Two years ago, Hartford came to Conte Forum to take on Boston College men’s basketball and gave the Eagles everything they could handle and more, leaving as the victors, following a game-winning 3-pointer from Jason Dunne with 2.1 seconds to play. That BC team was much different than the one that took the floor Monday against the Hawks, but there was still reason to expect Hartford to provide the Eagles with a stiff test. After all, the Hawks were picked to finish second in the America East conference before the season started.
Hartford put up quite the fight, but because of a herculean effort from Ky Bowman, who finished the day with a career-high 44 points—the sixth most in single-game program history—the Eagles clung to a 69-66 lead with four seconds left and looked to have the game won. Unfortunately for BC, the sloppiness and mental mistakes that plagued head coach Jim Christian’s team for much of the game struck again at the worst possible time.
Dunne utilized a screen to find space behind the 3-point line and launched a fade-away jumper. Caught by the pick, Jordan Chatman was late rotating and desperately leaped to contest, inexplicably fouling the Hartford senior in the process. Dunne got up, and much like he did in 2016-17, calmly executed in the clutch, nailing all three free throws and sending the game to overtime, where the Hawks held off the Eagles to win 79-78.
When the game started, Nik Popovic provided the Eagles (9-3) with an early offensive spark. First, he set a screen then popped to the 3-point line before hitting a shot from behind the arc. One possession later, the junior big man nabbed a rebound before hustling down the floor and finishing off a fast break with a layup. Popovic accounted for seven of BC’s first nine points and looked to be well on the way to another excellent performance before Bowman decided to steal the show.
After shooting just 5-of-15 from the floor against DePaul, the junior rebounded in a big way, scoring 16 first-half points and sinking shots from all areas of the floor. To get things going, the junior snatched a defensive rebound and simply ran past the entire Hartford (7-8) team before dropping in an acrobatic scoop layup. Then, with BC trailing, 10-9, Bowman penetrated before pulling up for a 17-foot jumper and hitting nothing but net. Next, he split the difference, nailing an 8-foot floater in the lane over the outstretched arms of two Hawks defenders.
Bowman capped his first-half explosion in much the same way he started it. He grabbed a rebound then streaked down the floor. This time, instead of taking the ball all the way to the rim, he put the brakes on right behind the arc and nailed a triple to cut the Eagles’ deficit to 31-27.
The junior’s superb start to the game was reminiscent of his 38-point outburst against Wyoming at the Fort Myers Tip-Off in November. In that contest, Bowman poured in 24 points in the first half, staking the Eagles to a 48-32 lead at the break. This time the story was different. When Bowman wasn’t touching the ball, BC was careless and sloppy, and looked out of sorts trying to find shots. The Eagles turned the ball over 11 times in the first half alone and finished the game with 19 giveaways. Jairus Hamilton was the main culprit, with four turnovers in the first period, but five different BC players, including Bowman, turned the ball over.
The lack of execution carried over to the defensive end as well. Hartford utilized a variety of back cuts and penetration into the lane to grab easy looks for themselves offensively, and shot 10-of-17 from the floor to open the game, racing out to an early 27-17 advantage. The loss of Steffon Mitchell, the Eagles’ defensive leader who was unavailable with a quad injury, certainly hurt BC in the early going. But behind Bowman, the Eagles rallied to cut the Hartford edge to 33-30 going into the break after a Chris Herren Jr. triple. Quite frankly, they were lucky to be trailing by just three points. Hartford’s ability to attack the paint also led to open looks from distance, but the Hawks hit just 3-of-12 shots from downtown in the first period—and ended up shooting just 6-of-23 from distance for the game.
In the second half, BC managed to cut down on turnovers, committing just six, but still simply couldn’t find enough offense to pull away from Hartford. Bowman tried his best, hitting a shot from behind the arc on the first possession of the half, and pouring in a variety of jumpers and layups on his way to 22 more second-half points, but much like in the first half, the Eagles lacked a secondary scorer to complement his efforts. The lack of scoring can be attributed to the loss of Wynston Tabbs, who exited in the first half with a left leg injury after playing just nine minutes, but Chatman, who returned after missing the past three games due to injury, was also a non-factor, taking just three shots despite playing 36 minutes.
In fact, the Hawks led for most of the second half, as six different players found their way on the scoresheet. J.R. Lynch gave Hartford its largest lead of the period, banking a tough layup off the glass to put the Hawks up, 57-52, with six minutes to play, before Popovic threw down a dunk while being fouled and Hamilton scored four quick points on a jumper and two free throws to give BC a slim 62-61 edge and set the stage for a wild last four minutes of regulation.
Dunne put the Hawks back on top with a 3-pointer from the edge of the BC logo before seven consecutive Bowman free throws gave the Eagles a three-point cushion and should have been enough to seal the game. But Chatman foiled Bowman’s heroic effort with the untimely foul on Dunne, and sent the game to overtime, where Hartford was able to make the right winning plays.
Bowman buried another triple, and Herren Jr. snaked his way to the paint for a layup to hand the Eagles a 74-71 advantage, yet, ultimately, the extra period belonged to Lynch. The Hawks’ senior leader scored seven of his team-high 26 points in overtime, and put Hartford up, 78-75, with 19 seconds to play on his 12th made free throw of the day. On the ensuing possession, Bowman airballed a heavily contested 3-pointer, and the Hawks’ Travis Weatherington sunk 1-of-2 shots from the charity stripe to finally put the game away.
Another non-conference loss to a lesser opponent is simply inexcusable for an Eagles team that had renewed aspirations of being competitive in the ACC after a good road win against DePaul nine days prior. While Chatman will undoubtedly take much of the blame for a bad foul at the end of regulation, the reality is that the entire team should bear criticism for this defeat.
After all, 19 turnovers and numerous defensive breakdowns aren’t just the fault of one or two players. Instead, that sloppiness is representative of a team that has the talent to compete with most ACC opponents, but simply hasn’t played up to its potential for much of the season. Yes, Tabbs and Steffon Mitchell, two key pieces, were limited or out with injuries, but regardless of the circumstances, BC likely would have won that game if it had avoided simple mental mistakes like errant passes or needless fouls. And until the Eagles find a way to clean up those errors, any aspirations of postseason play or even a better finish in the ACC than last season should be put on hold.
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor