Much like the perpetual quest for the Holy Grail, Boston College men’s basketball’s search for a win in the ACC has thus far proved fruitless. Fresh off a home loss against Syracuse this past Sunday, BC (7-18, 0-12 Atlantic Coast) will look to rebound as the team travels to Greenville, S.C., this Wednesday night at 7 p.m. to take on ACC opponent Clemson (15-10, 8-5).
Despite consecutive home losses to Syracuse and No. 9 North Carolina, the Eagles seem to be taking steps in the right direction. In both games, the Eagles found themselves with second-half leads. Although they faltered late and failed to find that elusive first ACC win, there has been marked improvement in BC’s play the past two games. The Eagles were able to break a streak of 10 consecutive double-digit losses (all coming against other ACC opponents) against a strong North Carolina squad, before taking Syracuse to the final buzzer.
BC has just six games remaining, two of which are against Clemson. This makes Wednesday’s first matchup all the more important for the Eagles, to either win or at least use this game as a trial run for when they welcome the Tigers on Mar. 5. But in order to win, BC will need to continue to develop its ability to finish strong and protect second-half leads. Even though the Eagles’ NCAA hopes have long since vanished in the rearview mirror, a conference win might provide some consolation for an otherwise dismal year.
The Tigers, however, still find themselves with plenty of reason to fight. With five contests remaining on its schedule, Clemson finds itself on the March Madness bubble. A strong finish for the Tigers could very well result in their first chance to dance since 2011.
Clemson took care of business Saturday night with a convincing 14-point win over Georgia Tech in front of its home fans. A strong defensive effort combined with a dazzling offensive performance from emerging junior star Jaron Blossomgame gave Clemson its eighth ACC win of the year. Three of these wins came in the form of an undefeated homestand against No. 16 Louisville, No. 9 Duke, and No. 8 Miami all in the span of six days. Needless to say, they have accumulated an impressive tourney resumé, which they will seek to improve down the stretch.
BC will look to play the spoiler for the Tigers, who have the seemingly flailing Eagles in their claws, as they hunt down a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Last Time They Played: The last matchup between the two teams took place on Jan. 31, 2015 at Littlejohn Coliseum. That night the Tigers handed the Eagles a 64-49 loss on the shoulders of guard Jordan Roper and his 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting. It was Aaron Brown and Olivier Hanlan leading the way for BC, netting 15 apiece. Overall, it was a frustrating game for the Eagles, who shot only 39.1 percent as a team and turned the ball over 13 times.
Keys to the Game:
1) Stop the Tigers from Blossoming: Clemson junior Jaron Blossomgame has been on a fiery run through the last 11 games. He has scored 17 points or more in 10 of the contests, and has notched 20 or more in six of the last eight. This late push has really legitimized his case for a potential all-ACC selection. The 6-foot-7 forward has the ability to energize his team with feats of electrifying athleticism. He is also able to stretch the floor effectively, shooting 41.7 percent from beyond the 3-point line. The dual threat that Blossomgame poses ensures a difficult matchup for BC, especially with the absence of A.J. Turner, who might have been the ideal defender to try to slow down the scorching Tiger.
2) Starting From the Inside-out: Fifth-year center Dennis Clifford has been a key piece of BC’s current streak of keeping ACC games competitive. While averaging 8.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on the season, Clifford has put up bigger numbers over the last two contests. Over this stretch, the big man has averaged 15 points and 10.5 rebounds a game. The Eagles should look to take advantage of this recent success and make a conscious effort to get the ball into the hands of their seven-footer, allowing him to work his magic. At the very least, with BC’s penchant for 3-point attempts, working the ball into a threatening post presence might effectively draw in perimeter defenders, leading to cleaner looks for others from beyond the arc.
3) Playing a Full Game: The Eagles have not scored more than their opponents in the second half of a game since Dec. 30 against New Hampshire. In their last five games, the Eagles have lost the second halves by a combined 55 points. In last Tuesday’s game against UNC, BC won the first half—the only half BC has “won” during ACC play all year—before watching its lead slip away in the final minutes. Teams have simply been able to figure BC out, and take advantage of observed weaknesses. This indicates that opponents are making effective halftime adjustments, and the Eagles have been failing to compensate and make the necessary alterations. If the Eagles want to climb their way out of the ACC basement in the few games they have remaining, they must start making better on-the-fly strategic adjustments that will allow them to remain competitive in the second halves of games.
Featured Image by Matt Gentry / The Roanoke Times via AP