Jerome Robinson was right where everyone in the building expected—with the ball in his hands and 25 seconds left on the clock, poised to execute the last possession of a tie game. The junior guard dribbled back and forth through his legs just above the 3-point line, bleeding clock and waiting for the right moment to strike. With 10 seconds left, Robinson drove hard to his right, where Miami’s Lonnie Walker IV cut him off, but BC’s leading scorer had other options, switching hands and springing backwards into a stepback jumper, fading away to his left.
The ball flew softly through the air, silencing the raucous Boston College men’s basketball crowd in nervous anticipation—until it clanked off the front of the rim, shattering that illusion. For a brief second, the fans contemplated suffering the stress of a third-consecutive overtime contest at Conte Forum.
Fortunately, Ky Bowman had other intentions.
The sophomore point guard swooped in to snag the rebound after Robinson’s miss, getting fouled in the process and coolly sinking both shots. With 2.9 seconds remaining, the Eagles had their first lead since early in the second half. After Walker failed to get a desperation heave off in time, the Eagles secured a crucial ACC victory over No. 25 Miami 72-70, improving to 13-2 at Conte Forum this season.
“It was just one of the `Will to Win’ games,” BC (15-10, 5-7 Atlantic Coast) coach Jim Christian said. “We didn’t play great, but we had a great will today.”
The Eagles held Miami (18-6, 7-5) scoreless over the final 6:17, a stunning turnaround for a defense that was torched by Notre Dame on Tuesday—to the tune of 96 points—and surrendered 44 to the Hurricanes in the first half on Saturday.
1) Midrange Maestro
One game after dropping a career-high 46 points on the Irish—the most by a visiting player in a conference game in ACC history—Robinson toyed with Miami’s defense, finishing with 29 points and shooting 10-for-15 from the field and 8-for-9 from the free throw line. But unlike Tuesday’s explosion—where he made seven threes—the junior guard was just 1-4 from beyond the arc. Instead, Robinson spent Saturday afternoon creating space in the midrange and knocking down shots from all angles.
“He makes the shots we want most teams to shoot—off the dribble, non-paint 2-point shots,” Miami assistant coach Chris Caputo said after the game. “Those are the most difficult guys to guard.”
Robinson excelled creating offense off the dribble on Saturday, particularly in isolation, which allowed him to get to his spots without attracting too many extra help defenders. Here, the junior drives towards the foul line on Miami sophomore DJ Vasiljevic. Noticing that his defender was shading him a bit too far inside, Robinson spins baseline. He rises up at the free throw line and knocks down an awkward jumper, kicking his legs up to balance himself in the air.
Even when the Eagles’ big men came to set screens for Robinson, he often preferred to drive in the opposite direction, effectively creating an isolation attempt with Miami’s shot blocker now standing at the 3-point line.
Here, the junior guard takes advantage of a scrambled Miami defense in transition to get near the paint, before reaching into his deep bag of tricks to finish a circus shot around the rim for his last basket of the game. Robinson scored 18 of his 29 points in the second half, including 16 of BC’s 17 points scored in the last 13:30, before Bowman’s game-clinching foul shots.
2) Bowman on the Boards
Bowman put together an outstanding all around game, finishing with 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. He scored 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the first half, keeping BC within striking distance until Robinson began to take it up a notch. While his efficient scoring was a welcome sight, especially given that he had shot below 40 percent from the field in four of the team’s last six games, Bowman’s rebounding effort stands out the most.
The 6-foot-1 point guard entered Saturday’s contest as the only player in the nation averaging at least 16.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, while ranking among the top 10 in points, rebounds and assists per game among players competing in ACC play this season. Bowman has been particularly impressive on the defensive glass. Per kenpom.com, he’s tied for the team lead in defensive rebounding rate.
The primary benefit of having Bowman grab a defensive rebound is that he can start the fast break immediately. There’s no lag time in waiting for a slow-footed big man to get the ball to his point guard before the team can advance the ball up the court. When Bowman corrals a missed shot and sprints up the court, he generates excellent looks in transition for his team, since the opposing defense has yet to set up. The main beneficiary of this has been Robinson, who has gotten a ton of open 3-point looks in transition from his backcourt mate, much like in the clip above.
