Out of the six major conferences in men’s college basketball, only two teams are winless in conference play. Those two teams are Boston College men’s basketball (7-19, 0-13 Atlantic Coast) and Rutgers. The 2016 calendar year still has yet to see a win for the Eagles. They will try to change that on Sunday night as they head to Winston-Salem, N.C. to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (10-14, 1-13).
In short, it has been a rough year for the Eagles. Though a rebuilding year was anticipated, there were not many who expected it to be this bad. The reasons for the struggles are everywhere. The roster is incredibly young, with a whopping eight true freshmen. Two of the best freshmen, A.J. Turner and Jerome Robinson, have suffered injuries in the past month, leaving an already young team severely undermanned. Lately Eli Carter, the team’s de facto leader, has struggled to score efficiently.
But the season must go on, and the Eagles have proved to be capable at times. BC has dropped its last three games, but all of those have been close, and the Eagles have even taken one of the nation’s best teams, UNC, down to the wire. The game against Syracuse, the first full game without Turner, was close until a couple of decisive defensive lapses in the second half. Just this past Wednesday, the Eagles played one of their best team games of the season, leading Clemson for much of the game and getting very strong performances from Dennis Clifford and Sammy Barnes-Thompkins. While those two excelled, Carter floundered, shooting just 1-for-17.
Over the past five games, Clifford has looked like the player that so many envisioned when he arrived in Chestnut Hill. Much maligned by injuries throughout his career as an Eagle, Clifford has averaged a 14 and 10 over his last four games. Despite an off night on Wednesday, Carter has had to carry the team for much of this season, averaging almost 16 points. Opposite Clifford, Carter’s past five games have been rough, scoring just nine per game. Without the combo of Turner and Robinson, players like Barnes-Thompkins, Matt Milon, and Ervins Meznieks have been left to fill their void. Those guys have all had their moments this season, but none have been consistent enough for head coach Jim Christian to rely on.
The ACC season has been almost as tough for Wake as for BC. Both teams have 13 losses, but Wake has been lucky enough to win one game, defeating NC State. It was involved in one of the most notable games of the season against UVA, ranked No. 11 at the time. Wake led by seven with 23 seconds left and ultimately lost after missing six free throws down the stretch and allowing three 3-pointers. That is the kind of season it has been for both Wake and BC.
Devin Thomas and Bryant Crawford are the leaders for the Demon Deacons. Thomas, a senior forward, averages a double-double with 15 and 10—however, he’ll be suspended for tonight’s game. Crawford is a true freshman who is the second-leading scorer for Wake, averaging almost 14 per game. Danny Manning’s squad will rely on those two in addition to Konstantinos Mitoglou, a 6-foot-10 sophomore who can step out on the perimeter and shoot impressively for a player his size.
Last Time they Played: BC ended the regular season last year with a 79-61 win over Wake Forest on Senior Day at Conte Forum, good for its third straight ACC win. The major contributors for BC that day were Olivier Hanlan, Patrick Heckmann, and Aaron Brown, who scored 19, 14, and 13, respectively. Wake’s leading scorer was Codi Miller-McIntyre, who scored 24. None of those three will play for BC this Sunday, and Miller-McIntyre has not been great this season. Not much will carry over from last year’s game to this one.
Keys to the Game:
1) Keep Clifford Going: Clifford has really gotten going over the last four games. Most notably, he was a force against the Tar Heels, grabbing 13 rebounds in addition to his 14 points. Without the perimeter presence of Turner and Robinson, Christian has been forced to count more on his interior players. Clifford has done a good job of answering the call as the only consistent interior threat for the Eagles. He repeatedly killed the inside of the Clemson defense on Wednesday off the high pick and roll, which he needs to do again against Wake.
2) Win on the Backboards: Wake has struggled this season, but the Demon Deacons have size and rebounding. As a team, they average 37.5 rebounds per game while BC averages only 31. Some of this difference in rebounds is attributable to the different paces that they two teams play at, but Wake definitely has a size advantage. BC needs to combat that by getting bodies to the ball and boxing out as a team. That will require the whole team to help Clifford out. It will not be an individual effort to defeat the Demon Deacons on the glass.
3) Can Carter get it back?: Eli has been enigmatic all season for BC. He has had great moments, such as his seemingly impossible, fade-away corner 3-pointer toward the end of the game against UNC. Then he has had his share of terrible moments, like his 1-for-17 shooting against Clemson, with 0-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. But the fact remains that he has averaged almost 19 points across BC’s seven wins. So, it seems that as Carter goes, the Eagles go. It is important to remember that despite his struggles the team’s success is tied in large part to how well he plays. The team’s first conference win will not come without a solid, bounce-back performance from its leader.
Featured Image by Keith Srakocic / AP Photo