For teams that play basketball in the talent-rich ACC, the difference between conference and non-conference games is huge. You don’t have to be at your best to win a non-conference matchup. A majority of those games come against weak conferences, like traditional stomping grounds such as the America East or Southland. Few teams are in top shape in November or even December, yet in the ACC, 12 of 15 teams currently have three losses or fewer against non-conference opponents. Even Boston College, the worst ACC team so far this season, finished off 2015 with a four-game win streak.
Three of those games, though, were single-digit wins against those smaller programs. In the last, the University of New Hampshire nearly stole its first win at Conte Forum in program history after forcing BC into overtime. Though the Eagles were far from perfect, they hung on and did just enough to pick up the win.
Unfortunately for BC men’s basketball (7-7, 0-1 Atlantic Coast), that time is over—mediocrity can no longer cut it. The new year brought on the ACC schedule—an especially treacherous minefield for a team largely outgunned—which set right off with No. 15 Duke University (12-2, 1-0), the reigning national champions. Thirteen solid minutes of play from the Eagles allowed them to maintain a small lead over the Blue Devils, but just a few minutes of inconsistency dropped BC into a double-digit hole that solidified into an 81-64 loss.
There wasn’t really one factor that led to BC’s demise. Duke shot over 12 percent better from the field than BC, but the Eagles put up seven more shots. BC was outrebounded 35-26, but the Eagles won the battle in the paint, 30-28.
If one aspect had to jump out, it would be the free throw discrepancy. BC has had recurring foul trouble all season, and against Duke, a team that scores nearly a quarter of its points from the charity stripe, the problem continued, providing the most significant turning point in the game.
About 13 minutes in, just after Garland Owens had hit a free throw to put BC down by one. The Eagles contained an offense ranked second in efficiency in the country, taking as much as a six-point lead, and holding Duke to 7-of-19 shooting and six points in that time. But then, on each of Duke’s next four possessions, a different BC player committed a foul to send the Blue Devils to the line. Chase Jeter, Luke Kennard, and Grayson Allen combined to make all eight for Duke, giving the team a boost at the end.
“Yeah, we get [runs of free throws like that] because we drive,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We drive, and we also pay attention to team fouls. We change how we attack depending on team fouls. If we’re going to be in the double bonus, we’re going to drive the ball more.”
BC racked up 25 fouls in the game, sending Duke to the line for 30 free shots, of which the Blue Devils sunk 19. But while Duke had over twice as many attempts from the line than BC, the Eagles shot a better percentage, and only made nine fewer points there—a significant difference, but only half of Duke’s 17-point win margin. The rest came from that which, at best, can only be seen live. The Blue Devils got nearly every loose ball and won almost every hustle play. Allen, who was tied for second on Duke with 17 points in the game, took the most notable hard falls and dives to the floor, which led Krzyzewski to think he had been injured.
Allen’s guard counterparts, Jerome Robinson and Eli Carter, continued to do most of the scoring work for BC. The pair combined for 34 points—more than half BC’s total—while each shot just about 50 percent. Dennis Clifford went an uninviting 5-for-13 from the field, finishing with 12 points and five boards, but he dealt well enough with his foul trouble to play 26 minutes.
Besides those three players, BC generated very little offense. After not taking a shot in the first half, A. J. Turner showed a couple flashes explaining his status as a four-star recruit to BC in the second, including two 3-pointers, five rebounds, and a pair of assists. No one else took more than three shots or had more than three points, meaning that when Carter and Clifford get into foul trouble, as seems inevitable from experience thus far—Clifford finished with four fouls and Carter fouled out with a few minutes to go in the game—it will take more than just Robinson stepping up to allow BC to compete.
At the end of the day, BC didn’t show any glaring weaknesses, but rather a broad range of shortcomings. Even if Duke has fallen a notch from the height its program reached last year, this is still a very good Krzyzewski team that can win without being at its best. BC isn’t at that level, but the first 13 minutes of action showed promising signs of what BC’s best may be.
Featured Image by Gretchen Ertl / AP Photo