In order to entice fans to attend more of the school’s games, the Boston College athletic department implemented the Gold Pass rewards system this year. Even the chance to earn points for games like Friday’s BC-BU hockey duel cannot always convince students to brave the cold October winds at the Newton Soccer Field on a weekday, though, and forget about any game not on the Gold Pass—for those, BC can barely get more than a handful of supporters.
The students who do come out for these under-the radar-games can sometimes get a sweet treat, however. And sweet it was for the 300 or so fans in attendance watching the BC men’s basketball team dominate the AIC Yellow Jackets, 92-53, in an exhibition game in Conte Forum on Thursday evening.
In their first showing in under new head coach Jim Christian, the Eagles took over in every facet of the game. Defensively, BC stifled the Yellow Jackets’ attack, holding them to a measly 29.1 field goal percentage. During the first half, the Eagles completely shut down AIC’s offense, allowing only 19 points from six field goals on 28 shots. Freshman Idy Diallo shone in his collegiate debut by grabbing eight rebounds—all defensive—in merely 14 minutes. Christian’s tight man-to-man defense also forced 14 turnovers while not allowing AIC star Marcus Porter to score on any of his nine shots.
On the shooting side, the Eagles excelled. Junior guard Olivier Hanlan picked up where he left off last year, shooting 8-10 from the field for 19 points in only 21 minutes. Forward Aaron Brown showed off in his first official action since transferring from Southern Mississippi, shooting 61.5 percent for a team-high 21 points. Senior guard Patrick Heckmann also played a major role in the offensive dynamic, notching 14 points and a team leading six assists.
“I feel like the offense was flowing pretty good,” Hanlan said afterward. He noted the contributions of center Dennis Clifford, who is finally healthy after two injury-plagued seasons. “Having him on offense helps whenever you can pass the ball down low and give different cuts, so having a true five down low really helps us a lot.”
Christian seemed pleased with the way his offense spread the ball around to each player, as the Eagles had 22 assists on only 34 baskets. “You know you’re playing the right way,” Christian said. “That’s the goal.”
More than anything, though, this team showed that its strength comes from its communication. While on defense, the Eagles coordinated smoothly, shouting at each other to pick up another’s man or to watch out for the open guy on the three-point line. This transitioned well to the offense, where each BC player’s loud calls for the ball or when to set a pick reverberated throughout Conte Forum off the backs of the empty seats. Even from the bench, the players vocalized well, cheering for their teammates, warning them of incoming defenders on their blind sides and so on.
Christian led this vocal charge, booming out orders to his players while pacing back and forth menacingly with an unwavering look of contempt. The funny and personable man vanished when toeing the sidelines, becoming a drill sergeant with a firm resolve to achieve perfection from his players. His assistants, most notably Preston Murphy, captured Christian’s enthusiasm by shouting their own commands.
Despite Christian’s intimidating presence, he sometimes took on the role of a compassionate instructor. When Diallo blew his coverage and allowed an easy layup early in the second half, Christian immediately called a timeout—while the other coaches gathered the team in the huddle, he took Diallo aside to show him exactly where to place his hands to best succeed for the next possession.
This mentality to constantly teach one another has allowed team leaders to emerge even when not on the court. Christian spoke particularly highly of Brown and fellow transfer Dimitri Batten. “They have changed how we practice, they’ve changed the mentality in which we play, they’re the first guys to talk up, they’re like GA’s to me,” he said.
Christian hesitated to say this game will provide an accurate indication of how BC will play this year in an always-tough ACC, given that AIC is a Division-II opponent. The stats-minded coach set exact goals for his team in turnovers, rebounds, and other categories. “When you play exhibition games, you just want to see if there’s carryover to what you’ve been working on,” he said. “Some things I thought we carried over very well, some things we did not.”
No one can deny the strong sense of camaraderie Christian has established. As Heckmann said of his teammates, “We want to play for each other.” Once the games officially count, fans will see whether this team-centered attitude will translate to more wins for the Eagles.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor