Heading into 2018-19, Boston College women’s basketball was coming off yet another rough season—one that saw the team finish 16 games below .500 and net just two conference victories. Head coach Erik Johnson resigned at the end of the year and was replaced by Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. With several talented freshman coming in and a new mind at the helm, there was some optimism that the Eagles could display some improvement, despite being in the first year of a rebuild.
At the beginning of the season, it seemed as if Bernabei-McNamee had already made immense progress. In non-conference play, BC excelled—compiling an 11-2 record. While the Eagles’ schedule was largely filled with weaker foes, they still impressed in several blowout victories—including a 112-63 win over Rider, a victory that locked up the St. Joseph’s Cup for BC. To kick off ACC play, the Eagles held their own, picking up two early victories against Wake Forest and Pitt. But, as expected, BC was outclassed by superior ACC foes. After a victory against Duke, the Eagles ended the season on a nine-game losing streak, bowing out of the ACC Tournament in the first round with a loss to Virginia.
Best Moment: Beating Duke in Double-Overtime
BC’s final victory of the season happened to be its best. In mid-February, the Blue Devils visited Conte Forum in what appeared to be a winnable matchup—they were ranked lower than the Eagles in the conference standings prior to the contest. What ensued was BC’s most thrilling game of the year. Georgia Pineau carried the Eagles in the first quarter, scoring 13 points, which helped build a small edge over Duke. But, starting in the second quarter, the Eagles slowed down, and the Blue Devils found their shooting stroke, knotting the game at halftime and retaking the lead in the third quarter.
However, BC battled back. It was a back-and-forth contest down the stretch, and in the final seconds, the Eagles found themselves down by two points. After Duke’s Onome Akinbode-James missed one of two shots from the charity stripe, BC had one last possession in regulation. Emma Guy missed a layup, but freshman Makayla Dickens notched the offensive board, and her second-chance shot from the top of the key landed, forcing overtime.
The two overtime periods were equally as chaotic as the last minutes of regulation. A pair of Haley Gorecki 3-pointers gave Duke the early lead in the extra period, but Dickens, Guy, Sydney Lowery, and Taylor Ortlepp all kept BC in the contest. Gorecki was sent to the free throw line with the Blue Devils down by one with two seconds remaining, but she only connected on one free throw, setting up double overtime.
After a quiet first four quarters, Ortlepp—who was dealing with an illness—came alive in the second overtime, tallying nine points for the Eagles. With the game tied, Duke had a chance to put away BC, but the Blue Devils turned it over to give the Eagles one last opportunity. This time, BC capitalized. With only three seconds left, Dickens received the inbound and converted on a runner, capping an Eagles’ victory.
Worst Moment: Nine-Game Losing Streak to End the Season
After that contest against Duke, the Eagles failed to notch a single victory down the stretch. Losing winnable games to Virginia and Virginia Tech were huge missed opportunities to get back into the win column. From there, the odds were stacked against BC, as it faced a number of ranked opponents. While the losses to UVA and VTech were fairly close, the Eagles struggled to say competitive down the stretch. During their losing streak, BC lost by 25-plus points on four occasions and gave up 90-plus points five times. It was a disappointing end to what started out as a promising season for the Eagles.
Most Valuable (and Improved) Player: Emma Guy
Guy served as the team’s anchor for the entire season as the most consistent and valuable player for BC. She started and played in all 30 games, tallying 14.1 points per game on an efficient 59.1 shooting. Not only was she the leading scorer, but she led the team in rebounds, averaging 6.7 boards per game and coming in second on the team in blocks with 18. Guy often served as the Eagles’ go-to scorer and biggest asset on the glass.
The junior was also BC’s most improved player from last season. In an injury-plagued season in 2017-18, Guy only managed to play 16 games and averaged 8.9 points per game. Her shooting percentage also spiked from 52.5 percent to 59.1 percent. While Guy was certainly a core piece last year, in 2018-19 she emerged as the main threat for the Eagles. She neared a double-double on a nightly basis, and she also became a leader for the underclassmen.
Rookie of the Year: Makayla Dickens
Speaking of underclassmen, BC received contributions from a number of freshmen, but Makayla Dickens’ production stood out the most. She was the second-leading scorer with an average of 11.8 points per game. Her 116 assists led the team, and she was also the Eagles’ most dangerous threat from beyond the arc, as she converted 35.8 percent of her treys. The 5-foot-8 guard made her presence known on the glass, logging 5.3 boards per game. In just her first year, Dickens made a huge impact. That said, Dickens was still prone to making rookie errors. Her 132 turnovers were far and away the most on the team, and she committed a number of defensive lapses as well. But still, whether it was her two clutch shots against Duke, or her 24-point effort against UVA, the freshman displayed her star power and her ability to take over games. If Dickens can cut down on her mistakes, she can blossom into a true star in her next three years on The Heights.
1) Dickens’ Game-Winner Against Duke:
Dickens came up with the performance of the year in the game of the year for the Eagles. After nailing a shot to force overtime, and then stuffing the stats sheet in both overtime periods, the freshman once again played the role of hero at the end of the second overtime. With only a couple of seconds remaining, Dickens received the inbound from Pineau and heaved a running jumper in traffic. Her shot fell, sealing BC’s most thrilling victory of the year.
2) Dickens’ Offensive Rebound:
Dickens didn’t just come up clutch against Duke. Earlier in the season against Wake Forest, the freshman also came up with a big play to provide an Eagles win. BC looked to be in strong position to secure its first ACC victory of the season against the Demon Deacons, as it built a 10-point lead in the third quarter. But Wake Forest refused to back down, chipping away at the deficit throughout the second half. Nursing a one-point lead in the fourth quarter, BC seemed destined to let this contest get away, especially after Ortlepp was forced to launch a desperation 3-pointer. The ball bounced high off the rim, and Dickens—a 5-foot-8 guard—secured the offensive rebound, denying the Demon Deacons an opportunity to knot the game. Ortlepp’s shot came with 20 seconds left in the contest, and Dickens was able to evade several Wake Forest defenders and run the clock down to just two seconds. She then similarly evaded numerous Demon Deacons on the final inbound, garnering the Eagles’ first ACC victory of the year.
3) Guy Works It in the Paint
BC’s second ACC victory of the 2018-19 campaign came against Pittsburgh on the road. The contest—which was decided, 59-55, in BC’s favor—was tight for most of the afternoon. But it was Emma Guy who gave BC a cushion that it would not relinquish. The junior spurted a 6-0 run in the third quarter, and one of her buckets came on a nifty maneuver. After receiving the ball outside of the paint, she put a nasty move on Panthers center Kalista Walters, and converted the field goal. That move, and her performance in the game—a team-high 14 points on 77 percent shooting—were emblematic of the progress she made as the anchor for the Eagles.
1) No Defense:
While BC’s defense largely stood up against non-conference foes, the cracks became much more apparent when the Eagles ventured into the thick of their conference slate. Through the first 13 games, BC only gave up 70-plus points once, and that came against Minnesota, a top-25 ranked opponent. ACC opponents soon exposed the Eagles’ weaknesses on the defensive end. In its 16 conference games, BC gave up 70-plus points in all but two contests. BC often found itself bullied in the paint by the much bigger and talented centers and forwards from opposing ACC teams. Not only that, but the Eagles struggled to defend the perimeter. BC allowed its opponents to convert 37.3 percent of their 3-point attempts. The Eagles’ defensive struggles down the stretch showed that this team has a long way to go before it can contain and compete with its conference foes.
2) Inconsistent 3-Point Shooting
For much of the season, BC lacked a true threat from 3-point land. Makayla Dickens and Taylor Ortlepp were the only reliable 3-point shooters on the team as Dickens converted a team-leading 35.8 percent of 3-point attempts, and Ortlepp was second with a mark of 33.7 percent. Besides those two, though, most of the other Eagles averaged 30 percent. Meanwhile, Guy, Pineau, and Soule did not convert on a single trey the entire year. Overall, the team finished the season with a 32.3 percent conversion rate from 3-point land, good for 11th in the ACC. If BC wants to keep up with the class of the ACC, it needs to nail a higher percentage of its shots from deep.
3) Great Growth
Despite the Eagles’ struggles, this season as a whole was a massive step in the right direction. BC was just a year removed from a 7-23 season under Johnson. In just her first year as head coach, Bernabei-McNamee doubled last season’s win total to 14.
While the Eagles largely failed to make an impact in conference play—just like last season—they made an immense improvement in the non-conference slate, elevating their record from 5-9 to 11-2. Perhaps the most impressive turnaround came on the offensive end. Last year, the Eagles were largely devoid of offense, averaging only 58.3 points per game. But Bernabei-McNamee led an offensive revolution, bolstering the team’s scoring average to 73.5 points per game. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they actually regressed on the defensive end, giving up 73.1 points per game to opponents, compared to last year’s mark of 68.7 points per game. Still, the team should improve on the defense in the near future, and couple that with a lethal offense, and the Eagles could propel themselves from the bottom of the ACC to a true contender in the coming years.
While the 2018-19 season didn’t end on the brightest note, there is optimism for the future. For one, the Eagles are returning all of their talent. BC did not have a single senior on its roster and will see all of its juniors return, including Guy, Pineau, and Ortlepp. Not only that, but the young core can continue to develop as Dickens, Marnelle Garraud, and Taylor Soule gain further experienced. With other experienced pieces like Milan Bolden-Morris and Sydney Lowery returning to the fold, there is certainly a much more positive outlook for next season.
Besides the returning talent, the Eagles are also welcoming some fresh faces. Cameron Swartz, a transfer from the University of Colorado, will gain eligibility next year, and Bernabei-McNamee’s incoming recruiting class also includes two Virginia natives. Jaelyn Batts comes to Chestnut Hill as a scoring threat, as the 6-foot forward averaged over 18 points per game as a junior. Akunna Konkwo, a top-100 recruit according to ProspectNation.com, announced her commitment in August. She currently ranks as the 12th best center in the Class of 2019. A powerhouse in the paint, Konkwo averaged 19 points and 15 rebounds per game during her junior season at Bishop Ireton High School.
It’s clear that Bernabei-McNamee has this team headed in the right direction. With a talented roster and improved coaching, it’s very likely that the Eagles can build off this past year and make some significant progress in the conference standings next season.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor