College basketball coaches generally draw up a script of plays they’d like to run to begin each game. On the first possession of Wednesday night’s home battle against No. 15 Miami, Boston College men’s basketball head coach Jim Christian had his team run a classic Eagles set that ultimately concluded with a quick-hitting high pick and roll involving point guard Eli Carter and center Dennis Clifford. The action worked to perfection—Carter drew both Miami defenders, and Clifford had a wide open lane to the hoop courtesy of a late rotation from the Hurricanes’ help man. Instead of corralling the pass and jamming it home for the game’s first bucket, Clifford stumbled over his own feet, caught the ball with one hand as he was falling out of bounds, and threw a panicked duck right into the hands of ’Canes guard Sheldon McClellan, who took off the other way for an easy transition bucket. Bing. Bang. Boom.
Far from discouraged, the Eagles scrapped on defense and ran their way to 28 first half points on 52 percent shooting from the field. They would have scored more, too, if they hadn’t barfed up 12 turnovers in that same period.
No matter, the Hurricanes upped their defense—especially in transition—in the second half, showing why they’re the 27th-stingiest outfit in the nation in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions according to teamrankings.com. In the end, BC only managed to score four points in the final seven minutes, and Miami left town with a 67-53 victory in its back pocket. It wasn’t all bleak for the Eagles.
“We crossed a lot of bridges tonight,” Christian said after the game. “I thought we played hard. I thought we guarded.”
Still, BC’s offense fell flat, and their defense—especially on high ball screens—was suspect down the stretch.
Here’s the tale of the tape:
Darryl Hicks, Bumping and Recovering on the Weak Side
In the early going, the BC starters were a tad slow showing help against the roll man on Miami’s high ball screens, and the ’Canes took advantage.
The insertion of Darryl Hicks into the lineup for the Eagles quickly fixed that, rendering the roll man useless. Hicks showed both diligence and patience: diligence by scampering into position to deter the pass to the rolling big and patience by sitting in that spot until the ball handler has passed the rock elsewhere.
Here, his speedy recovery to the weak side is particularly impressive:
Hicks committed three turnovers in succession of one another, but he has proven himself a gritty and attentive defender in limited minutes.
Jerome Robinson Attacking the Rim
As you’d expect from a freshman point guard averaging over 33 minutes per game, Jerome Robinson has had an up-and-down year.
He commands respect from 3-point range and, when he turns the corner, has some moxie around the rim. Robinson isn’t the shiftiest of ball handlers, but when he catches the ball on the weak side of pick-and-rolls and attacks the closeout quickly, the results can be dazzling:
Robinson hasn’t yet put together all the pieces, but he has the tools to be a solid defender, and, if he remains aggressive attacking the basket, he could very well become one of the ACC’s better scorers down the road.
Running Hard on Misses
BC ranks 288th in the NCAA in possessions per game according to teamrankings.com research. For a team that starts 6-foot-5 Garland Owens as its nominal power forward, that number should be much, much higher. (Granted, the Eagles’ relatively low offensive rebounding percentage and grinding half court offense deflate that number.)
Christian implores his team to sprint like thoroughbreds down the home stretch at Churchill Downs when the Eagles grab defensive boards, and Carter has gotten better in recent games about finding his wings up the floor in transition.
BC committed an unhealthy number of preventable turnovers in transition against Miami, but the Eagles did create a handful of easy buckets in the first half amid the chaotic scramble of running from one end of the floor to the other.
In the final 20, not so much.
“In the second half I don’t think we got enough stops to get back out on the break,” Christian said. “When we did attack [on the break], I think we had back to back layups.”
A good transition attack all starts with stingy defense, and BC hasn’t fared too well on that end so far in ACC play.
Eli Carter’s Shot Selection
Carter committed four careless turnovers in the first half but, like the rest of his teammates, buttoned up his ball-handling after halftime. After trying to squeeze a few passes through tight seams on the pick-and-roll, he was much smarter about zipping it back to the weak side wing and seeking better angles to rolling big men. Idy Diallo was the primary beneficiary of the latter.
But, boy, did Miami’s Angel Rodriguez bother him all night. Carter shot 4-for-18 from the field on the evening, and, down the stretch, he hoisted a slew of ill-advised jumpers that all failed to connect.
“At that point in time, every shot’s gotta be a great shot—not a shot you think you can make,” Christian said of the Eagles’ decision-making in the final minutes.
Carter continues to toss up needless pull-up 3-pointers early in possessions, too, like this one from the first half:
Just because the ball goes in doesn’t mean it’s a prudent shot. Carter is a good player, and his rough shooting night was compounded by the fact that many of his teammates spat the ball out to him as the shot clock ticked away—he was forced to take at least three tough jumpers this way. But he could be much more efficient than his percentages indicate.
Ball Screen Defense
The Eagles held Rodriguez scoreless in the first half, but the Miami point guard—who seems to have played college basketball since 2008—eviscerated their defense after the break, primarily by “splitting” screens and knifing into the heart of the BC interior:
“That’s something we do every day,” Hurricanes head coach Jim Larranaga said after the game. “That’s just part of our attack.”
It doesn’t help when Clifford hedges wide and Carter stands upright, like they both do in the above clip. Carter got roasted a few times on side ball screens where he thought he was supposed to send Rodriguez toward the baseline—only Clifford thought they were playing the pick straight up. That’s a communication error that’ll drive a coach crazy.
Miami’s guards split at least two other screens in the second half to create juicy options for themselves and others. BC works hard on defense, but a good team like Miami will make you pay for not shoring up the details.
Ceding Points in the Paint
Miami outscored BC 42-26 in the paint, a product of many factors, including the Hurricanes hitting tough shots around the basket and the Eagles not sending adequate help when their opponent found mismatches in the post:
When you play small, as the Eagles do nearly 100 percent of the time, you have to be on point with every single minute. Even a token swipe into the post from A.J. Turner as he follows his man to the other side of the floor would disrupt Tonye Jekiri’s rhythm on the above play.
The Eagles were better at helping their teammates in the post later in the game, but some players were left on an island for three, four, five seconds at a time.
Miami is a very good team, and they’re well-coached. BC hasn’t lost once this season for lack of effort, but with limited experience, size, and—to be quite frank—skill, they can’t leave any stone unturned if they’re to win games in the ACC.
Featured Image by Savanna Kiefer / Heights Editor