With two evenly matched teams looking to end losing streaks, something had to give at Conte Forum Tuesday night. Coming into the matchup, Boston College men’s basketball and Pittsburgh were nearly identical in, record (BC: 11-11, Pittsburgh 12-12), conference record (BC: 2-8, Pittsburgh: 2-9), points per game (BC: 72.4, Pittsburgh: 73.5), and field goal percentage (BC: 43.6, Pittsburgh: 43.4).
With two of the Eagles’ top players, Nik Popovic and Wynston Tabbs, out with injury, the Eagles needed a high-energy team effort to get back on the right foot. Ultimately, some poor Pittsburgh shooting combined with timely plays from BC’s offense allowed the Eagles to come out on top, 66-57. BC snapped its four-game losing streak, while the Panthers extended their skid to eight games. Here are seven things that stood out in the Eagles win.
1) Combined effort of Reyes and Kraljevic helps to fill Popovic’s void
With Popovic in concussion protocol for the hit he sustained at Syracuse, the Eagles needed someone to step up inside for BC’s most dominant big man on Tuesday night. Thankfully for head coach Jim Christian’s side, Johncarlos Reyes and Luka Kraljevic—in his second career collegiate start—did a solid job replacing Popovic’s services. Reyes chipped in an efficient six points (3-of-4 from the field) and eight rebounds.
The highlight of his night was a strong one-handed poster dunk in the first half. Kraljevic, after dealing with some nervous mistakes early on, got six of his own. He played reasonably well off the pick and roll and recorded a nice assist on a Jordan Chatman 3-pointer, which extended the Eagles’ lead to 17-11 with 8:45 left in the first half. Replicating the efforts of a team’s best frontcourt presence is never easy, but Reyes and Kraljevic teamed up to soften the blow of the injury.
2) Struggles with perimeter defense continue for BC
For the duration of the game, the Eagles’ defense was slow to close out on Pittsburgh’s outside shooters. It was almost as if they were daring the Panthers to shoot, as the Eagles were giving up countless wide-open 3-point attempts throughout the game. Luckily for BC, Pittsburgh could not capitalize on the opportunities gifted to them. The Panthers started off the game shooting 2-of-11 from deep. They started to heat up later in the first, closing out the half shooting 7-of-19 from beyond the arc (36.8 percent), which allowed them to hang around in the game. Pittsburgh, however, regressed and shot just 16.7 percent from 3-point range in the second half, rounding out to just 27 percent for the game. Perimeter defense is still a glaring issue for this team, but BC got away with sagging off tonight.
3) Interior defense, on the other hand, was impressive
While defense beyond the 3-point line was virtually nonexistent, the Eagles did a great job protecting the interior. BC packed the paint and was effective in slowing down Pittsburgh’s penetration to the basket. The Eagles blocked a total of seven shots and held the Panthers to 20 points in the paint. Even without Popovic’s 6-foot-11 frame inside, the seven blocked shots was a season high. One caveat, though, was that this was slightly expected—the Panthers offense has a 15.3 percent block rate, which is 253rd in the country. Still, after registering just one block in the previous two games combined, it was a strong showing inside and it forced Pittsburgh to fire away from deep, which isn’t exactly its strength.
4) Pittsburgh’s trio of freshmen guards held in check
Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, and Au’Diese Toney have accounted for a large portion of Pitt’s scoring, averaging a combined 38 points per game—remarkable output for a group of first-year players. Against the Eagles, though, they were limited to 20. Johnson, the team’s leading scorer with 17.1 points per game, was held to 3-of-19 shooting on the night. He never was able to find a groove, which hampered a Panthers offense that gives him almost 30 percent of their possessions. With Johnson held to just eight, his lowest total since Jan. 26, Pittsburgh saw just one player reach double figures—Jared Wilson-Frame came off the bench for 12 points—and scored its fewest points in four games.
5) Sloppy play from both sides contributed to a chaotic game
While the Eagles’ defensive energy was relatively high, their offense came out slow to begin both periods. BC committed six turnovers early on and started off shooting just 3-of-10 from the field, a similarly poor start to the loss to Syracuse over the weekend. It ultimately didn’t hurt the Eagles, as far as the scoreboard is concerned. After all, Pittsburgh only made four of its first 15 shots. The start of the second half went the same—the team committed careless turnovers and missed its first six shot attempts. BC finished the game with 17 turnovers, which is alarming as it’s the third-highest total this season, second only to the aforementioned game against the Orange and an overtime loss to Hartford.
6) Scoring came in waves for both teams
This game was defined by runs and droughts, and both teams had their fair share of both. At one point in the first half, Pittsburgh went five and a half minutes without a field goal. BC had two four-minute field goal droughts of its own, one in each half. The most crucial drought was Pittsburgh’s near five-minute span without a field goal to close out the game. The Panthers managed just one point in the final 4:38 of regulation, making only one of their last 16 shots. After holding a 51-49 lead, they scored a mere six points over the last 9:14, which ultimately decided the game.
7) Herren Jr., Hamilton key to helping BC pull away
Although quiet for most of the contest, freshmen Chris Herren Jr. and Jared Hamilton provided big plays to help solidify the Eagles’ victory. Herren Jr. (nine points, six rebounds, three assists) pulled in two huge offensive rebounds late in the second half, which helped shift momentum further in BC’s direction. He also knocked down a good looking mid-range jumper, a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, and converted a nice assist on a Hamilton triple (six of his eight points came in the final 3:35). Both were the main contributors to the 15-3 Eagles run that ended the game.
Featured Image by Charles Krupa / AP Photo