For an overtime thriller between two teams fighting to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, Wednesday night’s game between Boston College men’s basketball and Virginia Tech wasn’t all that close for most of the second half. The Hokies (16-6, 5-4 Atlantic Coast) led the contest for 54 percent of the game and held a double-digit lead for much of the second half. It turns out, all BC (13-9, 3-6) needed was a few technical fouls to get back in the game.
1) Technical Fouls
With 16:47 to go in the contest, BC found itself down nine points, 40-31, and struggling to keep up with a suddenly ascendant VTech offense. Fortunately for the Eagles, Steffon Mitchell forced a turnover, sprinted down the court, drove to the lane, and lofted a layup through contact—but the freshman didn’t get the call or the shot to fall. The Eagles bench went insane, and head coach Jim Christian—who had not received a technical foul during his four-year BC tenure—exploded. He rode the ref in front of him, screaming as the Hokies went back down the court, following the man in stripes along the sideline. He was asking for a tech, and he got it. VTech got two free throws, sunk them both, and went up double-digits—so they had the momentum—right?
Wrong. Here are how the next five offensive possessions went for the Eagles: 3-pointer, 3-pointer, 3-pointer, airball 3-pointer that Mitchell rebounded and laid into the hoop, 3-pointer. Unquestionably, that scorching hot stretch from the field is what got the Eagles back into the game. With a minute to go and the Hokies leading by five, Jerome Robinson, playing one of the best games of his collegiate career—which is really saying something considering the season he’s had—dribbled down the court in transition, launched a 3-pointer in traffic, while being fouled by Justin Bibbs. The Hokies were displeased to say the least. Chris Clarke did enough talking to prompt one of the guys who mops the floor down on other end to stop swabbing the deck and signal for the junior to get T’d up. He did, and five Jerome Robinson free throws later, a five-point lead turned into a tie game—a dominant VTech second half had effectively been flushed down the drain.
2) Jerome Robinson
Let’s quickly hit the highlights of Robinson’s night: 8-of-16 from the field, 4-of-9 from beyond the arc, 12-of-13 from the free throw line, five rebounds, five assists, and a season-high 32 points. Without Robinson, there’s no way the Eagles would’ve been close in this game. BC’s first-half lead can be credited entirely to the junior, who scored 13 points and went 3-of-5 from 3-point land. His partners in crime, Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman, struggled for a good portion of the game, and Robinson was there to pick them up. Going 7-of-7 from the charity stripe with one minute left to tie the game—one that looked lost just five minutes before—was quite the feat, regardless of the final score. Suffice to say, when he got his open 3-pointer at the end of regulation for the win, everybody in the building thought it was going in.
3) Free Throws
BC averages just over 13 made free throws per game. Robinson took 13 of his own on Wednesday night. The mid-week performance was one of BC’s best, as far as finishing through contact, drawing fouls, and getting to the basket are concerned. The Eagles finished 20-of-25 from the line on the game, with Bowman hitting all four of his attempts. Those 20 points gave BC the boost it needed: The Eagles came up short of their season averages both from the field and beyond the 3-point line. Without the aggression that earned them 25 shots from the charity stripe, it’s unlikely BC would have forced overtime.
Nik Popovic went 5-of-8 from the field, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. He had a tough defensive assignment—we’ll get to that—and yet he frequently was able to link up with Bowman in the pick and roll a few times, further opening up the BC offense. By timing his screens well, he found himself a couple dunks and layups to boost the Eagles’ offense when it mattered most. As dependent as BC is on Robinson, Bowman, and Chatman, Popovic’s improved play gives the Eagles a bit more balance on the offensive end of the floor.
