GREENSBORO -- It’s hard to call Steve Donahue a magician when he inherited two all-ACC players in Reggie Jackson and Joe Trapani, but Boston College did win its 20th game Thursday with a starting lineup that includes a walk-on who was a women’s practice player a year ago.
What the former Cornell coach has done with Al Skinner’s players this season is nothing less than remarkable. The fifth-seeded Eagles beat Wake Forest by 16 on Sunday and were up that much at halftime Thursday on their way to a 81-67 win over the Demon Deacons.
Boston College’s 9-7 ACC record is all the more impressive considering that despite the talent, Donahue doesn’t quite have the players he needs for his brand of basketball -- he needs more shooters, and he’s played lots of zone to maximize his short bench -- but has adapted to the players Skinner left behind, recruited to play in his flex offense.
Biko Paris emerged as an unexpected long-distance threat -- he had five 3-pointers in the first half Thursday -- to go with the natural scoring ability of Jackson and Trapani, and the Eagles won at Maryland and Virginia Tech on their way to a fifth-place finish. Those losses to Harvard and Yale, teams Donahue owned at Cornell, and before that as a Penn assistant, still sting.
(Meanwhile, speaking of other coaches’ players, the players Jeff Bzdelik left behind at Colorado to take the Wake Forest job all but secured an NCAA tournament bid with a big win over Kansas State today in the quarterfinals.)
To a certain extent, it’s only going to get tougher for Donahue. The Eagles start four seniors, and the fifth starter -- first-team all-ACC pick Jackson, a junior -- may move on next season as well. Jackson, Paris and Trapani scored 70 of Boston College’s 81 points against Wake Forest, so while Donahue has made the most of Skinner’s leftover talent to win 20 games this season, next year will be Year 1 of a complete rebuild.
So the Eagles figure to take a step backward next year, but they moved forward in this year’s tournament to face fourth-seeded Clemson today. You’d have to figure a win there secures an NCAA bid -- and maybe a little recognition for Donahue, who got plenty last year when he steered Cornell to the Sweet 16 but not nearly as much this year for what he’s done at Boston College.
Photo: Boston College coach Steve Donahue gets fired-up in the second half. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org