With legendary college basketball commentators Dick Vitale and Hubie Brown on the call, it seemed like a little Boston College men’s basketball magic may have been in the air once again. Of course, any true Eagles fan can tell you exactly where they were the last time BC and then-No. 1 Duke faced off last season, a game that ultimately ended in a 89-84 upset.
This time though? In Cameron Indoor Stadium? No chance—at least in the second half. While the Eagles hung with Duke for the first half of the game—even boasting a two-point lead at the break—the Blue Devils decided to play more like the way they’ve torn through the conference this year in the final 20 minutes, piling up 52 points (more than doubling BC’s second-half total of 25) and cruising to an 80-55 win.
For the first half, though, the Eagles (11-10, 2-7 Atlantic Coast) actually looked like they had a shot.
1) Early 3-Pointers
To beat the best you’ve got to be the best, and for the first couple minutes of the game, BC was playing its best basketball of the season from beyond the arc. Aside from a questionable heave from Ky Bowman on the Eagles’ first possession, the team was on fire. Nik Popovic hit two 3-pointers in the span of 58 seconds—setting a career-high in makes just three minutes into the game—to spur the scoring for BC, and Jordan Chatman would hit another one just minutes later.
Overall, the Eagles hit on 4-of-8 shots from deep in the first half, while Duke (20-2, 8-1) went an abysmal 1-for-15. Frankly, head coach Jim Christian couldn’t have been happy to be up just two at the break. Still, Popovic’s confidence from the perimeter was inspiring, and the team’s ability to knock down the deep ball early in such a hostile environment was impressive.
2) Stealin’ Steff
If there’s one player on BC who most embodies the Celtics’ Marcus Smart—a player known for diving for loose balls and always giving 100 percent—it’s Steffon Mitchell. The sophomore gave it his all on Tuesday night, hitting both shots he took, nabbing six rebounds, and energizing the team with a tremendous putback dunk in the first half.
Most impressive, though, was his work on the defensive end. In one instance, Mitchell tied up the formidable Zion Williamson and eventually came away with a steal. His work on defense showed in the box score, too. While he ultimately only played 22 minutes after racking up three fouls in a span of just under two minutes and heading to the bench for the final eight minutes of the game, Mitchell still finished with a plus/minus of -11. While it seems bad, that mark was still 11 points better than the next closest BC starter.
3) Zion is Human
Sure he had 17 rebounds, a career-high. Sure he had three blocks and four steals. And sure, he’ll probably be this summer’s No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Still, what SportsCenter and the Not Top 10 will remember was when Williamson missed a breakaway reverse dunk with just over nine minutes to play in the game and proceeded to lose the ball when going up for another dunk just five minutes later. Much of the attention coming into the game—for BC fans at least—was on the 6-foot-7, 284-pound star. The Eagles were able to hold him to 16 points, though, his lowest total since Jan. 12 against Florida State, which was a slight moral victory.
Not to be forgotten was a brave move by Popovic, who worked inside, putting Williamson on the floor and finishing with an easy two. Beyond that, Williamson missed the only 3-point shot he attempted and shot just 2-of-5 from the foul line. It was head-scratching to see Christian fail to turn up the aggressiveness on the nation’s most imposing forward, but it was a strong effort from BC nonetheless.
1) Finishing at the Rim
At times, it didn’t feel like BC could buy a bucket inside. Despite six offensive rebounds, the team recorded just two second-chance points. Williamson’s three blocks were three of the nine the Blue Devils recorded for the game, with six different players getting in on the action. Duke outscored its visitors by 14 in the paint and finished with 15 second-chance points of its own.
The Eagles occasionally looked scared to even put up a shot, fearing that one of the Blue Devils many interior defenders was ready to swat it away. Of course, there was also Bowman’s embarrassing posterization attempt on Jack White, who stands six inches taller and registered one of his two blocks. Meanwhile, Popovic shot 3-for-8 from inside the paint, shooting far worse from five feet than he did from 21.
2) Battle on the Boards
In the second half, BC was absolutely dominated on the glass, and it marked a turning point in the game. The Eagles’ eight total rebounds matched the Blue Devils’ offensive total alone, and for the half they were outdone by a difference of 14. Of course, Williamson was going to get his fair share of boards—containing him when he outweighs the entirety of your team and also jumps higher than most is tough—but 17 is almost stretching the imagination.
The Eagles should have had a better game plan for stopping the 284-pounder, though, and didn’t do themselves any favors by trying to box him out with Bowman in some instances. Vitale boasted Bowman’s achievement as the team’s leading rebounder on the season, but it doesn’t mean much when BC as a whole can only record eight in a half. While Popovic did come away with eight boards, his effort was offset by inefficiency inside.
3) Doing Too Much
In addition to his appearances in the paint, Bowman was just about everywhere. In fact, the junior was too present at times. Bowman finished with an offensive rating of 70, only slightly higher than teammate Jairus Hamilton, as he shot just 5-of-17 with three turnovers. While he was able to get his teammates involved early, registering six assists while also grabbing six rebounds, the junior guard quickly fell out of rhythm in the second half.
In addition to the aforementioned statistics, Bowman’s 1-of-4 shooting from distance, four personal fouls—the last of which came with nine minutes to go and forced him to play less aggressively down the stretch—and lack of leadership, as things started to fall apart for BC, were worrisome. If the Eagles star wants to prove he has what it takes to make it in the NBA, he at least has to prove he can keep his head against future stars on the other end while they’re still in college.
Featured Image by Greg Seward / AP Photo