Fifth-year center Dennis Clifford racked up a season-high 14 points on Friday afternoon, adding five rebounds and a block, but Boston College (3-2) ultimately lost its second consecutive game in the Wooden Legacy Tournament 80-67 against the University of California-Irvine at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym.
Shooting struggles plagued the Eagles, as Clifford and guards Eli Carter and Jerome Robinson combined for 1-of-10 from 3-point range. Irvine’s Mike Best was the game’s leading scorer with 18 points, and 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye chipped in 16 points off of an efficient 7-for-8 shooting.
BC may have still been recovering from its slaughtering on Thanksgiving.
On Thursday, the Eagles matched up against Michigan State University, whose head coach Tom Izzo eyed his 500th career win. But all eyes were on his senior guard Denzel Valentine, who recorded a triple-double in a 99-68 drubbing of BC in the opening round of the Wooden Legacy.
Valentine, a preseason Player of the Year candidate, made his case for the Naismith Trophy once again on Thursday, totaling a career-high 29 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 10 assists for the No. 3 Spartans (5-0).
The Eagles moved the ball well in the first half, dishing out five assists on their first six made field goals and trimming the MSU lead to 23-20 after an Eli Carter layup. The Florida transfer showcased his electric scoring ability, netting a team-high 22 points and four assists to keep BC within striking distance.
Maybe it was the looming milestone victory for his legendary coach, or perhaps it was the vocal presence of Spartan alum and NBA champion Draymond Green sitting courtside, but something clicked for Valentine.
The 6-foot-5 guard hit a pair of threes and scored a quick bucket, singlehandedly sparking an 8-0 run that forced the Eagles to burn a timeout. Valentine didn’t cool off.
He continued to connect from long distance, taking advantage of BC’s zone scheme and lackluster help defense. By the end of the dominant stretch, Valentine had burned the Eagles for 13 straight points over 3:35 to give MSU a 46-33 halftime lead.
BC’s freshman-heavy squad scratched and clawed its way through the opening 20 minutes, doing everything it could to support Eli Carter’s jump-shooting clinic and cut into the double digit deficit. Freshman Jerome Robinson had some strong finishes near the rim and the Eagles finished with 16 assists and 7 turnovers, shooting 47 percent from the floor and 33 percent from beyond the arc. But they ran up against a team chasing history on multiple fronts.
Valentine’s second triple-double in nine days puts the Spartan guard in select company, joining Draymond Green (three) and Magic Johnson (nine) as the only players with multiple triple-doubles in the school’s vaunted history. After entering the break just a few rebounds and assists away from accomplishing the feat, he came out in the second half hungry to finish the deed.
Valentine caught fire, draining three consecutive 3-pointers en route to a 25-11 run to open the half. All alone following a BC turnover, he reared back and finished with a one-handed hammer that put the exclamation mark on Thursday’s strong statement. After the slam, Valentine hustled over to Green on the sidelines, giving the Golden State Warriors’ star a high-five and smirk as if to warn the NBA-er of the volatility of his record.
With 14 points during the early second half streak, Valentine once again flashed his ability to take over a game, a power that the senior will have to tap into when MSU challenges No. 2 Maryland for the Big 10 crown. For now, however, Valentine and company remain focused on the Wooden Legacy, the tournament for which they now own several records. Valentine’s triple double was the first in the tournament’s nearly decade-long tenure, and the Spartans’ 31 point margin of victory was also the largest to date.
”If there’s a better team in the country, I haven’t seen them play,” head coach Jim Christian told MSUSpartans.com after the game. ”They have no bad possessions. They’re very unselfish. They make the extra play.”
At times, the Eagles looked competitive, burying threes and challenging MSU in the paint despite the glaring discrepancies in experience and talent. But the “they-played-well-but-not-well-enough” storyline might be a common one for Christian’s developing team against powerhouse ACC programs. Yet impressive performances from Carter, as well as freshmen Jerome Robinson (nine points, four rebounds) and Sammy Barnes-Thompkins (2-of-3 from deep), continue to give BC hope that a major upset could be on the horizon.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor