Last season, Boston College men’s basketball experienced a program-defining moment with its upset win over No. 1 Duke at Conte Forum. The miraculous 89-84 victory was fueled by incredible performances from Jerome Robinson, Ky Bowman, and Jordan Chatman, with the trio combining for 76 points. Later that season, BC went on to accrue 19 wins and appeared in the NIT after a two-game run in the conference tournament. There was plenty of optimism surrounding the program, but that has mostly faded midway through this season. Injuries have decimated the roster, and the team has struggled to fill the void that Robinson created when he departed for the NBA.
Facing No. 2 Duke this season—this time in Durham—there was not much hope that the Eagles could pull off another monumental win. BC came into the game as 24-point underdogs, and it was once again without guard Wynston Tabbs. The Blue Devils hadn’t forgotten about last year’s defeat, but they didn’t play with the same effort and drive that BC displayed in the first half. On the back of gritty play and poor shooting by Duke, the Eagles went into the intermission with a two-point lead.
While it was still highly unlikely BC could pull off an impossible feat twice in a row, there was a glimmer of hope. But that hope was quickly shattered, as Duke regrouped in the second half, more than doubling up BC in the last 20 minutes en route to a convincing 80-55 victory.
The Blue Devils (20-2, 8-1 Atlantic Coast) used 15 points apiece from Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett in the second half to pull away, piling up 52 total points in the period. BC (11-10, 2-7) had no answer, shooting just 33 percent from the field after the break, as it was outrebounded, 22-8, and committed 11 fouls while turning the ball over six times during the back half of play.
In the early going, both teams started with a quick pace in what was a packed Cameron Indoor Stadium. BC missed its first three shots but strung together an 8-0 run to take a four-point lead. The Blue Devils immediately responded with an 8-0 run of their own to regain the advantage, setting the tone for a back-and-forth opening stanza.
Nik Popovic, who entered the contest having made only three 3-pointers all season, drilled two in the opening five minutes. However, with Reddish and Zion Williamson (nine points, 10 rebounds in the first half) leading the charge, Duke built a seven-point lead midway through.
In a resilient manner, though, the Eagles fought their way back into the contest, with the boost coming from an unlikely source. Steffon Mitchell sparked a run with back-to-back plays, first converting an improbable 180-degree layup and following that up with a put-back dunk. Buckets by Jairus Hamilton and Popovic further narrowed the deficit, and then Bowman came alive.
Up to this point, Duke’s Tre Jones had bottled up the junior guard in the scoring column, but Bowman was still creating quality opportunities for his teammates and attacking the glass—even with giants like Williamson patrolling the paint. In a short span, Bowman tacked on seven points to give the Eagles a four-point edge. Momentum was sapped from BC right before the break, though, as Bowman turned the ball over off an inbound with the clock winding down, and Reddish made him pay with an easy layup.
In the first half, the Eagles simply seemed to have a stronger desire to win than the Blue Devils. Duke—which came in as the second-best rebounding team in the country, logging 43 boards per game—lost the battle on the glass by three. BC was ultimately able to stay in this contest, thanks to the Blue Devils’ putrid shooting. Perimeter marksmanship is not one of Duke’s greatest strengths—in fact, it only converts 30.9 percent of its triples—but in the first half, the Blue Devils went just 1-of-15 from beyond the arc.
Yet head coach Mike Krzyzewski was bound to make some adjustments in the locker room, and the game drew comparisons to when his team trailed to Georgia Tech at the break a few weeks ago and pulled away in the second frame. As many could’ve predicted, Duke rushed out of the gates with an 8-0 run to retake the lead. The Eagles didn’t have a counterpunch and couldn’t find any way to deal with the massive amount of talent on the Blue Devils’ roster. BC’s shots weren’t falling at the same rate that they were in the first half, and Duke began to pull away.
The Eagles looked like they were headed for a loss once the Blue Devils constructed a double-digit advantage, and it looked even worse when their star playmaker went down with an injury scare. In the middle of the second half, Bowman planted his feet in an attempt to draw a charge on a driving Barrett. The junior took a hard fall, and Barrett landed on Bowman’s right knee. It took a long time for Bowman to get up, but he was able to eventually limp over to BC’s bench. To add insult to injury, Bowman was called for his fourth foul of the game on that play. The Havelock, N.C. native would reenter the game, but he was relatively ineffective, finishing the night with 11 points—his lowest scoring output since Dec. 22 against DePaul—as Jones continued to contain the volatile scorer.
With the Eagles being dealt a heavy morale blow, Duke continued run up the score, turning what was once a close contest into a full-fledged blowout. The Blue Devils, as they have done all season, dominated in the paint, picking up easy buckets and grabbing boards. A big factor in Duke’s revival was its ability to convert from beyond the arc. After only hitting a single triple in the first half, the Blue Devils drilled six 3-pointers at a 66-percent clip in the second period. Perhaps the most telling stat came on the glass. BC’s ferocious effort allowed it to beat the Duke in the battle of the boards in the first half, but it was a far different story in the latter portion of play. With Williamson corralling a career-high 17 rebounds, he led his team to nab 22 boards in the second half, 14 more than the Eagles.
The loss was a painful one, but to be expected. Thinking that the fourth-best offense in the country by adjusted efficiency was going to stay dormant the entirety of the game would’ve been foolhardy, and it was clear that the combination of Jones, Reddish, Barrett, and Williamson were more than enough for Krzyzewski’s side to pull away. BC has now lost three straight in conference play and eight of its last 10, and the going won’t get any easier. Without Tabbs, the team’s scoring depth is tested on a nightly basis, and if Bowman is unable to get his supporting cast going, the Eagles are quickly susceptible to digging holes they can’t get out of. Tabbs is missed by BC, as is a more balanced effort night in and night out.
Featured Image by Chris Seward / AP Photo