Five minutes into the game, Boston College rotated the ball around the court to find Aaron Brown in the corner.
Brown rose from the floor and let loose his classic, low-arc 3-point shot. The field goal gave BC its first and only lead of the game. The Eagles quickly began the game 2-of-3 from behind the arc, capitalizing on the strength of their spacing and ball movement.
It appeared BC found a solution to Syracuse’s troubling zone. Just two weeks prior, the Eagles lost by double digits at Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Coach Jim Boeheim used his patented 2-3 zone to stump Hanlan and the Eagles. In that matchup, Syracuse’s defense forced the Eagles to rely on 3-point shots. An inability to work the ball inside forced BC to take low percentage shots around the perimeter.
On Wednesday, BC moved the ball with a purpose. The primary intention was to involve the Eagles’ center, Dennis Clifford. Clifford failed to execute early in the first half, missing his first two short jumpers. The effort, however, proved to make a difference. The inside threat allowed BC guards Brown and Olivier Hanlan to gain the necessary space to hit open jumpers early in the first half.
Having spread the floor, BC attacked the paint late in the first half and early in the second. BC started the second half shooting 68 percent from the field, and drew the game within one with about 10 minutes left.
“I thought our offense handled it [the zone] very well,” Eagles’ coach Jim Christian said. “We got the ball where we wanted to every time … I thought we got the ball to good spots.”
Controlling Rakeem Christmas
Statistically, Christmas has been Syracuse’s best player night in and night out this season. Yet, the Eagles held him to seven points on the night, shooting just 3-of-8 from the field. Clifford primarily matched up to the big man and forced him to commit five turnovers. The Eagles double teamed Christmas to control him for most of the game.
“This is the most anybody has dealt with him,” Boeheim said. “They decided to double him today and that was the right thing to do.”
The strategy differed from the Eagle’s previous matchup with the Orange. Christmas dominated the previous matchup, when Clifford alone guarded him.
Christian wanted to challenge Syracuse’s other role players. “We put different guys in the middle floor to try to go to Christmas,” he said. The approach worked. The Eagles remained within striking distance until midway through the second half.
BC’s Response to Syracuse’s Impact Plays
The Eagles’ play against Christmas proved to be the only defensive bright spot of the day. BC suffered particularly in its transition defense against the Orange. The team’s inability to respond defensively to turnovers allowed the Orange to pull away midway through the second. Syracuse ended the game on a 27-10 run.
Syracuse’s closing stretch was highlighted by five steals. The Orange converted the five turnovers into 10 crucial points. The blunders shook the Eagle’s game plan. “Our response is never to play harder,” Christian said. BC simply looked like a different team once Syracuse began to run the floor.
High impact plays, like blocks, stripped the Eagles of the confidence that defined strong play early in the first and second half. The Orange, who are third in the ACC in blocks per game finished with six on the day, well above their season average. Blocks by Kaleb Joseph and Christmas in the second half propelled the Orange’s full court attack.
“Our transition game is only there when we get a deflection or block,” Boeheim said.
Following the game, Christian emphasized the importance of Syracuse’s success in transition. “We were awful in transition defense,” he said. “We have to have better communication.” Ultimately, BC improved offensively and against Christmas in its second contest against the Orange. These corrections, however, could not compensate for the Eagles’ late-game defensive errors.
Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff