The screaming and pointing, while forgivable, wasn’t necessary. With five minutes left in in a double-digit game against New Hampshire, the Boston College bench jumped up and screamed, imploring Aaron Brown to look to his right. The steady senior guard had just caught the ball in transition and Patrick Heckmann was darting down the court opposite him. BC’s bench instinctively felt compelled to give Brown a heads up that an easy bucket—a rarity in this game—was available. Rather than follow their orders, Brown just turned his head and looked at them. He was in control.
As his head moved one way, the ball swung gracefully in the other direction, into the hands of Heckmann, who eased it onto the backboard and through the net. As the Eagles logged two more points on the way to a 58-50 victory over UNH, first-year BC head coach Jim Christian extended his fist and exchanged no-look daps with Brown as the reliable newcomer trotted back down the court on defense.
How disastrous could Christian’s opening night in Chestnut Hill have been without the Southern Miss. transfer? Christian brushed off the thought after the game—he complimented Brown’s maturity and reliability, but focused instead on all of the areas in which this team needs to improve before facing a talented UMass squad on Sunday at TD Garden.
BC’s offense was a combination of out-of-sync movements and poorly executed shots. It was especially bad in the first half, when BC shot 25 percent from the field and 18 percent from distance. Brown’s 10 points were pretty much the only bright spot. The Eagles couldn’t convert from the field until seven and a half minutes into the game when Brown scored on a layup off a dirty in-and-out transition move.
“He’s mature,” Christian said. “His leadership was big during that stretch. That’s what he is. He’s a mature guy who’s played a lot of games.”
Star guard Olivier Hanlan needed 19 minutes to finally convert a field goal. He was aggressive, and he contributed from the line, but as hard as Hanlan tried, he just couldn’t get that first ball through the rim. Brown saved him, his new team, and his new coach until Hanlan finally took the lid off the hoop with a drive to the rim.
“Most of those shots go in for me,” Hanlan said. “Everybody misses shots sometimes. Just the flow of the offense—we weren’t moving the ball. I was forcing it sometimes. AB [Brown] was forcing it sometimes. It was just not flowing.”
Hanlan finished the game with 17 points, second to Brown’s 21. While he couldn’t knock down a shot early on, he came out way more aggressive than he did in any first half last season. Rather than deferring to teammates, Hanlan kept his eyes on the rim looking for opportunities. If anything, he may need to ease up a bit for the sake of the offense going forward. BC totaled 20 assists in both of its exhibition games, but posted only five tonight and had just one at halftime.
“The way we played in those exhibition games wasn’t like this,” Hanlan said, adding that he forced it too much coming off ball screens and that BC needs to swing the ball better to increase the assist total.
Brown wasn’t concerned with the offense after the game. He knows that defense needs to be the focus for this team, and he was pleased with the effort. The rebounding needs to get better to finish off possessions—boxing out looked optional for BC in the first half—but this team’s defense looked way more cohesive and fundamentally sound. UNH doesn’t have much of an offense. That doesn’t take away from BC’s ability to stay on the floor for shot fakes and effectively hedge and recover on ball screens.
Those are the things that mattered to Brown tonight. He knows this team lost winnable games last year because it couldn’t get stops. Christian, Hanlan, and Brown all said the offense will be better. They’ve seen it run smoothly.
“Offensively the shots were there,” Brown said. “We forced some bad ones early on, but in the second half there were open shots we’ve got to make.”
Christian thought his team played a little crazy tonight on offense. It wasn’t how the Eagles had looked in the preseason and that disappointed him. But his message to his players after the game was simple.
“The only thing you can hope for after the first game is to be 1-0,” he told them.
Where would they be without Brown? Luckily for them, they don’t need to ask that question.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff