Boston College men’s basketball is in the midst of a rough season, and injuries have played a big role in the team’s struggles. For three months now, the Eagles have been missing at least one starter in their rotation. With Wynston Tabbs missing his sixth straight game due to a knee injury and Nik Popovic in concussion protocol, BC trotted out its 11th different starting lineup of the year with sophomore Luka Kraljevic earning the second start of his collegiate career. The Eagles came into Tuesday night’s contest against Pittsburgh amid a four-game losing streak and losers of nine of their last 11—in short, they desperately needed a win.
It was clear right from the get-go that the matchup would be a sloppy affair. Both teams struggled to shoot the ball and were prone to turnovers. BC emerged from the first frame with a lead, but Pittsburgh was able to gain a small advantage in the second half. Luckily for the Eagles, though, the Panthers eventually closed out the game by missing 15 of their last 16 shots. Using a spark from Chris Herren Jr., BC built a comfortable cushion at the end of the game and secured the victory, 66-57.
Uncharacteristically, the Eagles (12-11, 3-8 Atlantic Coast) displayed strong defensive energy throughout the game, and this was evident in the opening minutes. BC manhandled Pitt (12-13, 2-10) in the paint, but it was still prone to lapses on the perimeter, allowing the Panthers to drain two early triples. Buckets from Ky Bowman, Kraljevic, and Johncarlo Reyes kept the Eagles in the contest. BC then used back-to-back 3-pointers from Bowman and Jordan Chatman to establish a nine-point edge. During this time, the Panthers had only converted 2-of-11 from 3-point land, but Khameron Davis and Jared Wilson-Frame bucked that trend, as each player struck from deep to narrow BC’s lead.
Jairus Hamilton, who spent a large portion of the half on the sideline working his knee on the exercise bike, reentered the game and hit two crucial 3-pointers to help the Eagles maintain their lead. By the end of the half, BC was up by four. The Eagles coughed up the ball too many times, and they played poor perimeter defense in the first frame. Pittsburgh missed many wide-open shots from range at first, but gradually found its stroke, acting as a thorn in BC’s side. What the Eagles did well was shoot the ball from deep and play imposing interior defense.
Pittsburgh attacked the paint with far more success than it did in the first half. Sidy N’Dir, Xavier Johnson, and Terrell Brown each notched layups, erasing the Eagles’ lead and knotting the game at 40 points apiece. But Jordan Chatman converted two straight buckets, and Hamilton—channeling the form he displayed against Virginia Tech earlier in the season—hit yet another shot from beyond the arc to bookend a 7-0 run for BC.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, Trey McGowens, Kene Chukwuka, and Davis sparked a 9-0 run, allowing the Panthers to retake the lead. Things only got worse as the injury bug once again returned to the BC sideline, biting both Steffon Mitchell and Chatman. Mitchell entered the locker room with an eye injury but was able to return after a lengthy absence. On the other hand, Chatman cut his finger, and the bleeding did not cease, sidelining the 25-year-old guard for the remainder of the contest—that is, with the exception of one possession where he jacked up an airball and immediately checked out of the game for good.
Luckily for the Eagles, they battled through the adversity. The turning point came in the form of Herren Jr., the freshman who exploded onto the scene in December but had largely struggled in conference play, shooting just 3-of-22. Despite a smaller frame, the freshman displayed fantastic hustle all night, and it all came together on one play with BC down, 49-47. Herren Jr. grabbed two offensive rebounds and then converted a contested layup to tie the game. From that point on, the Panthers would score only eight points in the final 10 minutes while BC found its form.
Pittsburgh first-year head coach Jeff Capel spoke on the significance of Herren Jr.’s play, after expressing admiration for the freshman guard.
“The smallest guy on the court, he gets two,” Capel said. “A lot of the time, that makes the kid feel good about himself … He knows that he made a great play for his team. And then what happens is he comes back, and now he’s making shots because he’s all-in for his team.”
Herren Jr. not only grew his own confidence with his play, but he also ignited his fellow teammates. Bowman scored on back-to-back possessions to give the Eagles the lead, and the team didn’t stop there. Herren Jr. drilled a deep shot just inside the arc and followed that up with a 3-pointer. Jared Hamilton, who has performed particularly well of late, came through in the clutch as well, hitting a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper to hand the Eagles a 65-56 lead with 2:48 remaining.
As the Eagles built this lead, they switched to a zone defense, and this befuddled the Panthers. During the last four minutes and 38 seconds, Pittsburgh went scoreless. BC also slowed down in the final minutes, but by this point, it had created an insurmountable lead. Each team missed multiple 1-and-1 free throw attempts and committed several turnovers. It certainly wasn’t a pretty ending, but BC earned a victory when it most certainly needed it.
“I’ve never been down on this basketball team,” head coach Jim Christian said after the game. “We’ve done a lot of a good things during these games. I give these guys a lot of credit. They’ve weathered all of these storms.”
At the end of the day, the Panthers are still at the bottom of the ACC, and they came into this contest having lost 20 road games in a row. A victory over a Pittsburgh team with just two conference wins isn’t particularly impressive, but one has to applaud this BC team for grinding it out despite missing two starters and suffering a couple in-game injuries. The supporting cast did a great job of rallying around Ky Bowman (14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists), as the Hamilton brothers, Herren Jr., Kraljevic, and Reyes all chipped in at least six points.
Another home contest lies on the horizon against Miami—like Pittsburgh, a bottom-tier ACC team. After that, the schedule, besides a date with North Carolina, is packed with teams that are in the middle of the pack of the conference standings, such as Clemson, North Carolina State, Louisville, and Georgia Tech. If the Eagles can rally like they did against the Panthers and also see some of their players return from injury, they can perhaps make a stretch run like they did last year and close out the season above .500. But if Tuesday night’s contest was merely just a blip in the radar, then BC will most likely struggle mightily down the stretch and cement itself in the cellar of the ACC.
Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor