BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Back in February, Boston College men’s basketball needed all 11 of its 3-pointers, most notably Steffon Mitchell’s game-tying shot with 35 seconds left in regulation, to erase Georgia Tech’s double-digit second-half lead and force overtime. But Tuesday’s ACC Tournament opener required nothing of the sort—in fact, the Eagles converted a season-worst two 3-pointers and still controlled the game from start to finish.
Led by Ky Bowman, BC made a home for itself in the paint, driving to the hole possession after possession. The sophomore point guard, who willed the Eagles to victory with six points in the overtime period of the teams’ first meeting, was just as dominant in the rematch, only this time he didn’t wait until the end of the game to get hot.
Aside from his eight turnovers, Bowman—26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and all—was tactical and calculated on the offensive end of the floor, attempting just two 3-pointers all day. Rather than jacking up shots from outside, the Havelock, N.C. native used his quickness to infiltrate the key, drawing a number of fouls in the process. His aggression was contagious—the Eagles scored close to half of their points in the paint and logged a total of 37 free throws. BC coupled its inside attack with one of its best defensive outings of the season, coasting to a 87-77 victory—its first ACC Tournament win since 2015.
The last time Bowman was in the Barclays Center, he found himself slamming his fist against the hardwood after sustaining a serious right leg injury in the the first round of last year’s conference tournament. As soon as the All-ACC Freshman guard left the game, BC looked like a different team—one incapable of upsetting an NCAA Tournament-bound Wake Forest. Thirty-one games and 364 days later, he got another shot at an ACC Tournament victory.
“I knew my opportunity was going to come around again,” Bowman said. “Just coming here and being able to play again was a great feeling for me, but also being able to get back on the court with my teammates was even better.”
Clearly, he was tired of waiting. Seconds in, the sophomore guard scooped up an Evan Cole turnover and sprinted down the floor for a game-opening layup. Just like that, Bowman and the Eagles (18-14, 7-11 Atlantic Coast) were on the board. The fastbreak scoring play was the front end of a 9-4 BC run—one that saw Jordan Chatman hit the first of the Eagles’ two 3-pointers, and Jerome Robinson throw down a one-handed dunk over GT (13-19, 6-12) big man Ben Lammers.
All three of BC’s primary scorers—Bowman, Robinson, and Chatman—were creating space, on and off the ball, with ease. Perhaps more impressive was the Eagles’ play on the other end of the court. Denying Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson access to the paint, BC forced the Yellow Jackets—the 26th-worst 3-point shooting team in the country—to fire away from beyond the arc. If you’re asking head coach Josh Pastner, the results weren’t pretty: GT started 2-of-10 from the field, including 0-of-5 from downtown.
BC didn’t have much better luck from 3-point land, but quickly adjusted, pulling up from mid-range every so often and driving to the lane on a possession-to-possession basis. If it wasn’t for a handful of Eagles turnovers and the duo of Okogie and Lammers, the Yellow Jackets would have been in for an absolute disaster.
Whenever it looked like the game was slipping away from GT, Okogie came through with a timely basket. Lammers, on the other hand, did the dirty work. The 6-foot-10 center was the only frontcourt player on either team to log all 40 minutes—and he didn’t take a second off. For the most part, Nik Popovic held his own, but there were times when Lammers completely had his way inside, racking up 18 points—10 of which came at the charity stripe.
GT finally found somewhat of a rhythm toward the end of the period, but couldn’t buy a stop, simply trading baskets with the Eagles prior to the buzzer. BC entered the break with a 36-26 lead, completely in command of the game.
That said, neither team looked deserving of a win in the opening five minutes of the second half. Bowman was the only player to record a field goal, and the flow of the game was severely disrupted by an array of stoppages, namely fouls. Eventually, the Eagles snapped back into form and strung together a 7-0 run to go ahead 20 points, their largest lead of the day.
GT didn’t convert a single field goal attempt over the course of the first six and a half minutes of the frame. Jackson, who only put up six points in the opening period, came to the Yellow Jackets’ rescue with a couple of quick baskets, including a trey, to cut GT’s deficit to 15. The sequence was merely the precursor to the senior’s second-half tear: a 23-point explosion fueled by a dribble-drive game that gave Bowman a run for his money.
The red-headed phenom continued to beat Okogie in the lane, padding his stat sheet by the minute. Following a 3-of-15 start, Robinson got back in the swing of things with his first and only triple of the day. And Popovic, who head coach Jim Christian said could very well have played the best game of his BC career, went toe-to-toe with Lammers, shooting an efficient 8-of-11 for a career-high 20 points.
Yet every time the Eagles pulled away, Jackson had an answer. With under three minutes to go, the senior orchestrated a pair of last-ditch comebacks—the second of which trimmed the Eagles’ lead to just six. Jackson didn’t do it all on his own, though. After blowing two-straight second-half leads on the road, BC came awfully close to letting its once 20-point advantage go to waste, in large part due to turnovers and missed free throws.
“It happens … It’s going to be like that the whole way down,” Christian said. “[Georgia Tech is] not going to go down easily in March—nobody is.”
But as soon as Jackson fouled out with 52 seconds left to play, the Eagles buckled down, hit four of their remaining six free throws, and polished off the season sweep of the Yellow Jackets.
The victory practically secures BC’s spot in the NIT, but it comes at a cost: ESPN Stats & Info tweeted that all of the Eagles’ starters not only played 30-plus minutes, but also ran more than two miles during the contest. With just over 24 hours to prepare for fifth-seeded North Carolina State, BC—a team that’s bench accounts for the second-fewest total minutes in college basketball—is about to face its toughest test of the year.
Featured Image by Frank Franklin II / AP Photo