CHESTNUT HILL--With 8:48 to play in the first half here at the Conte Forum, Boston College's Marc Molinski took a pass deep in the right corner and let fly. Swish--three points and a 40-3 lead for the Eagles.
BC Head Coach Jim O'Brien allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs--a big statement from a guy who is notorious for ripping at his tie following every tiny mistake his team makes.
But the moment was brief; O'Brien is not one to gloat. It was hardly two years ago he was on the receiving end, that his team was the one being pummelled mercilessly like Mike Tyson going after Michael Spinks. BC's current reputation as a "power" isn't too old, remember. From 1988 to 1991, the Eagles won just five Big East games while losing 43. Its overall record was 31-56 in that span, and rumors of O'Brien's imminent departure were stirring.
O'Brien knows what it's like to be on the other side of the court, where Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan was pacing furiously and substituting like mad last night. The memories of those days are all too fresh for O'Brien.
"It stinks," O'Brien said. "I could feel for Frank. It's just on of those things, a night where they couldn't do anything right and we couldn't do anything wrong. It's not a lot of fun."
Fun? Fun? Waiting in line to be decapitated is more fun than taking the licking the Eagles laid on the Crimson. Not only did BC lead 40-3, but also 52-7, 72-25 and 79-29 before cruising to its 96-57 victory.
(The comeback was engineered by Harvard's starting five against two freshmen and three walk-ons for the Eagles. Let it never be said that O'Brien tried to run up the score.)
Kids whose ice cream has been stolen from them at gunpoint look happier than Sullivan did after the game. "For an opening game on the road, it was a worst case scenario," Sullivan said. "We couldn't score points, and we couldn't stop them from scoring points."
O'Brien has ridden the roller coaster of success. He's heard talk of his firing, talk which has ended now that he has the Eagles pointed toward the NCAA tournament.
He's made the turnaround from nail to hammer. Sullivan wants to do that, badly. So what kind of advice does O'Brien have for his cross-town counterpart?
Surprisingly, O'Brien cited not recruiting nor the importance of a tough defense, but went after the players instead.
"The key to the whole thing is the players," O'Brien said. "Frank's a very good coach and he doesn't need any wisdom from me. But the players, they have to believe in what Frank's trying to teach them.
"Sometimes, they're going to need a couple of wins to believe, but the kids got to believe in him," the coach finished.
Ya gotta believe--the cry of sub-.500 teams everywhere. O'Brien says it's the key. This is a message players and fans should take to heart. Sullivan's a proven winner--and although whippings like BC doled out are pretty tough to take, it's not time to jump off any buildings yet.
O'Brien is proof positive of it.
John B. Trainer is a Crimson Staff Writer.