Trailing 72-71 with 1.1 seconds left on the clock, North Carolina State men’s basketball was inbounding the ball from under its own basket. Just seconds before, head coach Mark Gottfried had drawn up a play for star guard Cat Barber. Boston College defended Barber perfectly. But it did not defend freshman Maverick Rowan perfectly. Rowan dove to the basket, The Eagles’ Sammy Barnes-Thompkins and Jerome Robinson collided, and the rest was history. Rowan converted on the wide open layup at the buzzer, delivering the Eagles their 17th straight loss.
In case you’ve been living in a nuclear bunker the past few weeks, BC is winless in Atlantic Coast Conference play. They’ve got two more chances to change that before it’s written in permanent ink: Saturday night against Clemson and next week at the ACC tournament in Washington, D.C.
The Tigers are hardly a basketball juggernaut. Hell, their website banner boasts a 2014 NIT Semifinal finish. Still, Clemson beat BC earlier this season, 65-54, the infamous game in which graduate student Eli Carter shot 1-for-17.
Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame feasted for 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting. BC’s Dennis Clifford muscled his way to 17 points and eight rebounds.
Saturday, expect to see similar names atop the scoring list. Blossomgame is averaging nearly 19 points per game on the season, and Clifford has scored in double figures in six of his last seven.
This is his best stretch as a college basketball player. It’s also his last regular-season game as a college basketball player and his final home game.
Here’s what the Eagles must do to send Clifford off with a win.
Easier said than done. Blossomgame is shooting 51.4 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from the 3-point line. He gets to the free-throw line 5 1/2 times per game. Blossomgame is the complete package.
But the Eagles have shown in the past that they can give spirited effort on defense. Earlier in the season, before all the losing, they were flying around like bumper cars, rotating this way and that, covering each other’s backs, flying into the paint to stop drives. It didn’t always work––and it certainly didn’t look pretty––but their defense helped them win a few games.
Against a player like Blossomgame, it’s not up to one guy to cover him. It must be a 5-on-1 approach.
Get Out and Run
The Eagles play at one of the slowest paces in the ACC. A few factors feed into that.
They have one of the most porous defenses, and when other teams score, it’s hard to push the pace.
They’re inexperienced, and inexperienced teams tend to look toward the bench for guidance and approval instead of playing free-flowing basketball.
Finally, head coach Jim Christian’s half-court offense has an abundance of decoy action––dribble hand-offs, players running off pin-down screens, ball reversals––before the primary options are set up.
Despite Christian’s pleas for a faster pace––“Run! Run!” he’ll often yell from the sideline after a defensive board––the Eagles don’t get out much in transition. When they do, they generally meet with success. Look for a sampling of that today.
Play with Heart
It’s cheesy, overused, and isn’t really the essence of hoops. Basketball is about much, much more than just effort. You have to have a solid game plan, sound coaching, and, above all, talent.
Few circumstances inspire teams more than winning on the big stage, at a conference championship, in the NCAA Tournament, what have you.
Avoiding a winless conference slate might trump all of that. Or, at least, it should.
Sometimes you can’t help what happens on offense. No matter how many shots a player gets up in practice the preceding week, there’s a chance the ball doesn’t fall through the hoop during the game.
But you can always control playing good defense. Christian will certainly have his squad amped up before Saturday’s bout with Clemson.
The Eagles’ dignity is on the line.
Featured Image by John Bazemore / AP Photo