With less than a minute left in overtime and the game knotted at 65 apiece, Eli Carter took two dribbles to his left before putting on the brakes, pump-faking, and drawing multiple defenders into the air. The airborne Wildcats could only watch as Carter, the leading scorer for Boston College men’s basketball, absorbed the ensuing contact, earned a whistle, and flipped up a prayer that knocked off the glass and in. Any hopes of the University of New Hampshire (7-6) recovering from this three-point play were squashed by four subsequent Carter free throws that sealed a BC win in the game’s final seconds.
It was far from pretty, but the Eagles (7-6) escaped with their fourth consecutive win at home against the Wildcats on Wednesday, 72-67, behind 28 points from Carter, the graduate transfer guard. Jerome Robinson added 14 points and five boards, and Ervins Meznieks hit a pair of clutch triples down the stretch in yet another strong performance from the Latvian freshman, who has just been inserted into the starting lineup—BC is 4-2 since the move.
BC’s youth was on full display against UNH, with the most glaring rookie mistake coming in the final seconds of regulation during the play that forced overtime. But to fully understand the carelessness of that hiccup, we need to look back at the first half.
The Eagles began the game largely according to head coach Jim Christian’s typical plan, save for miserable defensive rebounding. BC exploited the height advantage against its America East opponent by working the offense through 7-foot center Dennis Clifford, which also opened up opportunities for the guards on the perimeter, where BC started 3-for-3 from downtown.
Clifford also controlled the paint on defense, recording seven rebounds, four blocks, and disrupting many more shot attempts with his gargantuan frame. But the impact of Clifford and backup center Idy Diallo was lessened due to foul trouble—a recurring problem this season—forcing Christian to insert smaller, guard-heavy lineups that struggled to defend against a Wildcat team that loves driving to the hoop.
As is the case with many matchups between undisciplined teams, Wednesday’s back-and-forth battle was a game of runs, featuring seven lead changes and three ties. An 11-point BC lead quickly vanished, and UNH rattled off nine straight points to capture its first lead of the game before the halftime buzzer. In fact, the last shot of the half was the first major mistake by this inexperienced BC squad.
With a handful of ticks left on the clock, Wildcat guard Jaleen Smith dribbled the length of the floor—unguarded—and hoisted up an open trey as time expired. The nearest defender was more than an arm’s length away, despite a situation that calls for blanket defense in the final seconds of a half.
Fast forward to late in the second half, BC controlled the game with just seconds remaining and a victory at its fingertips. Carter had caught fire for four straight points in the final minute of regulation, leaving the Wildcats with a three-point deficit and 17 seconds remaining. Smith—the same man who hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer at halftime—received the ball just outside the arc and buried a 3-pointer that tied the game with 7.3 seconds left. The nearest defender was in Newton.
With the last possession, the Eagles chose Robinson to be the hero. He brought the ball up the length of the court, spun around two defenders, and…traveled. Turnover. Overtime against UNH—a rival in men’s hockey, but in basketball, one that BC has never lost to at Conte Forum.
Any seasoned team would know to hug the 3-point line in that scenario to prevent a game-tying triple, or to at least get a potential game-winning shot off at the final buzzer. It’s lessons like these that are hard for Christian’s squad to stomach, but will benefit the group when they face off against ACC juggernauts like No. 15 Duke University, who the Eagles play on Saturday in their first conference game of the season. They’ll follow it up with a game against the University of Notre Dame. And then one at Syracuse University. And then versus No. 13 University of Miami. In fact, BC’s first 12 games are against teams with a 9-3 record or better as of the conclusion of BC’s game.
Of course, these mistakes didn’t cost the Eagles a win against the Wildcats. Clifford and Carter provided huge late-game defensive stops and buckets in overtime to clinch the victory. Carter carried the team with 20 points in the second half and overtime, including the and-one play with just over 30 seconds remaining that was the exclamation point on his big night.
But what happens when BC and its young lineup show their true colors against league powerhouses like Duke, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Virginia?
Or, perhaps a more important question: What happens when the senior leadership that keeps this team afloat packs their bags next year and moves on?
Right now, Christian has one of the most difficult jobs in college basketball with balancing the old and young in his program. Every minute he chooses to plug in freshmen in favor of his senior stalwarts, he loses the much-needed consistency and level-headed decision-making that they provide. But with each minute of playing time he grants Carter and Clifford—who often steal looks from the rest of the team by nature of their game—the future of BC basketball is muted, setting up the Eagles for years of learning lessons the hard way as they did in Wednesday’s ugly victory.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor