State was anything but a pushover opponent, and while the Seminoles were playing at home, FSU went into the game 15-12, so it was a game that could have been won. There were a lot of those games during this streak, a stretch that sent this young team's season straight down the tubes.
Take Virginia, for example. On the morning of Feb. 23, the Cavaliers had exactly two wins in conference play. Both of them came over the Eagles. The Cavs hammered BC in Charlottesville and then went up to The Heights and beat the Eagles there, too.
Turn either of those two games around, and reverse the loss to mid-major Robert Morris, and the Eagles would have been 15-10 and headed to the NIT or elsewhere, instead of the 13-12 record the team took with it out of Florida.
"This is a team that is going to be together for a couple of years," said Skinner, who will have Rice as a senior next year, along with the talented crop of young players. "As far as this season is concerned, we may not have as many opportunities as we will like. But that doesn't mean we can't perform so we can feel good about ourselves. If we don't do that, we will become the doormat of the league, and I don't know anyone who will enjoy that."
Those were strong words from a man who usually can find the good in bad situations. There was nothing good about this. It was a mess, and Skinner is coaching a team with two seniors, and neither Blair nor Oates is the type of player who can lead a team with production. Oates had one big offensive game this season, and Blair is a defensive player on a team that just hasn't scored enough points to win.
The rest of the schedule isn't what you would call a killer, even though it does include a visit by North Carolina. But the way this team is playing, there is no way you can pencil anything in as a sure thing.
The Eagles have UNC coming March 1 and close the regular season March 8 against struggling Georgia Tech. BC also has games at Virginia Tech, a team the Eagles already lost to at home, and at Miami, a team BC upset when the Hurricanes were No. 21 in the country back on Jan. 15.
The strange thing about that Miami game was that it appeared to complete a two-game run that set BC up for the rest of the season. The Eagles had lost badly at home to Kansas, then suffered the predictable hangover against a Robert Morris team that has been a monster on the road this season, and then rebounded with a blowout of Wake Forest and the win over Miami.
Things were looking pretty good at that point, and the unstated goal of the NIT and postseason fun was well within reach. But then came what turned out to be a pivotal week that saw Skinner's team go to Virginia and become the Cavaliers' first ACC victim of the year, then go home and lose in overtime to Virginia Tech. That started a run of five straight losses, seven of eight through the game at FSU.
Rice finished the FSU game averaging 20.6 points, 5.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. He was playing 38 minutes per game, and the workload was heavy.
Stars playing a lot of minutes is nothing new for Skinner, long a believer that seven or eight men employed during a game is plenty. But Rice just wasn't getting enough help, and there were too many games where he was really the only guy getting anything done or, in some cases, trying to get it done.
SOUTHERN GETTING MORE TIME
As the season has worn on, and as it has become more and more apparent that this year really is about the future, Skinner has given more and more playing time to freshman center Josh Southern.
Southern had a double-double off the bench at Florida State, with 11 points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes.
"Watching from the bench helped me put into perspective what I needed to do if I ever got the chance to be out there," Southern said. "Now, playing, it's helpful for future situations like next year, because I'll be a little bit more experienced in the ACC."
RYAN ALREADY PRO WITH MEDIA
Matt Ryan, who has become the top-rated quarterback in many eyes looking at this year's NFL draft, and who could become the No. 1 pick and head to Miami, was a hit during his interview at the NFL Combine.
One of the things he talked about was the prospect of Bill Parcells drafting him.
"He was with the Giants, and I grew up an Eagles fan," said Ryan, who grew up near Philadelphia. "And he was with the Cowboys, as well. Those were two teams I didn't really like growing up, just as an Eagles fan."
Asked about the possibility of being No. 1, Ryan said, "It would be unbelievable."
He also would welcome going No. 3 to the Falcons, who have started to rebuild after the Michael Vick/Bobby Petrino disasters.
"It's a great city," he said of Atlanta.
Wherever he goes, count on this: Ryan will say and do the right things. The guy is as poised as it gets, both on and off the field.