Men’s Basketball’s Defense Falters at Providence

Boston College men's basketball

Last season, Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson caught Providence by surprise. When Friars’ head coach Ed Cooley’s team made the trip up to Conte Forum last December, the dynamic duo had certainly made their talents known, but had yet to vault themselves into the conversation for best backcourt in the ACC. Bowman had only recently emerged as the undisputed top point guard for BC head coach Jim Christian—forcing fellow freshman Ty Graves to transfer—and Robinson hadn’t made the greatest impression when playing Providence in 2015, as he was still overcoming the effects of the infamous norovirus outbreak in Chestnut Hill.

With the Eagles trailing by seven after the first three minutes of the second half, the team’s rapidly blossoming backcourt helped engineer a 41-14 run over the next 13 minutes, securing a comfortable win over the Friars. Bowman and Robinson combined for 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting for the game.

But this year—with the Eagles’ guards squarely in Cooley’s sights—there would be no more surprises. Buoyed by a first half in which they held Robinson and Bowman to 3-of-10 shooting, Providence (5-1) defeated Boston College (5-2), 86-66, on Saturday night. With the victory, Cooley’s team improves to an impressive 49-2 record in home non-conference games during his tenure.

Providence—a team that entered the game shooting 47.4 percent from 3-point range, second in the nation—finished the night shooting 59.3 percent (32-of-54) from the field and 55.6 percent (10-of-18) from beyond the arc. The 86 points surrendered by the Eagles were a season-worst.

“That’s the part that was disappointing,” Christian told reporters when discussing the lack of defensive success after the game. “Don’t get me wrong, Providence is a very good team. But that wasn’t the way we had been playing.”

Despite the final outcome, BC actually kept the game relatively close in its early moments, even with the lack of scoring from its vaunted backcourt. Providence spent most of the first half in various zone defenses. Realizing that this strategic choice left the Friars without individual box out assignments on shot attempts, the Eagles crashed the offensive boards. Exploiting this traditional weakness of zone defenses, BC grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the half—including three for Bowman and five for Teddy Hawkins.

Ten minutes into the game, the Eagles held a slim 23-20 lead. Hawkins—who finished the contest with 19 points and 12 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season—carried the team through this stretch, scoring 13 points, including a few of his patented right-handed jump hooks.

But as BC’s offensive rebounding fell through at the end of the half, the team struggled to score effectively in the half court. Meanwhile, on the other end of the court, Providence got whatever shot it wanted, as jitterbug point guard Kyron Cartwright, who finished the night with 14 points and nine assists, ran the floor in transition and got his teammates into the right spots. The Eagles also had a hard time maintaining defensive fundamentals when Providence players pump faked, leaving their feet numerous times, surrendering open jumpers and driving lanes to the rim.

After a Hawkins 3-pointer, shot from several feet behind the line, gave BC its 23-20 lead, the Friars blew the game wide open with a 19-6 run over the following six and a half minutes, taking a 39-29 lead on forward Jalen Lindsey’s third triple of the first half.

Providence entered the locker room at the half with a 44-35 lead, as the teams exchanged buckets in the final few minutes of the opening frame. The Friars hit 7-of-10 3-pointers in the half, while BC managed to connect on just three of their 14 long-range attempts. Robinson—who finished the game with 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting—failed to make a basket in the first half.

The second half began much like the end of the first, with Providence using a 12-4 spurt to extend its lead with 15 minutes left on the clock. Cartwright scored or assisted on every field goal during the run, carving up BC’s interior defense with a variety of decisive moves off the dribble.

The Eagles would never cut the deficit below double digits the rest of the way, trailing by as many as 22 points. Though Bowman—who finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists—and Robinson combined for 21 of the team’s 31 second-half points, it was too little, too late for BC.

Bowman remained aggressive until the final buzzer sounded. He had an acrobatic and-one layup, where he jumped, dropped the ball down, all while avoiding the reaching arms of two Providence players, and finished through contact. Soon after, he stole a Providence pass near BC’s own basket and went coast-to-coast for a one-handed slam. He also finished the game with five offensive rebounds, relentlessly attacking the glass any time the Friars switched into a zone defense.

By the end of the contest, two main disparities stood out—3-point shooting and bench scoring. The Eagles shot just 21.7 percent from downtown, while their opponents scorched the nets at 55.6 percent. Additionally, Cooley’s reserves outscored Christian’s reserves, 23-8.

Though the lack of offensive production off the bench is hardly a new problem for BC, it stands out on nights like this one, when Robinson struggles to find his shot and Jordan Chatman fails to make a basket. This team certainly has the talent to play close games with well-respected teams, but a huge burden rests on the shoulders of Bowman, Robinson, and Hawkins to be nearly perfect every night, given the team’s lack of depth.

As the clock ticks down to the Christmas holidays—bringing with it the start of conference play—along with shoring up the defensive miscues that uncharacteristically appeared against Providence, this lack of scoring balance will be the primary issue Christian’s team must face. And if an answer can’t be manufactured, consistency in the ACC will be very difficult to achieve.

Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff