After one half of play, Boston College had received zero points from its top four scorers from last season. However, some unlikely heroes had all but secured the Eagles' season opener as they cruised to a 89-58 victory over Dartmouth on Friday night.
BC announced just before the game that starters Corey Raji and Rakim Sanders, as well as reserve forward Cortney Dunn, would be suspended due to a violation of team rules. Starting forward Joe Trapani didn't help matters when he recorded two fouls in the first three minutes, forcing coach Al Skinner to stretch his bench even thinner.
"For the individuals, the suspensions were better, but because that's not the way we are going to play all year, it's not really better for the team," Skinner said. "For anyone who got a chance to play a little more than usual, then it's good for them. The experience that some of these guys got is something I'm glad they took advantage of."
One player who took full advantage of the opportunity was Tyler Roche, the lone senior on the roster. Roche scored a career-high 30 points, hitting 10 of 12 from the field and 4 of 5 from 3-point territory. Tyrese Rice's shadow hung over this team all offseason as they repeatedly faced questions on how they would replace the second-team All-ACC talent. On Friday night, Roche already accomplished something Rice didn't all last season: He eclipsed the 30-point mark.
"I've grown a lot more confident over the years, especially when I play a lot more minutes," Roche said. "Tonight I just felt really comfortable. Coach Skinner left me in there and I gained confidence as the game went on."
Throughout his BC career, Roche has been searching for a role and scrapping for minutes. He started 23 games as a sophomore, but only averaged 13.8 minutes a game last season as a junior. Roche admitted it was a "very frustrating period" for him. However, toward the end of the season, he saw his minutes increase as he found a niche as an undersized 4 who could help stretch the floor with his 3-point ability.
When Trapani went to the bench Friday, Roche began to find his rhythm offensively and netted 15 points in the first half. In the second half, he continued his sharp shooting by hitting an extended elbow jumper off an upward flex cut that could become an effective weapon for BC's offense. He played all but two minutes of the game, and as he became more involved in the offense his confidence appeared to soar.
After amassing 30 percent of his points last season in one game (and 99 points all of last season), Roche's confidence level should be higher than ever.
Another player who could help the Eagles return to the NCAA tournament, despite the loss of Rice, will be sophomore Reggie Jackson. Jackson's incredible athleticism and burgeoning confidence make him the type of player who will be vital in deciding close games, as evidenced by his key contributions in last season's UNC and Duke victories.
"Everybody wants the ball; we all know what to do. Sometimes I feel that I take it upon myself -- that if we're in a slump, it's my responsibility to get a bucket," Jackson said.
Jackson was the one who got the Eagles going after a sluggish start Friday night, with 10 first-half points (16 overall). His quickness and versatility will allow the Eagles to challenge teams with many different looks and provide a spark when the team seems flat.
Skinner didn't bring in any freshmen this season, mainly because he knew he had the players on his roster to fill the void Rice left behind. On Friday night, he was right.