“40 minutes of hell! 40 MINUTES OF HELLLL!”
Late in the second half of a 71-62 victory over Boston College, pockets of UMass fans started screaming the message that had flashed across the TD Garden screen during their team’s hype video. Despite their enthusiasm, it wasn’t accurate.
UMass waited until the second half to unleash nearly 20 minutes of pure hell on BC. It was all the Minutemen needed. BC had ridden strong, solid defense and smart offense through Olivier Hanlan to a 32-24 halftime lead. Nearly every important statistic was working in BC’s favor. The Eagles held an 18-6 advantage inside, double-teaming Cady Lalanne and forcing him to give up the ball. They had 14 points off turnovers to UMass’ five. They held UMass to 27 percent shooting from the field. But they only had an 8-point lead to show for it.
“In the first half, defensively, we couldn’t have played any better against a really good offensive team,” said BC head coach Jim Christian
Christian said he and his team were disappointed in the slim margin, but they didn’t show it when they got back on the court. Sophomore forward Will Magarity started ahead of Eddie Odio in the second half. On BC’s first possession he lazily swung the ball to Hanlan at the top of the key and UMass’ Derrick Gordon intercepted it on the way to an easy layup. Trey Davis stole Aaron Brown’s inbound pass seconds later and, even though BC still had a 4-point lead, the game was effectively over. You could sense it.
“We have to understand that there’s two halves,” Christian said. “When you play good teams they’re going to ratchet it up. That’s where our team hasn’t figured that out yet. We have to take our game to another level. More poise, more composure. Stay with the same things that you did defensively, and we just broke down in the second half. We let a couple plays deflate us.”
UMass trapped harder—slapping the floor during big scoring runs—and center Cady Lalanne shut down BC’s attempts at the rim even when the Eagles broke through the press, but Christian and Hanlan both put the blame on their own team.
“I think guys were just less focused,” Hanlan said. “I feel like in the first half guys were locked into specific things they had to do off of the press. We were getting easy looks and the offense was flowing, but in the second half guys got tired and we started making more mistakes, and that led to turnovers and easy buckets.”
Those first half statistical advantages for BC were rendered meaningless by the end of the game. UMass fought its way to 49 percent shooting overall, completely ignoring the 3-point line and dominating BC inside and in transition. The Minutemen finished with a 38-28 advantage inside and a 14-4 advantage of fast breaks.
BC has four days to regroup before it gets New Mexico in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip Off. Schematically, the Eagles are fine. Former head coach Steve Donahue spent years developing a motion offense, but in two games, Christian already has the ball moving nearly as well as it did last year when the offense was 30th in the nation. It’s also much simpler. There are a few cuts and off-ball screens before Hanlan gets put in a pick-and-roll and tries to create. BC doesn’t need to waste its time getting more creative than that.
Hanlan nodded his head knowingly when he was told after the game that the Eagles are only shooting 15 percent from deep.
“I feel like it’s just a mentality thing,” he said, adding that if they focus more those shots will fall.
A crippling snowball effect lost the Eagles this game. It wasn’t scheme. They panicked as UMass amped up the pressure, and that rattled every defensive principle that had given them an 8-point lead. Guys started biting for shot fakes. They started reaching and bumping ball-handlers on defense, even though the refs were blowing their whistles like crazy.
They lost control. BC let two minutes in purgatory turn into 20 minutes of hell. Donahue spent four years trying to get this program to answer when it got punched in the mouth. Through two games and endless emphasis, Christian doesn’t have his guys there yet either.
“It’s a toughness thing,” Christian said. “It’s a mental toughness thing. We should’ve came out and played even harder and made a statement.”
The sooner they embrace that mentality, the sooner these wins will come.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor