Perimeter Defense Plagues Eagles in Loss to Hokies

The crowd at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. grew increasingly concerned by the minute. As Boston College men’s basketball whittled a once massive Virginia Tech lead to single digits, both the home fans and coach Buzz Williams could feel the game’s momentum quietly beginning to shift. After Ky Bowman threw down a vicious coast-to-coast slam dunk and drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key on BC’s next possession, which cut the Hokies’ lead to 66-65, there was no longer anything quiet about the comeback.

After Chris Clarke missed a wild layup attempt, the Eagles raced up the floor, trying to take their first lead of the night. Off of a pass from Connar Tava, Jerome Robinson launched an open 3-pointer from the wing. The shot went halfway down, swirled around the rim and cruelly popped back out, denying BC its best chance to wrest control of the game away from Williams’ squad.

Burdened by an early 18-point deficit, the Eagles’ fell 85-79 to Virginia Tech (16-5, 5-4 Atlantic Coast) on Sunday, in a game the Hokies led from wire to wire. The loss, the team’s fifth in a row, dropped BC (9-13, 2-7) to 0-4 in conference road games.

“This game came down to 10 minutes,” head coach Jim Christian told reporters after the game. “The first 10 minutes of the game they punched us in the mouth. You can’t do it. You can’t dig a hole like that.”

Three Up

1.) Jordan Chatman—The Brigham Young transfer had a night for the ages, scoring a career high 30 points and shooting 9-of-11 from beyond the arc. Draining the first nine threes he attempted, Chatman tied Dana Barros’ school record for 3-pointers made in a game and set a conference record for most consecutive made 3-pointers to start a game. His effort carried the Eagles in the first half, where his 21 points mitigated the damage done by  Bowman and Robinson combining for only two baskets in the frame.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Chatman’s performance was the seemingly ordinary nature of it. Aside from one difficult pull up jumper, all of his baskets were catch and shoot 3-pointers, five of which came from the corners. He didn’t force anything, simply moving within the offense and taking advantage of open space on the court.

Though Chatman can undoubtedly score the ball—he’s now shooting a blistering 44.4 percent from downtown—he relies heavily upon his teammates to get him the ball as he moves about the floor. There’s something particularly fun about watching such a player go on a hot streak. His teammates constantly look to get him the ball, whipping crisp passes to their resident sniper. It even seems highly enjoyable for the players, a phenomenon seen with the Warriors and Klay Thompson, a player who gets most of his shots from ball movement. Five different Eagles assisted a Chatman 3-pointer.

Here, Chatman takes advantage of Virginia Tech’s aggressive defense, which often leaves the weak side exposed and ripe for exploitation via ball movement. As the ball swings to Bowman on the wing, Chatman slices to the vacated corner—with four Hokies near the paint and one guarding Bowman—and knocks down a practice shot.

While the Hokies effectively keep the ball from being entered into the area near the free throw line, with feverish denial, they can be attacked along the baseline. Here, Nik Popovic tightropes along the baseline and finds Chatman open in the weak side corner as his defender drops down to contain the drive. This pass, which the Bosnian freshman made twice in the game, was an effective way to take advantage of Williams’ defensive style.

Finally, this clip shows a brutally efficient way to generate an open 3-pointer. As Tava beats his man off the dribble, driving into an open paint, Seth Allen must make an unenviable decision: fulfill his responsibility as the weak-side help defender, stepping in front of Tava and leaving a scorching hot Chatman alone in the corner, or tend to Chatman and concede an open layup. Allen follows his assignment, stepping in front of the driving graduate transfer. At the same time, Tava whips a pass to Chatman in the corner, catching the Virginia Tech senior guard too far out of position. The outcome of the shot is basically predetermined before the ball even arrives in Chatman’s hands.

2.) Offensive Rebounding—The Eagles secured 12 offensive rebounds on Sunday, tied for their most in ACC play. Facing a Virginia Tech frontcourt that utilized a player taller than 6-foot-7 for just 10 minutes, BC managed to take advantage and generate crucial extra possessions in a game where their opponent shot a scorching 59.1 percent from the field. Mo Jeffers—who has sneakily been an excellent offensive rebounder in ACC play, ranking third in the conference in individual offensive rebounding rate per kenpom.com—grabbed four offensive boards and extended several other possessions with one handed tapouts, a la Tyson Chandler.

In the first clip, Jeffers grabs a missed layup by Bowman amid four black jerseys. He then shows strength, finishing through contact and earning a 3-point play opportunity. In the second clip, he grabs the rebound, immediately pivots and puts up a shot, earning the basket on a goaltending call. Though the Eagles didn’t take advantage of their extra chances the way they should have—Robinson in particular missed two layups immediately following offensive rebounds—these possessions allowed BC to generate easy looks at the basket, including several wide open threes against a scrambled defense.

3.) Jerome Robinson Finishing In The Paint—Robinson finished with 17 points, on 7-of-15 shooting. While his perimeter touch was off for the entire game—he failed to make a 3-pointer for only the fourth time this season—he made 5-of-8 shots in the paint, which was necessary for the Eagles, as all of their other players combined to shoot just 5-for-15 in the paint.

While his pick and roll abilities were largely neutered by Virginia Tech’s zonal defensive tendencies, he showcased his ability to attack off of the catch. In both of the above clips, Robinson utilizes a solid pump fake, before turning to his left, taking two dribbles and either lofting a soft floater or attempting a layup with his right hand. He frequently goes to his left after pump fakes, before coming back to his right hand to finish.

However, Robinson is also quite comfortable going to his right, as these two clips show. He displays excellent body control on these layups, able to snake into the lane and create an angle for himself to finish the layup without showing defenders too much of the ball.

Three Down

1.) Early 3-Point Defense—BC fell into a 36-18 hole 13 minutes into the game, a deficit from which they could never recover. While it’s true that Virginia Tech made nearly every shot they took in this stretch, the Eagles’ defense played a role in allowing the Hokies open shots, particularly from long range. Virginia Tech made all five of their 3-pointers during this ultimately decisive portion of the game, with each shooter catching the ball with several feet of open space in front of him. Three of the shots came from the corner. While one came off of a beautiful cross court pass from Justin Robinson across his body, which any defense usually doesn’t mind conceding, and two came from smart player alignment that broke down the Eagles’ defensive coverage, two of the shots were simply inexcusable.

On the above play, Allen inbounds the ball on one side of the floor and then meanders over to the weak side corner. The ball rotates to find him almost immediately, as the Eagles have somehow forgotten to cover a 48.4 percent 3-point shooter.

 

Here, Ahmed Hill is left alone for several seconds outside the 3-point line after popping out of the paint. Chatman doesn’t want to leave Allen after seeing his shooting prowess earlier and Bowman starts to head to the corner before realizing how open Hill is. Again, BC ignores a player shooting over 40 percent from long range and allows an extremely clean look at the basket.

While the 3-point defense improved after this stretch—though the Hokies shot 12-of-18 from beyond the arc—this early stretch of poor attention on the defensive end of the floor ultimately doomed the Eagles.

2.) Ky Bowman Finishing In The Paint—While his backcourt mate found success in the paint, Bowman struggled mightily. From a poor shooting performance—the freshman point guard shot just 5-for-18 from the field for 17 points, though he did have 10 rebounds and four assists—Bowman’s 2-for-7 shooting in the paint merits further attention.

After a nice cut into the middle of the zone, Bowman turns to the basket and misses a makeable right-handed layup.

On this attempt, Bowman spins to his left hand in a crowd of three defenders and forces up a tough shot with his right hand, the one closest to the defenders. While the aggressiveness is certainly good for BC, this might be the type of shot that he takes less frequently as he grows more comfortable in the college game, instead looking to use the attention focused on his penetration to get teammates an open shot.

 

Here, Bowman isolates on the bigger Zach LeDay after a switch. He finds himself jumping off of his left foot for the layup, despite being on the left side of the hoop, where a right-footed jump is more common. Slightly off balance, he then compounds the problem by trying to finish the play with his right hand, which is very close to the body of his defender, instead of with his left hand, where he can use his body to shield the ball and get the it onto the glass. Again, this play will likely be fixed in time, as the game slows in Bowman’s mind and he’s a bit more in control of his body.

Finally, this miss signified that it just wasn’t Bowman’s night. The freshman uses a nice Eurostep to cross in front of Allen, but leaves the layup a bit short on the front of the rim. If Bowman can play a little more controlled and be more consistent with his finishing, he will be a nightmare to contain in the paint, with his athleticism opening avenues for shots that just aren’t available to normal players.

3.) Foul Trouble and Defense In The Paint—Virginia Tech entered the game making 55.3 percent of their 2-point field goal attempts in ACC play, tops in the conference, and that continued against the Eagles, who generally struggled to contain the Hokies in the paint. Virginia Tech made 11-of-17 shots in the paint. Allen and Justin Robinson had several nice finishes at the rim, driving all the way from the perimeter with little resistance. Additionally, though he stands just 6-foot-7, LeDay managed to score in the post against BC’s much larger interior defenders twice.

On this play, LeDay is able to take several dribbles and work his way around the slower Popovic. A lack of help defense from A.J. Turner, who was caught battling under the rim, made the shot easier.

The Hokies also shot a whopping 30 free throws. In ACC play, they entered Sunday night’s game with a free throw rate—the ratio of free throws to attempted field goals—of 38.1 percent, fourth in the conference per kenpom.com. In this game, their free throw rate was 68.2 percent, the highest mark they’ve attained this season. Allen, Hill and LeDay each shot at least six times from the charity stripe.

This inability to defend without fouling, gifting opponents easy points, has plagued BC in conference play. Unless they can halt this trend, wins will continue to be hard to come by.

Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Staff