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No. 18 UConn knocks off Boston College, Eagles losing margin for error for at-large

Nov 21, 2013, 9:32 PM EST

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — Deandre Daniels finished with 23 points and Shabazz Napier added 19, 11 of which came in the second half, as No 18 UConn survived upset-minded Boston College 72-70 in the opening round of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Daniels scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half to help the Huskies build a lead that reached 11 on a number of occasions, but BC’s stars Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson brought the Eagles back down the stretch. Napier missed a free throw with less than a minute left that gave the Eagles life, but Hanlan missed at the rim on the ensuing possession and Boatright was fouled during the scrum for the rebound. His two free throws put the Huskies up four.

The knock on BC coming into this game was their ability to defend on the perimeter. They had been torched by the likes of UMass, Toledo and Providence, all of whom have quality guards. That also happens to be UConn’s strength with the likes of Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun. But BC actually held their own. Napier had 20, but it was a quiet 20; he made some big shots down the stretch, but he certainly didn’t dominate the game and he struggled getting to the rim at times. Boatright had just nine points on the night, and combined the duo shot 8-for-26 from the floor.

“They were doubling on the pick and rolls,” Napier said, “and when we penetrated the paint they played great help defense, we weren’t knocking down our shots. “

The issue for Steve Donahue’s club on this night was on the offensive end of the floor. No one on the UConn can guard Anderson, yet the Eagles couldn’t — or wouldn’t — get him enough touches on the block in the second half. There were multiple possessions where he had Phil Nolan or Amida Brimah sealed and the BC guards simply didn’t give him the ball. He still finished with 22 points, on just eight shots, while going to the line 11 times. That would have been less of an issue if Hanlan went off for 38 points again, but he didn’t. He struggled for most of the first 35 minutes of the game.

“It was not only me and Ryan, the whole team, we had all five guys looking at him,” Napier said of Hanlan.

Hanlan’s a talent, however, and he was at his best in the final minutes. But at this point, BC is really just a two-man show. Anderson and Hanlan combined for 39 of their 68 points, and when going up against a team that is as talented as the Huskies are, that’s not going to cut it, even when they have an off-night.

UConn moves to 5-0 on the season, while BC drops to 1-4.

I can safely say they are the best 1-4 team in the country, and while I still think this group is good enough to win a game or two in the tournament, the hole that they have dug themselves may be too much to work their way out of. The only two relevant games left on their non-conference are VCU on the road and Harvard. Then it’s the ACC schedule, which certainly won’t be easy.

BC will have plenty of chances to build a resume that is strong enough to earn an at-large bid, but November’s not yet over and they are already to a point where their margin of error is very slim.

“All these failures are going to make us tougher, stronger,” said Donahue. “We have to stay the course. I think we’re going to be a good basketball team.”

If the Eagles want to avoid being forced into having to win the ACC’s automatic bid, they’re going to have to turn their season around in a hurry.