Notebook: BC’s Backcourt Bounces Back, but Defense Cannot Contain UNC

Conte Forum sold out for Boston College men’s basketball’s Saturday afternoon date with North Carolina. The crowd featured a mix of gold and maroon and a whole lot of Carolina blue. But one additional color overshadowed the rest—red.

Several BC fans donned Ronald McDonald-esque wigs to support the red-headed Ky Bowman. While the freshman has experimented with three different hair colors (yellow, red, and black) this season, his play has consistently reached another level when dying his hair red. He simply catches fire.

After briefly switching to black for Wednesday night’s game against No. 16 Virginia, in which Bowman scored just seven points and the Eagles lost by 17, the floor general returned to red. And just like that, he returned to electrifying form.

Bowman tied his career-high of 33 points in BC’s valiant 90-82 loss to the No. 9 Tar Heels (18-3, 6-1 Atlantic Coast). Despite dropping its third consecutive game, the Eagles (9-11, 2-5) hung with the country’s fourth-highest scoring team for 40 minutes.

Three Up

1) Back(court) in the Swing of Things

BC’s offense is dictated by the play of underclassmen guards Jerome Robinson and Bowman. Prior to Wednesday, the two were averaging nine and six points, respectively, in their past two games. As a result, the team was blown out by both Syracuse and Virginia. Against UNC, the pair combined for 51 points.

Bowman set the tone early with a 3-pointer, giving the Eagles their first points of the day. The shot foreshadowed what was to come. The North Carolina native, who originally committed to play football for the Tar Heels, knocked down 7-of-9 shots from 3-point land in front of his childhood team.

Robinson struggled to find a rhythm in the first half. The sophomore shot 2-of-8 from the field, mustering five points. As a result, BC found itself down by 10, deep into the first half. Right then, Bowman proved why head coach Jim Christian calls him a “catalyst”—by sinking two triples, driving for a basket, and slamming home an emphatic dunk, he single-handedly erased the Eagles’ deficit.

Whenever BC needed points, Bowman came to the rescue. Whether it was a nifty lay-in, clock-beating 3-point shot, or game-changing dunk, the 6-foot-1 guard did everything he could to keep his team in the game. And eventually his wingman, Robinson, started to click.

The ACC’s fourth-leading scorer shot his way out of a funk, draining two 3-pointers and scoring a total of 13 points in the final half of play. Nearing the halfway point of the second half, Robinson made a statement. After stealing a UNC pass, he split the Tar Heel defense, leapt a few feet in front of the charity stripe, and delivered an angry one-handed jam.

Versus any other team, 50-plus points from a team’s two leading scorers would most likely ensure a victory.

2) Energy Level

The Eagles looked lethargic in their Wednesday night loss to the Cavaliers. Besides a career-high performance from Jordan Chatman, there was nothing positive to take away from the game. Shortly into the first half, BC was confronted with a large UVA lead. In terms of effort, the players shut down.

In response, Christian addressed his team. And it worked.

Every Eagle who took the court on Saturday knew what it would take to beat a top-10 team—everything. Diving left and right for loose balls, Christian’s crew left it all out on the floor. Even when the game was all but over, Bowman and Chatman drilled two treys on back-to-back possessions.

“I was so disappointed after Wednesday night because that’s not who we are, that’s not how we play,” Christian said. “To me, this is who we are, this is who we have been.”

At times, shots weren’t falling for players like Robinson and A.J. Turner. But they didn’t let their shooting woes take them out of the game. Instead, they looked for the open man, rebounded, and hustled to every play.

“I thought the Virginia game we became deflated,” Christian said. “Guys weren’t making shots. Guys weren’t playing right. They wouldn’t play hard enough. And tonight when we made mistakes, we played through them, and we played harder. That’s maturity.”

3) Mo Jeffers

Mo Jeffers played his best game of the season. If you look at the stats, you wouldn’t know: six points, five rebounds, and three blocks. But his defensive presence was far greater than any number. Occasionally, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, or Tony Bradley would get by Jeffers in the paint.

But there were times when the undersized forward dominated the interior.

Almost three weeks ago, Jeffers fouled out against Wake Forest, having played only eight minutes. He was tasked with guarding Dinos Mitoglou and could not stop the 6-foot-10 Greek without fouling. On Saturday, Jeffers was the heart of the Eagles’ defense, constantly challenging the three-headed beast, that is Meeks, Hicks, and Bradley, for 27 minutes of play.

Three Down

1) Getting to the Line

BC struggled to get to the foul line. As a whole, the team was 6-of-7 from the line—identical to Hicks’ numbers. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels consistently drew whistles when driving to the hoop. Shooting 24-of-29 from the strip on the day, more than a quarter of UNC’s points came uncontested.

The discrepancy in free throw numbers could be attributed to the undersized Eagles’ frontcourt. Tava and Jeffers stand at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-9 apiece. Those two had the responsibility of guarding the likes of Meeks (6-foot-10), Hicks (6-foot-9), and Bradley (6-foot-10). It’s only natural to foul when you have a bigger body penetrating the lane.

Regardless, the frequent trips to the line slowed down BC’s high octane offense, potentially disrupting its momentum.

2) A Tale of Two Defenses

In the first half, the Eagles limited UNC to just a shade under 39 percent from the field, including a mere 25 percent from 3-point territory. Coming into the game, the Tar Heels were making close to half of their shots in their 17 wins.

BC’s 21st ranked 3-point defense forced UNC inside—something that this guard-led team is not used to. The backcourt duo of Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II entered the game averaging a combined 33.8 points per game. The two perimeter shooters were relatively quiet in the first period of play. They weren’t the only ones who couldn’t find a rhythm. Not a single UNC player eclipsed the eight-point mark in the first half.

Additionally, the rebound battle remained a stalemate going into halftime. For BC, this was a win within itself, as the Tar Heels are the nation’s leaders on the glass. Both UNC and BC hauled in 22 boards.

But as the teams reconvened for the final 20 minutes of basketball, everything changed. Head coach Roy Williams’ group started heating up. Jackson and Berry II hit clutch 3-pointers, and Meeks and Hicks put in work on the inside.

In the end, four Tar Heels (Jackson, Meeks, Hicks, and Theo Pinson) finished in double figures, and the team bumped its field goal percentage up to about 47 percent. UNC’s 90 points—56 of which came in the second half—extended the team’s scoring tear. The Tar Heels have now scored 85-plus points in six straight ACC games for the first time in team history.

3) Second Chance Scoring

As the rebounding advantage shifted toward the Tar Heels, they began to capitalize on second chance scoring opportunities. This especially hurt BC near the tail end of the game. On back-to-back UNC possessions, Pinson targeted his teammates’ missed shots, snuck into the Eagles’ interior, and put them back with ease.

Just as BC was trying to make its move, it could not get a stop, largely because the Tar Heels had multiple scoring chances each time they ran down the floor.

Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Staff

 

 

About Andy Backstrom 136 Articles
Andy is the assistant sports editor for The Heights. He is from the suburbs of Philly, but has been an Arizona Cardinals enthusiast since the first grade. Every so often, he'll replay Super Bowl XLIII on Madden to exact revenge on his father's beloved Steelers. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyHeights.