Boston College men’s basketball team has made the jump: Just a season ago, the Eagles were slinking around the cellar of the ACC having won just six of their last 54 conference games, but now they sprint into a world of high hopes after an inspired three-game run in the conference tournament.
They have the best shooting guard in the conference and possibly the best point guard and one of the most versatile forwards, too, but they were knocked out by Clemson, 90-82, in the quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon.
A well-rested Tigers squad that hadn’t played in almost a week took BC’s opening punch and returned the favor, exploiting a shoddy perimeter defense and locking down two-thirds of the Eagles’ backcourt in the first half. Clemson grew complacent in the second, but even BC’s impressive effort down the stretch couldn’t erase a 16-point hole, as the more-composed Tigers hit timely shots to quell the Eagles’ potential comeback.
There is reason to wonder, now, just what this means moving forward. A NIT berth is a lock, a tremendous step for a program that hasn’t seen postseason action since the 2010-11 campaign, but questions still remain. Will Jerome Robinson return after entering the NBA Draft process? Can head coach Jim Christian solve the defensive issues and turnover problems that plagued the Eagles throughout the season? Will highly touted recruit Jairus Hamilton live up to the expectations?
Nobody has the answers, but one conclusion that could be drawn is that the Clemson loss was a microcosm of the season in a whole.
Robinson and Ky Bowman may have been deathly quiet in the first half, but they took the brunt of the scoring in the second—combining for 36 points over the final 20 minutes—and showed the assembled crowd at the Barclays Center why they’ve earned the nod as the ACC’s top backcourt. Jordan Chatman made the shots he needed to in the first half, and Steffon Mitchell, despite appearing gassed throughout much of the second half, was still just a rebound shy of a double-double. Nik Popovic was his up-and-down self, showing signs of growth as well as a return to the play that earned him exasperated sighs from BC’s faithful.
Additionally, the Eagles once again shot themselves in the foot on defense, particularly beyond the arc. Clemson entered averaging just under nine 3-pointers per game in conference play, but cleared that mark in the first half alone. Time and time again, the Eagles were left grasping at straws as passes found open men in the corner. Tigers freshman Anthony Oliver II, who entered having hit four 3-pointers over 96 minutes of action all season, hit three in nine minutes against BC.
The other familiar struggle was with turnovers. Bad passes and miscommunication plagued the Eagles, and even though they finished with nine—just the eighth time this season they kept it in single digits—it was what happened afterward that cost them. Clemson piled up 17 points off turnovers to just five for BC, a substantial edge that proved to be a key difference.
Overall, for a team that was drained after back-to-back high-scoring games, the 82-point effort from the Eagles was nothing less than impressive. The Tigers had the eighth-ranked defense by efficiency entering Saturday’s game, but BC opened it up in the second half and rode an inspired effort from its guards. Robinson and Bowman traded runs, with the latter scoring 11 of his team’s final 13 points.
For Christian, the run to the tournament’s third day was filled with positives.
“I just think the last two weeks of the season, we really improved, just mentally improved,” he said in his postgame press conference, per transcripts on the ACC website. “Just watching the guys prepare for the game, the way we were in film, the way we were preparing in the game, [and] the way we attacked the game.”
Robinson’s answer to a question about bringing the program back also came across as optimistic for the Eagles’ postseason hopes a year from now.
“I feel like it’s just the first step for us,” the junior guard said. “We know we want to get it back to where it was, and I think we’ve earned a little bit of respect.”
Respect is an understatement, especially based on the quotes that came out of the coaches sitting behind the podium in the Barclays Center. The last two coaches that BC faced, in North Carolina State’s Kevin Keatts and Clemson’s Brad Brownell, had plenty of kind words for both the play of the backcourt and the job done by Christian at the helm. Keatts described the backcourt as “arguably the best” in the conference, while Brownell—a close friend of Christian’s—fondly remembered telling Eagles athletic director Martin Jarmond that he had a “hell of a coach.”
A loss is a loss, and several games that got away earlier in the season will haunt BC, but in the grand scheme of things, a 19-win season and a likely NIT bid for a team pegged to finish 14th in the ACC is more than enough success to build off of—and there’s also a good chance, if selected, it can make some noise in the second-tier postseason tournament.
Featured Image by Frank Franklin II / AP Photo