BROOKLYN, N.Y.—You can’t stay in your element forever, at least not according to Jim Christian.
The head coach of Boston College men’s basketball knows his team lives and dies by the 3-pointer on offense and defense. Entering the day, the Eagles had a shooting percentage of .341 from beyond the arc. That’s not a standout number by any means—the Eagles shoot almost exactly middle of the road at 169th—but long-range jumpers often end up as the key to their victories. On the other hand, the Eagles have trouble stopping the 3-pointer. Opponents shoot .360 from that distance when going up against a defense that has struggled at times.
Enter Fordham University, a team that shoots .408 from 3-point range—18th best in the nation—while holding opponents to a mere .279 shooting percentage from downtown. Put those two numbers together, and you could handily expect a long day for the Eagles.
After Tuesday’s game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, throw out what you know about both teams. The Eagles (6-6) shifted their focus from 3-point range to inside, outscoring the Rams (9-2) 28-14 in the paint. Meanwhile, BC stifled a difficult Fordham attack that, entering today, averaged 81.4 points per game, coming away with a 64-55 win in the ACC-A10 Challenge.
It wasn’t an easy start for BC on the home court of the Brooklyn Nets. Head coach Jeff Neubauer teaches his Rams to wreak havoc defensively by employing a press trap throughout the game. Neubauer keeps one man in the post and two on the wings, while having his other two defenders circle around the 3-point line, flying at the ball handler. When BC guards Ervins Meznieks, Jerome Robinson, or Eli Carter had the ball, Fordham often double-covered them to try and force a turnover instead of allowing one to come naturally.
The Eagles initially stuck to their aerial attack. But Fordham kept their hands up, forcing BC to make bad and contested shots, especially in the first half. This took many of BC’s bench players out of the game from a scoring perspective, like 3-point experts Matt Milon and Meznieks. Carter in particular struggled, missing on his first several shots before knocking down a late second-half 3-pointer and going 2-of-9 from the field overall. In total, BC hit only 3-of-18 shots from 3-point range, a 16.7 percent clip.
When that plan was stifled, the Eagles moved to protecting the ball and attacking the paint. BC prevented live-ball turnovers, something that has plagued this young team early in the season. A lot of their success inside was courtesy of Idy Diallo, who put up his best game at BC. The redshirt freshman connected on all three shots in the first half, splitting time with center Dennis Clifford, who had some foul trouble throughout the game.
But by the second half, fans were treated to the Jerome Robinson Show. The freshman, who has sparked Christian’s youth movement, put up 19 points, including 13 in the second and a perfect 7-of-7 from the free throw line. Robinson credited the victory to his team’s ability to exploit Fordham’s frantic defense. By overselling on the guard at the top of the arc, the Eagles could exploit the gaps in Fordham’s formation, driving to the basket for quick lay-ins, relying on second or even third options offensively.
“Once we started attacking the paint, we started getting easy buckets,” Robinson said.
BC also frazzled the Rams’ offensive strike, in what Christian called his team’s best defensive game of the season. The Eagles stayed patient, allowing Fordham to make a mistake if one was to come—BC never let the Rams lead by more than two points, and that came on the first shot of the game.
Christian’s squad also locked down on ball screens, doubling the ball just enough to put Fordham’s lead decision makers in a place to force bad passes. That created a lot of frustration for the Rams, whose nine-game winning streak was snapped by this feisty Eagles team.
“I think Boston College’s post defense and then their ball screen defense was terrific today,” Neubauer said.
Meanwhile, Christian avoids looking at the little things, preferring to focus on trends.
“If you try to look at individual games,” Christian said, “you’re going to be disappointed or overly encouraged.”
In this game, Christian saw those incremental steps. Yes, the shooting wasn’t where he would like it, but the Eagles got better from the charity stripe and the defense showed stunning improvements. And that’s just the kind of step-by-step growth that this youthful team will need heading into conference play just one short month away.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor