Boston College men’s basketball beat North Carolina State today, 91-87, to advance to the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2010-11.
Two minutes into the second half, the Eagles (19-14, 7-11 Atlantic Coast) held a convincing 17-point lead built on a strong defensive effort and excellent all-around play. Their win probability had reached as high as 97.2 percent, but in typical BC fashion, it let the Wolfpack (21-11, 11-7) climb back into it to tie the contest at 85 apiece. Yet, a jumper from Jerome Robinson, a steal from Ky Bowman, and a timeout N.C. State called that it didn’t have was enough to secure the victory.
For one of the first times this season, a complete team effort led to an Eagles win, as every player took turns getting going. Bowman worked hard to carry the group early, Jordan Chatman hit several big shots, Nik Popovic returned from an x-ray for a second-straight double-digit game, Steffon Mitchell feasted on the glass, and Robinson sealed the deal.
Here’s what stood out from BC’s starting five during Wednesday’s upset.
1. Jerome Robinson played a significant part in the two most important plays down the stretch (and also finished with a team-high 26 points, but that’s too routine to merit several paragraphs).
First, with the game tied up at 85 and 25 seconds on the clock, he received a pass from Bowman with his right foot on the half-court logo. The junior guard came off of a screen from Popovic above the arc with two Wolfpack defenders shadowing him. He took two dribbles, then pulled up from mid-range in the kind of way that makes the casual TV viewer at home wonder just how someone can spring upward so fast. N.C. State’s Torin Dorn, who had an impressive game of his own, stumbled backward and could only lunge forward in desperation as Robinson’s shot swished through the net.
“I had seen he was trying to cut me off and probably take a charge there so just pulled up for a mid-range,” Robinson said in the postgame press conference, per transcripts on the ACC website. “I can shoot the mid-range, so I was just getting to my comfort spot and getting to a spot that I knew I could make a shot at.”
Then, after a timeout, N.C. State guard Allerik Johnson found himself attempting to inbound past the flailing Robinson, who was doing jumping jacks. Johnson floated a pass, but Robinson got his hand on it, tipping the ball back to Bowman for the decisive steal. Robinson crossed half court, pumping his fist in celebration, a now-iconic move from the guard.There were countless other plays that stood out—he had an emphatic dunk down the lane in the first half that was replayed in excess of six times on the broadcast—but arguably the best fact is that not only is Robinson an All-ACC caliber player, but that he has stuck with a program that won zero conference games his freshman year and now is leading them past the North Carolina schools that passed over him.
2. Ky Bowman was an All-ACC Honorable Mention selection, and it seems to have come across as a slight. Bowman dropped 24 points, one day removed from a 26-point performance against Georgia Tech, and the undersized point guard has shown that he is easily one of the more talented guards in the conference.
He finished with six rebounds and four assists against the Wolfpack, an impressive line alongside his 26-10-6 effort the day prior. Bowman showed no fear time and time again, attacking the paint at will. When Robinson got off to a slow start, the sophomore was there to score—he finished with 12 in each half, including back-to-back 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. The latter was a heat check, as he called for a ball screen and then promptly pulled up to sink it from deep.
Part of what makes Bowman such a dangerous—and fun to watch—player is his aggressive nature inside the paint. He repeatedly sliced into the trees underneath the basket and sunk acrobatic layups and floaters, unafraid of crashing to the ground. He also returned the favor on the other end of the court, rising up for BC’s lone block of the day—an impressive rejection on a layup attempt.
3. Jordan Chatman is always the third wheel when it comes to the Eagles’ guard play, but without him, they wouldn’t win many games. He’s the kind of player you can’t afford to lose in half court sets or in transition, because he’ll burn you. Chatman only had 13 points against the Yellow Jackets and 12 against the Wolfpack, but that’s really all BC needs from him. Take this transition 3-pointer off of a pass from Vin Baker Jr.—that’s a shot that’s incredibly hard to defend if you lose your guy for an instant:
Chatman finished 4-for-7 from beyond the arc, his 10th game with four or more 3-pointers this season. When he hits that mark, the Eagles are 7-3. He averages 3.3 triples per game in BC’s 19 wins, but just 1.9 in the losses. It’s hard to paint a clearer picture—he fills the role of the sharpshooter well.
4. Nik Popovic always seems to be the butt of jokes around campus. Yes, he’s had some struggles at times, but if you’ve watched him down the stretch, you’re watching a capable and talented big man that has come into his own as a pivotal part of this team. He flourished against GT, scoring 20 points on 11 shots. Despite going down with an ankle injury and heading to the locker room for x-rays against N.C. State, he returned and would ultimately finish with 15 points and seven rebounds. Not too shabby.
Christian also had plenty of praise to heap on him afterward.
“The last two or three weeks, Niko has kind of slowed down around the basket,” he said. “He’s able to finish plays and use his skills. And again, these guys are such weapons that you have to make a choice, so when they collapse, it’s either going to be a kick-out to maybe Chatman or finish inside, and those guys are finishing plays. It’s what’s made us better.”
5. Steffon Mitchell has been called the “swiss army knife” for BC in every single broadcast, and it’s a moniker well earned. Fresh off a nine-point, nine-rebound performance against GT, Mitchell conceded the scoring portion of his game and stepped up elsewhere. The freshman played good defense and pulled in a career-high 15 rebounds, including six on the offensive boards.
His presence was clearly missed two games prior in the Florida State loss, so it’s an impressive tourney run for him. Mitchell’s only a freshman and has plenty of time to develop on offense, so to see him make such a big impact on the conference tournament stage already is a good sign for BC.
“The offensive rebounds he made were huge to get us extra possessions and that’s what he does,” Christian said. “He brings all the intangible things that help you win games. And he’s a freshman, so the moment is not too big for him.”
Featured Image by Frank Franklin II / AP Photo