Dimitri Batten doesn’t go to the postgame press conferences, and his name doesn’t stick out on the box score, but his gritty and disruptive defense transcends any statistic. He didn’t hit the game-winning shot, but he epitomizes the culture of the program and symbolizes the biggest reason why Boston College (13-18) advanced past Georgia Tech (12-19), 66-65, in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
“The resiliency of the team the last three weeks is what I’m really proud of,” head coach Jim Christian said.
Watch how the 6-foot-3 guard plays on every possession, and you’ll start to notice BC’s incredible ability to bounce back.
“My role is to bring the toughness and be the momentum of the team,” Batten said “Once I play hard everybody else plays off of me.”
Before the game began, Batten set the tone as the starters were being announced. Rocketing off of his seat, he soared through the tunnel of teammates, leaped into the air, and bounced off Garland Owens like a spring uncoiling all of its pent-up energy at once.
In the game, he hit the floor more than anyone. While contesting a layup, Batten took a forearm straight to the nose and was sent to the bench to recover. Later, he was sent crashing to the floor by an almost unfair screen from the 276-pound body of Charles Mitchell.
The Yellow Jackets bullied and beat up Batten throughout the afternoon, but with the game on the line, the bruised guard was there to jump a passing lane and feed Olivier Hanlan down court for the easy layup to put the Eagles up one with 41 seconds left.
“We knew it was game by then,” Batten said.
Of course, the game wasn’t over then. Tadric Jackson hit a jumper with 28 seconds to play to put Georgia Tech back up by one, and BC had to rely on the magic of Hanlan to deliver a victory.
Seeing a switch on defense and a new mismatch, Hanlan attacked Robert Sampson, hitting him with a pull-up jumper from the baseline with 10 seconds left.
Georgia Tech’s game plan was clear from the start of the game: utilize all 545 pounds of Demarco Cox and Mitchell.
“We really wanted to emphasize getting the ball inside and controlling the glass and I thought we did a good job of that,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said.
On the boards, the Yellow Jackets had the obvious advantage. Lacking both size and depth in the frontcourt, BC is only one of three teams in the ACC with a negative rebounding margin.
The stats tell this tale: The Yellow Jackets finished with a 43-26 rebounding advantage over BC, including 19 offensive boards, and scored a whopping 28 second-chance points.
“I thought their second effort to the ball was greater than ours tonight,” Christian said.
Time after time, a loose ball in the air tipped off a BC player’s hand, and a Yellow Jacket snatched it up while Christian threw his arms up in the air. But for each mismatch the Eagles had on the boards, they made up for with the offensive play of their guards.
Despite an off-night for Aaron Brown—the forward couldn’t attack the rim with regularity, settling for poor shots and finishing with only three points—the BC backcourt clearly held the advantage over Georgia Tech. Hanlan and Heckmann finished 25 and 19 points, respectively, and shot a combined 45 percent from the field.
“I have that mismatch on offense, but also I’m the mismatch on defense,” Heckmann said. “It evens out.”
The mismatches on both sides, and the game plans that form around them, mask the intangibles of BC that led the team to a fourth straight victory.
“We believe in ourselves now when we go into every game,” Heckmann said. “We know we can win and we’ve proven that. Everything has come together a little more, and that has helped us.”
“The team just continues to compete, fight, and stay together,” Christian said. “And obviously at the end of the game, you put the ball in the hands of a special player, he makes a play, and you’re lucky to win.
For this tournament, Christian took a page from the playbook of the great Jim Valvano, a former head coach of NC State.
“You don’t have to play great to advance in tournament play,” Christian said. “You just have to advance.”
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor