With less than three minutes to go in Sunday afternoon’s game at Louisville, Boston College men’s basketball head coach Jim Christian inserted Jerome Robinson back into the lineup—a controversial decision to say the least. Minutes earlier, the junior hobbled off the court with an apparent hamstring injury. And although he seemed healthy enough to play, there was little to no point in bringing him back into the game, considering that the Eagles were trailing by 17 points at the time—or so everyone thought.
Over the course of the next two minutes and 15 seconds, BC turned what was an 18-point blowout into a one-possession game, thanks to a barrage of 3-pointers and a couple of timely Louisville misses at the line. But, when it really mattered, the Cardinals got their act together at the charity stripe, and the Eagles lost their touch from outside. Six straight Louisville free throws iced a bizarre 77-69 Cardinals victory—their fourth in a row.
Both teams traded field goals in the first 84 seconds of play, but that was hardly an indication of what was to come. Neither side could find its footing for the first seven minutes of the period. In fact, BC (13-7, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) and Louisville (15-4, 5-1) mustered a total of just 16 points during that span, shooting a combined 5-of-19 from the field. The only reason the Cardinals were in the lead was because they were forcing turnovers and feasting on the offensive boards, effectively creating easy looks at the basket.
Eventually, the Eagles’ backcourt kicked the offense into gear. Ky Bowman scooted by the 7-foot Anas Mahmoud and finished at the rim, despite being fouled. Completing the old-fashioned 3-point play, the sophomore tacked on the free throw. Then, it was Robinson’s time to shine. The Raleigh, N.C. native drilled a mid-range jumper and, a few possessions later, made a beeline for the rack, getting the layup to go, all while absorbing contact. It wasn’t long before he drove to the lane again, drawing a handful of Cardinals defenders, but this time he didn’t go up for a shot—instead, he kicked it back out to Steffon Mitchell for a wide-open 3-pointer. Nik Popovic capped off the 12-0 run with a move in the post over Deng Adel to put the Eagles ahead, 17-11, midway through half.
Luckily for Louisville, freshman Jordan Nwora was the spark it desperately needed. Immediately after checking in around the 10-minute mark, the forward—who entered the game averaging a mere five points and having never logged more than six in an ACC game—made an impact. Scoring from everywhere on the court, Nwora recorded 11 of the Cardinals’ next 13 points, during a stretch in which they outscored BC by nine and retook the lead.
The Eagles lost whatever momentum they once had as their guards, namely Bowman, repeatedly turned the ball over. As a team, BC coughed up the rock 10 times in the period. Accounting for 19 of BC’s 29 first-half points, the duo of Bowman and Robinson made a push at the end of the half, but Louisville was there every step of the way, going bucket for bucket with the guards. Fittingly, Nwora got the last laugh, netting a pair of free throws before the break to give the Cardinals a 31-29 lead.
After missing 20 of its first 30 shots, Louisville’s offense finally settled in at the start of the second half. The Cardinals opened the period with a 15-4 run, led by the likes of Deng Adel and Malik Williams. Adel, who was a non-factor in the first frame, racked up 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists in the back half of play. At times making Bowman look silly, the junior punished the Eagles from beyond the arc and in the lane, frequently throwing off BC’s defense with dribble-drive penetration.
Just like last year’s meeting between the two ACC foes, the Eagles were falling apart in the second period, but they weren’t done yet. Down 46-33, a balanced scoring attack of Robinson, Bowman, Jordan Chatman, and Nik Popovic willed BC back within five points of Louisville. A couple minutes later, though, the Eagles’ run was virtually erased. Behind V.J. King and Adel, the Cardinals worked their lead back up to 14 with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Bowman—who finished the game with seven turnovers—continued to struggle with ball security and ill-advised shot selection. Chatman, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he has been in the past, launching a mere seven shots in the first 35 minutes of regulation. There was no stopping the Louisville offense and, after Robinson limped off the court, the Eagles’ were severely hampered on the offensive end.
All of a sudden, with under three minutes to go, BC came back to life. Staging an incredible comeback—one in which the Eagles drained four triples in the span of a minute and 20 seconds—Christian’s team silenced the KFC Yum! Center. Notably, Chatman hit his only two 3-pointers of the game during that stretch. Unfortunately for BC, he needed one more to keep its hopes alive.
With the loss, the Eagles moved to 1-5, including 0-3 in the ACC, on the road this season. BC has consistently stumbled out of the gates when playing outside of Conte Forum, and, on occasion, simply hasn’t looked like itself. After topping Florida State on Monday night, Christian talked about how important it is to win at home in the ACC. But the Eagles’ postseason fate largely rests on whether they can steal a few games on the road.
Featured Image by Timothy D. Easley / AP Photo