Early season basketball brings a supposedly massive advantage to major conference teams, who face a spate of games against teams in conferences that the casual fan has probably never even heard of. Opportunities to perfect a new offensive set or hone key defensive principles should abound, with minutes to spare for walk-ons that will likely be glued to the bench after December.
But for Boston College (3-0), the first half of Tuesday night’s game against Sacred Heart (0-2) offered none of those benefits. The tiny Northeast Conference school hit its first six shots, jumping out to a 13-5 lead, and remained in front for 17:58 of the first half. Defensive miscues left the Eagles scrambling around the floor and opened clean lanes to the rim.
Fortunately for BC, the second half brought great improvements. Renewed defensive vigor—matching an effort that had held opponents below 35 percent shooting over the team’s first two games—and better long range shooting lifted the Eagles to a 19-3 early second half run, en route to a 73-53 victory. Sophomore Ky Bowman offered the highlight of that stretch, with a vicious dunk on which Sacred Heart center Mario Matasovic made a business decision in the paint, deciding not to challenge the high-flying point guard and risk eternal embarrassment.
The win marked the second time in three years that BC has started the season 3-0.
1.) Teddy Hawkins’ Post Game—Save for the last few games of Dennis Clifford’s collegiate career—when the oft-injured seven-footer finally realized his potential—the Eagles have lacked a consistent scoring threat in the post during the majority of Jim Christian’s tenure in Chestnut Hill. In his lone season on the Heights, Hawkins seems hell-bent on singlehandedly changing that narrative.
On Tuesday, the Illinois State graduate transfer dropped 22 points—just two away from his career high—and snared eight rebounds. Hawkins hit a trio of 3-pointers, showing the silky shooting stroke that enabled him to shoot 44.3 percent from downtown last season. But more importantly, he also scored five buckets from the post.
Hawkins’ post baskets were of two varieties. Several times, after catching the ball with his back to the basket, he pivoted into a face up scenario. Drawing heavily from the Carmelo Anthony playbook, he would then hit his defender with a jab step, before rising into a 15-foot jumper along the baseline.
Alternatively, Hawkins’ other move after catching the ball was to take two hard dribbles with his left hand, moving towards the middle of the floor, before turning over his left shoulder and putting up a soft righty jump hook.
All five of Hawkins post baskets came from the right block. After the game, Hawkins explained why he’s so comfortable shooting shots—especially the jump hook—from that area.
“That’s my sweet spot,” he said. “I’ve been doing that move since I was in high school.”
2.) Bowman Scans the Floor—Bowman finished Tuesday’s game with 14 points on just 6-of-16 shooting, struggling a little to score efficiently given the heavy defensive attention focused on him by Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina. But despite his scoring difficulties, Bowman’s floor game looked as good as it ever has. The sophomore dropped seven dimes, the second most of his career, and committed just one turnover.
“When [Bowman] comes off the ball screen the last two games, there’s almost like three guys boxing him in,” Christian admitted after the game. “So he’s got to see what’s open.”
Bowman did an excellent job leveraging the attention directed at him into high percentage, open looks for his teammates. In transition, he ran the floor at a measured pace, keeping his eyes up, mapping the location of the retreating defenders. On the break, he dropped assists to Nik Popovic, Steffon Mitchell and Vin Baker Jr., each time recognizing that his path to the rim was blocked by multiple bodies and that this decision had invariably left a teammate open.
Bowman also showcased a burgeoning pick and pop chemistry with Hawkins. With Sacred Heart using their big men to help corral guard penetration off of screens, Bowman realized that the paint was sealed off. Instead of forcing a wild attempt, he instead read the defense and whipped lightning quick passes to Hawkins near the 3-point line for open shots, getting the ball to the graduate transfer before the help defense could arrive.
3.) Steffon Mitchell, Lunch Pail Player—Mitchell finished the game with 13 points and nine rebounds, quality stats for a freshman coming off the bench. But it was Mitchell’s relentless hustle plays that made his impact on the game much larger than those numbers. He grabbed three offensive boards and had two steals and a block, in addition to numerous deflections and dives on the floor for loose balls.
Sprinting down the floor in transition and slicing into the lane in the half court, Mitchell made himself open, creating an easy target for Bowman and Jerome Robinson. And once the ball was in his hands, the freshman had only one goal in mind—get to the rim. An and-1 layup from Bowman on the fast break late in the second half illustrated this mindset perfectly, as Mitchell bowled over a Sacred Heart defender standing in the lane to finish the play.
Christian was also highly impressed by Mitchell’s defensive acumen, particularly on plays where BC had switched a smaller guard onto a post player.
“He recognized when they were trying to post that guy who had the mismatch,” the coach said. “And he would just come down and double it.”
Mitchell attributed his play to a burning desire to help his team win.
“Every ball that I’m able to grab, I want it,” he said after the game. “I’m trying to give us one more extra possession for us to win.”
1.) Sluggish Early Defense—Though Sacred Heart finished the game shooting 35 percent from the field—and an embarrassing 23.3 percent in the second half—they started off extremely hot, sinking their first six shots. BC trailed 13-5 four minutes into the game.
“We started the game very unsound [defensively],” Christian said. “We blew switches in the first half, we missed some rotations.”
On Sacred Heart’s second possession, as the Pioneers walked the ball up the floor, Popovic fell far behind his man, Matasovic. Hawkins was closer to the opposing center, but moved to pick up his usual assignment in transition, as Popovic hadn’t alerted him to the situation. The miscommunication resulted in an uncontested layup for Matasovic.
The Pioneer’s next trip down the floor brought about another defensive miscue, as Joseph Lopez set a pick along the sideline for Charles Tucker. Popovic, guarding Lopez, stepped out to Tucker, hedging the ball screen as part of the team’s gameplan. This strategy temporarily leaves the rolling big man open, relying on help defense rotations to take away an unimpeded cut to the rim.
Unfortunately for BC, help only belatedly came from Robinson on the play, as Lopez waltzed down the lane for a bucket. Christian called timeout in disgust immediately afterwards.
Hawkins felt that the defensive issues were largely based upon communication errors and should be largely correctable in the future.
“We came in at halftime and we told each other that we’ve got to talk,” he said bluntly.
2.) Robinson’s Struggles—BC’s star guard shot a woeful 1-for-14 from the field, finishing with just four points. The junior had trouble getting his jumper to fall and forced numerous difficult shot attempts around the rim, often in the midst of several Sacred Heart defenders.
After the game, Christian was rightfully not too concerned, as a player of Robinson’s caliber will likely not have more than a few clunkers like this one in a season. In fact, he paid more attention to the impact that the poor shooting effort had on the result of the game.
“If [Robinson] went 1-for-14 in past seasons, we lost,” Christian said. “If he goes 1-for-14 and we win by 20, it says a lot about where our team is growing.”
Indeed the coach has a valid point. That kind of statement immediately takes fans back to BC’s embarrassing 65-63 home loss to Hartford last December, in which Robinson shot just 2-for-13.
3.) Popovic in Foul Trouble—The Eagles’ center fouled out in just 13 minutes Tuesday night, much to the dismay of Christian, who must’ve been seeing visions of former BC player Idy Diallo—who fouled out in less than 10 minutes three times during the 2015-16 season. BC needs Popovic to be a key rotation player this season, as the starting center. The Bosnian’s penchant for committing fouls has the potential to seriously derail the team’s offensive progress. Whether or not Popovic can avoid the temptation to aggressively challenge everything near the paint should be an interesting subplot for this team as the season progresses.
Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff