Top Story, Men's Basketball

With Domination of Syracuse, Men’s Basketball Earns First ACC Win Since 2015

Maybe the rest of the world was right. Maybe 2016 was a year to forget. Boston College men’s basketball would certainly agree. One day into the new year, and the Eagles have already turned the page. The infamous ACC winless streak, which dated back to March 7, 2015, is finally over. On New Year’s Day, BC defeated Syracuse 96-81 in its conference opener at Conte Forum, a complete domination from start to finish.

At the start of the season, the Eagles (8-6, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) struggled to find their identity. Jerome Robinson established himself as the primary scorer, but the vision for the rest of the supporting cast remained unclear. But when BC traveled to Madison Square Garden to take on Auburn in the Under Armour Reunion, things started to click—in large part due to the play of freshman Ky Bowman. Coming into the New Year’s Day matchup against the Orange (8-6, 0-1), the freshman was averaging 19 points in his previous four games. But his performance against the reigning Midwest Regional Champion Syracuse? Superhuman.

Naturally, Bowman was the first to get on the board. And shortly after, BC got off to a 10-7 lead—something that the team would never concede. Syracuse opened the game playing the famed Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone, forcing the Eagles to move the ball.

Manning the backcourt, Bowman and Robinson had no problem facilitating selfless play. Just minutes into the game, Robinson had an open look from mid-range. Rather than pulling up for the jumper, the ACC’s fourth-leading scorer, pump faked and dished the ball to A.J. Turner for the open 3-pointer. That extra pass became a commonality for BC, as the team notched an assist on 28 possessions. Once the open man was found, shots just kept on falling.

For a while, Boeheim’s crew hung with the electrifying Eagles offense. Leading scorer Andrew White III traded shots with BC from beyond the arc, and Taurean Thompson fortified the paint, finishing inside, often drawing contact from defenders. Not to mention that Tyler Roberson consistently crashed the glass, picking up 10 rebounds on the afternoon—eight of which were offensive. As a result, Syracuse had several second-chance scoring opportunities. But, time and time again, the Orange missed makeable mid-range and inside shots, ultimately enabling the Eagles to break open their lead.

Bowman and Robinson flooded the stat line. Frequently assisting each other, the tandem took control of the game. Whether Bowman was lobbing the ball to a cutting Robinson, or simply swinging the ball to the sophomore guard, the two were almost telepathic with their movements on the court.

Yet it wasn’t just those two—their play was contagious. Despite being undersized at the forward position, Connar Tava battled on the interior. For the most part, he defended Tyler Lydon well, limiting the knockdown shooter’s possessions. But more importantly, the graduate transfer touched on all facets of the game. While he was nowhere close to as flashy as Bowman or Robinson, Tava ended the game with a near triple-double—nine points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists.

At the end of the first half, BC held an 11-point lead and was shooting close to 53 percent from the field, including 6-of-12 from downtown. For an Eagles team that had not played since Dec. 23, their first half performance was encouraging, to say the least for head coach Jim Christian. The second half was even better.

BC continued to fire away from long range with unbelievable success. In the final 20 minutes of play, the group shot a video game-like 10-of-14 from 3-point land. At one point in the latter portion of the half, the Eagles converted on four consecutive treys. The bulk of the 3-pointers came from Bowman, Robinson, and Turner. Jordan Chatman chipped in too, forcing the Syracuse defense to respect the Eagles’ perimeter shooting across the board and eventually switch to man-to-man defense.  

Similar to BC’s game against Fairfield on Dec. 21, Bowman displayed an impeccable inside-out game. While erratic at times, the ACC Freshman of the Week’s energy produced numerous scoring chances—even when it looked like all was lost, Bowman found a way to create something positive.

In the first half, he lifted an off-balance floater, which was far from on target. Bowman fell to the ground, but somehow, following a series of deflections, came up with the ball, and, from his back, assisted an incoming Nik Popovic for the basket. In the second half, Bowman repeatedly bounced back from the occasional ill-advised pass and missed shot. His confidence was impenetrable. With every made shot, his aggressiveness increased.

Additionally, the youthful point guard continued to make strides in regards to ball control and court vision, posting nine assists to go along with only three turnovers. Finishing with 30 points, Bowman sunk all five of his 3-point shots in the second half. Bowman is only one of three freshmen to have at least 30 points in multiple games this season. His partner-in-crime, Robinson, recorded 22. And not too far behind was Turner with 16.

Every time Syracuse attempted to make a dent in the BC lead, the Eagles responded with a comeback-silencing shot from outside. By the end of the game, Boeheim subbed in a few of the Orange’s walk-ons, essentially surrendering to defeat. BC’s 96 points is the highest-scoring performance since its game against St. Michael’s on Nov. 9, 2009.

Most of BC’s current roster did not play in last year’s 0-18 ACC regular season campaign. Christian believes that this is a different group of guys that have a different outlook for the program in 2017. And it started with the Orange on Sunday.

“If you want to have a chance to compete for what we’re trying to compete for, just like everybody else, you better win at home,” Christian said. “I don’t really worry about what people say or what’s happened in the past. I fully understand it—and I fully understand why people have to talk about it—but we don’t have to buy into it.”

New year, new team. The Eagles may have finally found their identity—an explosive backcourt with humbling role players that embody a selfless demeanor. This is an exciting time for Christian and BC basketball. Not only does the future look bright, but so does the present. After all, it is the Eagles who are currently ahead of Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and UNC in the ACC standings.

Featured Image by Mary Schwalm / AP Photo

January 1, 2017