3) Steffon Mitchell, Rim Protector
At first glance, you’d be forgiven if you assumed that Mitchell had given a poor showing on Saturday. Though he hauled in nine rebounds, the freshman forward scored just three points, but that assessment doesn’t take into account the incredible work Mitchell did on the defensive end of the floor, switching onto Miami’s perimeter trio of Chris Lykes, Ja’Quan Newton and Walker. The Eagles switched him onto those players in an attempt to defang pick and rolls late in the shot clock, hoping to induce a tough isolation shot.
Mitchell didn’t disappoint, racking up four blocks in the second half, including three in the final 6:17, when BC held the Hurricanes without a single point.
Here, the freshman forces Anthony Lawrence into a tough layup along the baseline. He keeps his left arm, closest to Lawrence’s body, by his side to avoid fouling, while reaching across his body with his right arm to block the shot.
This block was one of the more impressive sequences of the game. With the Eagles trailing 70-68, Walker zipped by Mitchell to his left hand, with a chance to give his team a two-possession lead. But BC’s most versatile defender had other plans. Sliding his feet, he kept pace with Walker and rose up to block the shot with his left hand. As the ball caromed off the glass, Bowman grabbed it and pushed it up the floor to Robinson, who was awarded with two free throws after being fouled at the rim.
The Eagles wouldn’t have been in a position to win this game without Mitchell’s terrific individual defense.
Nik Popovic often gets a lot of criticism he doesn’t deserve. While he’s not the most fleet of foot or an explosive shot blocker, the Bosnian sophomore understands how to protect the rim with his size and is an above average passer and ball handler for his position. With that being said, Popovic produced one of the most frustrating stretches of his young career over the last minute of the first half and the first few minutes of the second half.
In the span of three and a half minutes of game time, Popovic had four turnovers, each in maddeningly sloppy fashion. On one turnover, he dropped a nice pick and roll pass from Robinson out of bounds.
Twice, he lost the ball trying to spin in the post.
And he even dropped a perfect pass right under the rim, with no defender in sight to contest what should’ve been an easy layup.
Though Popovic likely won’t have a stretch this bad again, the fact that he intersperses great passes to cutters from the post with clumsy plays like these is a large part of why he can sometimes be frustrating for fans to watch.
2) Early 3-point Defense
Over the game’s first 22 minutes, Miami shot a scalding 9-for-18 from beyond the arc. Vasiljevic hit four 3-pointers over the stretch, serving as the beneficiary of the Hurricanes’ ability to break down BC’s defense off the dribble and in pick and roll scenarios. Though Lykes and Newton are excellent shot creators individually, the Eagles’ own defensive issues created a ton of extra open shots for Miami.
Far too often, BC defenders—Jordan Chatman in the first clip and Bowman in the second—dropped too far into the paint to help defend a pick and roll, leaving Miami’s shooters wide open on the perimeter. Putting yourself in a position where you have to sprint halfway across the court to find your man is not a recipe for defensive success.
Though the Eagles cleaned up their defensive rotations late in the second half, offering appropriate levels of help, while not leaving perimeter shooters uncontested, these miscues are important issues that the team must fix. With their potent offense, BC just needs to play sound positional defense to keep games close.
3) A Taste of Your Own Medicine
For most of the last two seasons, the Eagles have dialed up a half court set that places Jerome Robinson on the weak side of the floor, with a big man standing at the elbow, ready to deliver an unexpected screen that can free the junior for a lob over the top of the defense. So it must’ve been rather uncomfortable to see Lykes fling an alley oop to Walker on a nearly identical play midway through the second half.
Here, Popovic clearly doesn’t expect his man to set a screen on Chatman, who’s defending Walker. The Bosnian sophomore is instead talking to Bowman at the top of the arc and is left flat footed as Walker explodes past him into open space, before softly laying in the lob.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor