When Boston College men’s basketball guard Ky Bowman went to the bench with his second foul with 10:50 to go in the first half of the Fort Myers Tip-Off tournament title game against Loyola-Chicago, many fans were likely groaning, whether they were in their seats or watching on national television. After all, Bowman racked up a career-high 38 points two nights prior, lifting the Eagles past Wyoming in the semifinals, and he was leaving with his team protecting a one-point lead.
Then, even with a bench ranked outside the top-300 in minutes needing to step up, BC saw its lead swell to 10 at the break. It would only grow from there, ultimately reaching as large as 16 points in the second half as Jordan Chatman dropped 20 points, Nik Popovic chipped in 14 and six rebounds in his return from injury, and the Eagles claimed the inaugural early season tournament with a decisive 78-66 win over the Ramblers (4-2).
Bowman’s second foul was a questionable choice by the junior, as he turned the ball over and committed what seemed like a frustrated decision in the moment to try and block Clayton Custer’s layup attempt. Instead, his hand came down on the Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Player of the Year’s head, earning him a flagrant-one foul call and a seat on the bench.
Without Bowman, BC (4-1) head coach Jim Christian had to turn to a particularly youthful lineup—and it surprisingly paid off. At one point, all five members of the lineup were underclassmen, as Christian used Chris Herren Jr., Wynston Tabbs, Jairus Hamilton, Avery Wilson, and Steffon Mitchell for a stretch of a few minutes. Herren Jr. knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, Hamilton enjoyed a breakout half where he piled up nine points, and Chatman was the veteran leadership with eight first-half points.
The defensive effort was particularly strong for the Eagles, too. Hamilton stood out for his ability to switch from defending guards and forwards alike, while BC held strong on the glass, too—it had a 24-15 edge in boards and five offensive rebounds to zero for the Ramblers. It helped that Loyola-Chicago, a team that spaced five shooters around the floor last year, struggled mightily to connect. Custer led the way with eight first-half points, but the team managed to connect on 1-of-11 from beyond the arc.
With Bowman back in the second, the game quickly became more of a track meet. Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field and while the Ramblers finally began to connect on 3-pointers, hitting six in the half, BC did too. The Eagles, behind 26 combined second-half points from Popovic and Chatman, fought off the comeback and pulled away enough to empty their bench before the final buzzer.
It was a particularly impressive win from BC, easily its best of the season. The Eagles hadn’t played a team higher than 185th in KenPom’s rankings, and Loyola-Chicago—a Final Four team from last season—clocked in at 66th. Eve when the Ramblers started to connect on 3-pointers in the second half and make it interesting, BC was able to pull away.
It wasn’t relying heavily on Bowman, either, a positive after watching most of the roster struggle to connect on anything against the Cowboys on Monday night. Christian’s offense went with who was hot, and that was Chatman and Popovic. The inside-out combination was there throughout, as Chatman was able to come off screens to hit a few mid-range jumpers, while Popovic even hit a pair of shots with his feet on the 3-point line.
Bowman wasn’t bad in the second period, however, he just was one part of a surprisingly multi-faceted attack. He finished with just 12 points, third on the team, but tallied five assists. One was a good find across the court to Hamilton, who connected on a mid-range jumper at a key moment—he registered a career-high 11. Bowman also drew two important charges and hit a fadeaway jumper in between in the final minutes, allowing his team to get a more comfortable lead.
There were also flashes of Bowman in Tabbs, who clocked out as the team leader in rebounds with seven. The Eagles finished +22 with the freshman guard on the court, and he sealed the deal in the final minutes with an emphatic dunk. Loyola-Chicago missed a free throw, and when the ball was tipped back, Tabbs out-jumped a duo of Ramblers and was off and running.
The IUPUI loss before taking the trip to Florida was particularly bad, but the two games since have answered at least some of the questions surrounding BC. Many already knew that Bowman had the potential to take over a game, but the question of who would step up in his absence was less clear—and Popovic and Chatman both tried to answer that on Wednesday. The Eagles haven’t won this type of tournament in quite some time, so beating a Ramblers team that returned a lot of their production from their Final Four run is a pretty significant moment—one that the Eagles will aim to build on as they host an undefeated Minnesota team in the ACC/B1G Challenge.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor