With his team trailing by a point with under a minute left on the clock, Boston College men’s basketball guard Wynston Tabbs drove to the paint and elevated, in an attempt to push his team ahead with an acrobatic layup. Simultaneously, Notre Dame forward Dane Goodwin side-stepped into his path and opposing center John Mooney emphatically spiked his shot into the ground. It seemed that either Goodwin would be called for a block—he didn’t seem set once Tabbs collided with him—or that the Eagles would get another chance to take the lead with an inbounds play.
Instead, it was simply ruled as out of bounds, and, after a lengthy replay review, it was confirmed that the ball had last hit Tabbs, and the Irish regained possession. Fifty seconds later, after BC’s Ky Bowman put the Eagles ahead with a sprinting layup in transition, Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb—enjoying a career day—found himself in a similar situation to Tabbs. This time, though, it appeared as if there was no doubt that BC would receive the call. Hubb, who slipped past his defender in Bowman, collided with Tabbs, who’d set his feet outside the restricted area. The referee, however, saw it differently, emphatically calling for a block.
Two successful free throws and an errant full-court pass on the ensuing inbounds later, BC was staring at a disappointing 69-66 setback, its fourth loss in a row and third in as many conference games. The three-point loss was particularly painful for the Eagles (9-6, 0-3 Atlantic Coast), as they’ve been reeling since a overtime loss to Hartford on New Year’s Eve.
The Irish (11-5, 1-2), meanwhile, picked up their first ACC win despite playing with just six rotation players. While the injury bug has been hard on BC—it had to play without defensive stalwart Steffon Mitchell for the second game in a row and fourth time this season—it’s been even tougher for Notre Dame. Already without Rex Pflueger and Robby Carmody for the season, Mike Brey’s Irish side saw Juwan Durham sidelined with an ankle injury. This resulted in a weary final five minutes from Notre Dame, as it hit just 1-of-11 from the field, but a sterling 87 percent mark from the free throw line and some timely plays allowed it to escape.
Without key players from both teams, the game had a sloppy tone to it from the beginning. The Irish’s 2-3 zone proved difficult for the Eagles to fight through, and the Irish similarly struggled to score on the other end. The teams traded blows, with Nate Laszewski slipping untouched through the BC defense for a wide-open dunk while Bowman was busy knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers. A familiar scene took hold for Eagles fans, though, as the Irish went on a 10-0 run in the span of just three minutes.
Mooney—en route to a career day with 27 points and 12 rebounds—and Hubb kickstarted the run with consecutive clever pick-and-rolls. Hubb first drew Mooney’s man off him and deftly fed his teammate inside for a layup, then faked the pass the next time around and hit a spot-up 3-pointer. Hubb was difficult to deal with for BC throughout—he was just 1-of-7 from inside the arc but hit four 3-pointers and added five assists and six rebounds in the win.
The Eagles stopped the bleeding with consecutive jumpers from Bowman, who had 12 first-half points, and Jairus Hamilton. BC probed the zone at times but often settled for jumpers in the space between the defenders, which clanged out with great frequency. The Eagles shot just 29 percent from the field in the first half but only trailed by eight—Hubb missed what would’ve been a back-breaking 3-pointer at the buzzer by the thinnest of margins.
The second half started similarly to the end of the first, with both teams trading buckets. Hubb and Tabbs alternated hitting from deep, then Popovic converted a 3-point play inside to close the gap to just three. But Mooney had something to say about that, hitting a pair of free throws before adding a 3-point play of his own. The battle inside between Popovic and Mooney was raging all afternoon—the duo were similarly matched in size and deployed a plethora of post moves.
The Irish went on another run, this time an 8-0 push that featured five consecutive points from Mooney—he spotted up for a 3-pointer in Popovic’s face that was the ultimate insult—but the Eagles would scrap their way back in it. Eventually trailing by 11 with eight minutes left, BC rallied behind its trio of guards. Tabbs, Chatman, and Bowman hit consecutive buckets before Tabbs again hit from midrange to close the gap to just three.
Mooney created distance with another 3-pointer, but the Eagles had an answer in Chatman—who missed his first five chances from distance but finally hit with 3:33 left in the game. It’s been a shaky few weeks for the Vancouver, Wash., product, as he missed three games and has since gone just 2-of-19 from 3-point range. That woeful 10 percent clip is a far cry from last year’s 39.5 percent mark from distance and reflects his struggles to incorporate himself back in the BC offense.
Hamilton and Popovic both scored for the Eagles to keep them within striking distance, eventually setting up Bowman’s go-ahead layup. That came after an emphatic block from Popovic—he would come up with another with 8.2 seconds left and a one-point lead to protect—but he tripped over Bowman and was called for a travel. Hubb and the Irish got the ball back, Tabbs was called for a block, and the rest is history.
While the late-game decisions will stir up plenty of controversy, the fact still remains that BC was far from its potential in South Bend. The Eagles lean on their starters, yes, and were without Mitchell—but Notre Dame is a team that BC really needed to beat. The conference schedule is going to be tough enough as is, and games like Saturday’s are ones that the team can’t let slip away. Bowman had 24 points and a remarkable 16 rebounds, filling Mitchell’s void on the glass, but the Eagles were never truly confident on the offensive end. The 2-3 zone is far from a foreign concept—several teams in the ACC deploy it—and BC seemed out of sorts on offense throughout the night. Popovic met his match in Mooney—a similarly European-style center—and lost the battle on the scoreboard, even if he finished with an impressive +8 in the box score.
The Eagles are winless in conference play through three games and likely won’t find a way into the win column until they head to Wake Forest on Jan. 26. The next two games are against Louisville, a team that just convincingly knocked off No. 12 North Carolina, and No. 13 Florida State. If BC’s offense plays like the way it did for much of the game against Notre Dame, the second half of those matchups might quickly turn into garbage time.
Featured Image by Robert Franklin / AP Photo