The extra period was a nightmare for the Eagles. They went 1-of-5 from the floor, and their free throw shooting—they managed to go 7-of-8 from the charity stripe in the extra frame—was all that kept this one close in the five-minute frame. The second half was a thing of offensive beauty for Christian’s guys: they shot both 50 percent from the field and from 3-point land, in addition to scoring 15 points off seven Hokie turnovers. Of all the Eagles, Bowman made the biggest stride, shooting 50 percent from the field himself in the latter portion of play. BC’s comeback was valiant, but regardless if the group just ran out of gas defensively in overtime or took its foot off the gas due to regulation’s heartbreaking finish, its extra-frame performance could very well come back to haunt the Eagles down the stretch of this season. VTech went 5-of-7 from the field and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc in stark contrast to the Eagles’ struggles. Christian said after the game that every conference home game is vitally important, and he’s right, but BC didn’t really play with the necessary focus during overtime to protect its home court.
Speaking of focus, the lone blemish on Robinson’s stat line is his seven turnovers. The Eagles as a team gave the ball away 16 times, 10 of which came on Hokie steals. BC got itself back in the game by forcing seven second-half turnovers, but its own ball security deficiencies cost it the game. The Hokies teed up nine more shots than the Eagles did and five more 3-pointers. Giving an opponent that many more chances to beat you is a recipe for disaster, and it’s the reason the Eagles lost this game. In the first half, VTech shot 36.1 percent from the field, even though it took seven more shots than BC did. Instead of taking advantage of the Hokies’ putrid shooting—atypical of a team second in the nation in field goal percentage—the Eagles turned the ball over eight times, gifting 10 points to VTech. Rather than entering halftime with the slim lead it had held for much of the first, BC went into the break down five without any momentum.
3) Ky Bowman’s Shot Selection
The other reason the Eagles went into the half reeling is that, down two with the clock ticking down in the period, Bowman called his own number, sized up his defender, took a few crossover dribbles, stepped back, and took a contested jumper with enough time remaining for the Hokies to comes back down the court and sink a triple. His shot hit the front of the rim, and VTech promptly stormed down the court and nailed an open transition 3-pointer to take a five-point lead into intermission.
Bowman is extraordinarily talented, and Hokie coach Buzz Williams praised the high-level shooting he and Robinson displayed after the game, but there are times where the sophomore relies too heavily on his jumpshot. He went 3-for-11 in the first half, including just 1-of-7 from 3-point land. Shooters shoot, and the only way a shooter can get out of a slump is by shooting more—just ask Jordan Chatman, who went 2-of-7 from the field and 1-of-5 from deep, virtually ending up as a non-factor beyond the fear he instilled in defenders. But Bowman couldn’t find his mark in the first and essentially shot his team out of the lead. His second half was much more typical: Bowman attacked the rim more, got to the free-throw line, got his stroke back, and shot 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. The point guard nearly finished with a triple-double: 22 points, nine rebounds, eight assists. This is nit-picking his game, since he responded exactly how he needed to in the second half, but perhaps he needs to work on making those adjustments in-game rather than at halftime so that his team doesn’t have to wait for its red-haired phenom to find his rhythm before it starts a comeback. BC needs to find more offensive balance when Bowman struggles from the field, and that begins with identifying the problem early and not just jacking up contested mid-range jumpers while the opponent jumps out to a lead.
Bonus: BC’s Defense
The Heights doesn’t manually track every movement of BC basketball games—surprising information, but it’s true. So this observation is based a tad more on the eye test, but VTech came alive in the second half shooting the ball. The Hokies went from shooting 36 percent in the first half to 46 percent in the second. They went from shooting 26 percent from beyond the arc in the first half to shooting nearly 42 percent in the second. The biggest reason for that increase was the Eagles’ inability to close out on the 3-point line. BC’s sagging unit could have simply been fatigued, but regardless of the symptoms, the breakdowns have to be concerning for Christian and Co. Justin Bibbs hit four critical 3-pointers, all of which stymied the Eagles’ momentum at various significant junctures. Beyond that, BC also got pummeled down low: the Hokies scored 26 points in the paint to the Eagles’ 20, and Kerry Blackshear Jr.—VTech’s center—got whatever he wanted in the second half, hounding Popovic, who, up until then, held his own. Blackshear Jr. scored 14 of his 20 points in the latter stages, including four in overtime. The lone bright spot was the 10 turnovers BC forced, but Christian is going to need to take a closer look at a defense that looked vulnerable for much of Wednesday night.
Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff