A reporter once asked former UCLA Bruins and Indiana Pacers shooting guard Reggie Miller how he broke out of shooting slumps. The premier marksman responded, “Shoot like there is no slump.”
Wednesday night, it might have been beneficial for Boston College men’s basketball if Eli Carter didn’t abide by that advice. Mired in a four-game rut, in which he shot 26.5 percent from the floor and made more than two shots just once, the graduate transfer danced his way across the floor, following one step-back jumper with another. And one after the other, the shots clanged away, including one particularly excruciating miss that twice rolled around the rim before falling out.
Bogged down by Carter’s woeful 1-for-17 shooting, the Eagles (7-19, 0-13 Atlantic Coast) fell 65-54 to Clemson (16-10, 9-5), thwarted in their quest to finally win a game in 2016.
Buried beneath Carter’s struggles was one of the most complete efforts BC has put together in conference play, with all other players combining to shoot 54.1 percent. Dennis Clifford was particularly impressive for the third straight game, finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds. He even swished his first 3-pointer of the season.
Despite falling behind 14-5 early in the first half, the Eagles roared back with an 8-0 run in which they exploited Clemson’s pick and roll defense, which suffered lapses all night.
BC really excelled at quickly moving the ball when two defenders went to harass the ball handler, leading to easy layups and dunks for their big men. Clifford benefitted from this movement all night, with three dunks coming on nearly identical sequences.
Garland Owens joined in on the dunking, with his nightly highlight, corralling a slightly errant pass from Ervins Meznieks for an alley-oop after a nice back cut.
Defensively, BC opened up with a 2-3 zone, which it used quite frequently all night with the goal of keeping Clemson’s athletic wings out of the paint. The zone worked better than it had all season in the first half, keeping Clemson from driving into the paint and forcing the Tigers to keep the ball on the perimeter. Clemson took 14 three-point shots in the half and shot just 33 percent from the field.
Despite this, the Eagles led just 34-31 going into the locker room at the half. Much of that had to do with Clemson’s prowess on the offensive glass, where it battered an undersized BC team to the tune of nine offensive rebounds and seven second chance points.
Additionally, Clemson picked up easy points in transition, where the Tigers could attack the Eagles before the zone was fully set. The tempo led to some easy post-ups for junior forward Jaron Blossomgame, who played all 40 minutes and scored a game-high 23 points. Blossomgame also dropped the hammer on Clifford with a fastbreak dunk late in the first half.
The first half saw a concerted effort among BC players to pass the ball quickly and decisively, as well as move off the ball. This helped to offset Carter’s 0-for-7 shooting.
In the second half, Clemson’s defense really clamped down. After a Clifford dunk with about 15 minutes remaining put BC up 41-37, the Eagles went ice-cold from the field and scored just 13 points over the remainder of the contest.
A lot of the credit should go to Avry Holmes, who played tremendous defense on Carter and also scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half. Holmes played Carter physically, getting into his body and disrupting the timing and movement of the BC offense.
Then, with the shot clock winding down, he forced Carter into tough isolation shots. While Carter often voluntarily takes such low-percentage shots, Holmes did an excellent job of walling off his driving lanes.
While the offense stalled out, Clemson finally began to solve the zone. The key proved to enter the ball to Blossomgame near the middle of the zone, where he could either drive to the basket or post up his man. His strength and array of floaters was too much to handle for the Eagles’ interior players.
A Donte Grantham 3-pointer with 12 minutes left that gave Clemson a 45-43 lead put them in front for good.
The Eagles’ disjointed offense took care of the rest, committing eight of its 11 turnovers in the half, with Clifford’s four giveaways blemishing an otherwise outstanding night. These gave Clemson easy transition opportunities, which helped them to put the game out of reach, especially on a night when the Tigers were struggling to make any jump shots.
A night like this one highlights how much the Eagles miss Jerome Robinson and his ability to create his own looks. With Carter in a horrible slump, another player who could take the ball and make plays for others would have been highly useful. As it stands, Carter is the only active player capable of doing so. While his shot selection in the game was fairly indefensible, it’s still important to note that likely no one else on the roster would’ve created better looks in those late-clock isolation situations.
And so the hunt for a conference win continues. The hope of a victory should only increase after this game, due to both the Eagles’ weaker remaining competition and the consistent effort and intensity the team showed. While it was lacking in some of the early conference games, this marked the third straight game that BC held a second-half lead. Additionally, if Carter had shot anywhere near his average—37.8 percent—this game would have been significantly closer.
All streaks must come to an end. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they’ll have to wait at least another game to snap theirs. If they can adopt Carter’s mantra, playing like they’re not in a slump, that first victory may not be that far off.
Featured Image by Alec Greaney / Heights Editor