Men's Basketball

Free Throw Disparity Spoils Upset Against Georgia Tech

Saturday afternoon had all the ingredients for another embarrassing blowout loss for Boston College men’s basketball.

Georgia Tech waltzed into Conte Forum boasting two impressive wins over No. 19 Notre Dame and a difficult Clemson team in the past seven days. And the Yellow Jackets didn’t cool off against the Eagles, starting 9-of-10 from the field and finishing the first half shooting at a 72 percent clip. Not to mention, BC’s 13-point halftime deficit looked even worse against the backdrop of a season’s worth of second half collapses.

But the Eagles (7-22, 0-16 Atlantic Coast) showed life in the second half against Georgia Tech (17-12, 7-9), opening the final 20 minutes on a 11-4 run and pulling within a possession of the lead late in the game. Unfortunately for head coach Jim Christian’s squad—which is still seeking its first ACC win—foul trouble proved to be BC’s kryptonite once again, as a 33-7 free throw disparity ultimately killed its chances of an upset in a 76-71 loss.

After a dismal first half in which Sammy Barnes-Thompkins’ barrage of 3-pointers were the only things keeping the Eagles afloat, Christian made defensive alterations coming out of the intermission that stifled the Yellow Jacket offense. Garland Owens and Dennis Clifford led a rejuvenated defensive front that held Georgia Tech to 6-of-18 shooting and forward Nick Jacobs (10 points in the first half) to only one basket in the second half.

“We adjusted some things to take away some of the post, we doubled a little bit more,” Christian said. “They’re a hard team to double, because Marcus Georges-Hunt is such a good driver and Adam Smith is such a good shooter.”

Two things didn’t change after halftime, however: turnovers and foul trouble.

Following a first half in which BC ceded 17 free-throw attempts, the injury-ridden group gave the Yellow Jackets another 16 free throws in the second half. Couple that with Eli Carter’s 10 turnovers, and it’s easy to see that the Eagles shot themselves in the foot for their 16th consecutive loss. Is it fair to start pointing fingers?

“There are no quick fixes in the ACC,” Christian said. “This is a very difficult league to rebuild in. Period. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

One of the best models for rebuilding a team in the ACC may have been right in front of Christian’s eyes on Saturday.

“I’ve been through it,” said Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory, whose 2014-15 team finished 3-15 in the ACC. “When you have a young team in this league, […] you’re gonna get your brains beat in. During the rebuilding process, you get knocked down all the time.”

This year, Gregory’s Yellow Jackets have racked up seven conference wins behind stellar play from Georges-Hunt, who Gregory noted had to suffer through several painful losing seasons before finally seeing success this season as a senior. Georges-Hunt finished with 23 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting day.

“The next step is being competitive in every game,” Gregory said of the rebuilding process. “And then you got to learn how to win those.”

If the Eagles were going to steal their first conference victory, they needed top-notch outings from their two senior leaders and at least one standout performance from a role player. Surprisingly, they got exactly that.

Carter totaled 25 points on 10-for-18 shooting, and Clifford added 17 to go along with four rebounds, a steal, and a block. Barnes-Thompkins was red hot from behind the arc, sinking five 3-pointers. Carter also pitched in nine assists to somewhat offset his double-digit turnover count.

But today, BC missed the injured freshman duo of A.J. Turner and Jerome Robinson more than ever. Christian was forced to rely on guys like Owens, Darryl Hicks, and Matt Milon for big minutes when, ideally, these players should be given playing time in smaller doses while they continue to develop. In the final minutes, the Eagles made the necessary defensive stops, yet seemed to run out of options on offense when they needed them most. Carter had two layups blocked in the last 90 seconds, and the rest of the lineup wasn’t creating much of anything else.

Christian is skeptical that Robinson will come back anytime soon, but entertained the possibility of Turner returning for Wednesday’s matchup at North Carolina State.

At this point, BC is one of just a handful of teams in the ACC not competing for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It’s playing for pride. But even one victory in the Eagles’ final two conference tilts would mean the world not only to the two senior leaders, but also to the herd of freshmen that will be tasked with carrying the torch—now dimmer than ever—for the next years of the rebuilding process.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

February 27, 2016