Nervously fidgeting with the collar of his jacket, Matt Milon sank deep into his chair at the first press conference of his collegiate career. Having just torched Harvard’s defense for four 3-pointers and 16 points on just seven shots, you wouldn’t blame him for considering the media a more daunting opponent. He needn’t have worried—everyone just wanted to understand how a shooter gets into such a groove.
“When you see that first shot go in, your confidence just goes up, like tremendously,” Milon said.
Led by Milon’s outburst, Boston College men’s basketball (3-0) raced out to its best start since 2008-09, igniting its outside shooting in the second half to pull away from Harvard (1-3), 69-56. Against a defense that had conceded just 12 threes all season, BC nearly matched that in one game, drilling 10 triples and shooting 42 percent from deep, 20 percent higher than Harvard had allowed entering the afternoon.
Latvian freshman Ervins Meznieks hit three triples of his own, scoring 12 points on just five shots, forming a dynamic duo with Milon. “Today was a big Ervins game,” head coach Jim Christian said. “He can make threes and they weren’t guarding the four-man.”
The Eagles made a huge offensive turnaround after entering the locker room at the half trailing 20-16. After shooting a paltry 24 percent, with just two free throw attempts, the Eagles shot 50 percent from the field and took 27 free throws in the second half, making a concerted effort to get the ball near the basket.
The Crimson focused the bulk of their defensive attention on Eli Carter, as Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker had 6-foot-8 forward Agunwa Okolie guarding BC’s offensive leader for much of the night. The first half frequently featured a stagnant BC offense, with Carter, who didn’t score in the first half, often forced to take tough, out of rhythm jumpers. After the break, BC adjusted to Harvard’s defensive focus, beating the defense with ball movement and spacing. Meznieks and Milon were the main beneficiaries of this focus, with both players often left open with the extra defenders that Carter drew.
Despite finishing just 3-for-14 from the floor, Carter again proved to be an offensive catalyst. After seeing how Harvard was defending him, Carter switched tactics after the break, utilizing his passing skills more frequently. He picked up four assists in the second half, including a gorgeous cross-court feed to Meznieks for a wide-open corner three to secure the outcome of the game in the final minute.
“Even if he’s not putting the ball in the basket, he’s putting pressure on the defense all the time,” Amaker said after the game.
Starting two freshman guards, Harvard continued to exhibit the offensive struggles that have plagued the team all season. The Crimson finished the game with 16 turnovers to just 12 assists, with freshman point guard Tommy McCarthy putting up a particularly brutal line of zero assists and five turnovers.
Christian credited the stellar defensive performance to increased aggression from his perimeter defenders. “I didn’t think in the first two games that we played, we were very aggressive on the perimeter, we were almost cautious,” he said. “I thought we were a lot more aggressive today.”
Even the much-maligned Dennis Clifford’s performance escaped criticism. The 7-foot senior tallied a career high 12 rebounds, 11 of which came on the defensive glass, where he prevented Harvard from extended possessions and finding any sort of rhythm. “I thought this was as hard as Dennis has played since I’ve been here, to be honest with you,” Christian said.
In a day of encouraging performances, perhaps the lone negative takeaway was that BC’s glaring lack of depth in the frontcourt was showcased again. Behind Clifford, redshirt freshman Idy Diallo drew the ire of Christian by fouling out in just six minutes. Foul trouble was a significant issue for the BC frontcourt all afternoon. Diallo’s struggles meant that freshman Johncarlos Reyes was called upon for nearly 10 minutes of action.
Harvard immediately attacked the skinny center, repeatedly dumping the ball inside to center Zena Edosomwan, who made six of his eight total field goals while Reyes was guarding him. Edosomwan finished with a team leading 20 points and nine rebounds.
Despite the dominant effort down low, he also made just four of his nine free throws, emblematic of Harvard’s team wide struggles from the charity stripe. The Crimson made just 9-of-23 free throws in the contest, much to the dismay of Amaker. “I’m disappointed we didn’t put in a little better effort on the little things to win a game like this,” he said.
While BC must clean up the fouls, on the whole, the performance of his young team has given Christian great hope for the future. “This team has more ceiling than the team I had last year,” he said. “There’s just more room for growth here.”
Part of that growth happened during the game, with Milon taking over with his shooting. With his smooth, left stroke, he’s a player that figures to hold a prominent role on this team in the coming months. If his performance from this game is any indication, he may have to become comfortable with the media room very quickly.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor