Top Story, Men's Basketball

Different Game, Same Story: Syracuse Pulls Away From Lackluster Eagles

At this point in the season, you could write a game story about Boston College men’s basketball hours before the game starts.

Early in the game, BC falls behind by a couple points, but never enough to put the game out of reach. The Eagles enter the second half facing a small deficit, but almost immediately cut into it. Star guard Olivier Hanlan catches fire in the second stanza. Conte Forum fills with hope.

Then, as time winds down, all hope is sucked out of the building. BC gets lazy and makes a multitude of mental mistakes towards the end of the game. The “night shift,” headed by players like John Cain Carney and Alex Dragicevich, enters to scattered cheers. The Eagles lose by double digits. Fans go home sad, but they expected this result. Repeat.

It was just more of the same on Wednesday night.

Clad in sleek gray throwback-inspired jerseys and with fans donning free giveaway shirts, BC (9-14, 1-10 ACC) walked the walk, but couldn’t talk the talk against the Syracuse University Orange (16-8, 7-4 ACC) in a 70-56 loss. The Eagles appeared to have inherited the talent of the teams that used to wear the jerseys—the 9-17 or the 8-18 BC teams of the mid-1970s—marked with the red cursive writing on the front.

Following the defeat, head coach Jim Christian expressed his disappointment in his team’s effort towards the end of the game.

“We lost this game on effort—we stopped playing,” Christian said. “We stopped guarding, we gave up on transition defense, and that’s what our team does down the stretch.”

The loss drops the Eagles to last place in the ACC, with only one win in 11 games. Despite playing well against Syracuse’s famed zone defense, which is often among the best units in the country, BC could not get enough going to pull off the upset at home over the Orange.

Christian called out his team’s drive and determination towards the end of the game, lamenting that this is a recurring issue with this year’s team.

“When we go down, the response has to be better effort, better communication, and you have to have more invested in the game,” Christian said. “That’s the bottom line, and it’s the same story every game. The less you have invested, the easier it is to give in. We need more guys invested in winning.”

Known BC-killer Trevor Cooney came out firing against the Eagles, connecting on two shots from long range in the first couple minutes of the game. The Eagles kept the game close early, despite falling behind by as much as eight points early in the first half. A few 3-pointers from Aaron Brown, who led the team with 19 points in the game, kept Syracuse within reach.

BC center Dennis Clifford looked like he was moving a step slower than everyone else on the floor, as he would consistently miss defensive assignments, let passes slip through his grasp, or have the ball knocked out of his hands in the post.

 Clifford finished with six points and five rebounds to go along with three turnovers and three fouls. He saw an increased workload against the Orange, as his 34 minutes was his second-highest of the season. The only other game in which he played more was the Pittsburgh game, which went to an overtime period.

 Heading out of the intermission down just four points, the Eagles closed the deficit quickly, using the hot shooting of Hanlan to cut the lead. BC tied the game with just over three minutes off of the clock, but Syracuse bounced back with a jumper from Kaleb Joseph and would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. Joseph’s consistency paced the Orange to victory, as he finished with 14 points on perfect 7-of-7 shooting.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim praised the impressive performance of Joseph, who is often regarded as the fifth-best starter for the Orange.

“He usually never shoots, but he’s been more aggressive in practice the past few weeks,” Boeheim said. “He did a much better job of getting into the open areas tonight, and when no one’s guarding you, you have to hit your shots. He got a couple right away and never looked back from there.”

Boeheim also remarked that Wednesday’s performance was the best road game of the year for the Orange, but Conte Forum had a remarkably pro-Syracuse crowd towards the end. A “Let’s go, Orange” chant broke out in the final seconds, and was louder than a majority of the cheers that came from BC fans the whole game. The upper-level stands on either side of the court were filled with mostly Syracuse fans decked out in orange and blue.

This isn’t the first time that has happened at Conte this season, either. Providence College, the University of Virginia and University of North Carolina all brought considerably large crowds with them to Boston, transforming the Eagles’ home-court into a neutral site, at best. The Eagles are 1-3 in those games, including last night’s contest against Syracuse.

Christian was animated toward the final buzzer, trying a number of different lineup combinations to light a spark under his team. The spark never came, though, as the Orange stretched their lead with little opposition from the Eagles as the game went on.

“It’s a layup, it’s a stop in transition defense—these are all things we’ve done for 34 minutes,” Christian said. “We’ve got a little bit of fatigue, a little bit of duress, but you’ve got to deal with it.”

With just six games remaining on the schedule, the Eagles have only a few more opportunities to prove themselves before the start of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. There are winnable games out there for BC, but only if the entire team is fully invested in going for the win. If not, the team will be in trouble, its problems likely to outlast the season.

Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff

February 11, 2015