Top Story, Men's Basketball

Collins, Demon Deacons Hand Eagles Sixth Straight Loss

Exactly one person in Conte Forum thought the shot was going in. And that was the man with the ball, Nik Popovic.

The 6-foot-11 center from Bosnia and Herzegovina caught the ball at the top of the key and hoisted it up from beyond the arc, where the freshman had shot just 3-of-13 this season. The crowd collectively let out an audible groan, frustrated by the poor shot selection. But there was something they didn’t know.

The bank was open.

Popovic’s shot bounced high off the backboard and in, the unlikeliest of threes from the unlikeliest of sources, giving Boston College men’s basketball a 52-47 advantage over Wake Forest. It was part of a 9-0 run for the Eagles, during which they regained the lead and extended it to eight points. For a moment, it appeared as if students might be witnessing BC’s first ACC win at home when school is in session—in men’s basketball or football—since 2014.

But John Collins had other ideas. One of the ACC’s best post scorers, Collins answered the Eagles’ run with 13 consecutive points and helped the Demon Deacons hold BC scoreless for  the next five minutes. It was a brutal stretch filled with turnovers and poor defense by the Eagles, which squandered another opportunity at a conference win in a 85-80 loss to Wake (13-9, 4-6 Atlantic Coast), the team’s sixth-straight loss.

Once again, BC (9-14, 2-8) started off slow, with Jordan Chatman being the only one in a rhythm early on. The Brigham Young transfer carried over his hot shooting stroke from Sunday, when he tied a program record with nine 3-pointers in the loss to Virginia Tech. Against the Deacons, Chatman not only showcased his long-range shooting (4-for-6 from 3-point range), but he also mixed in mid-range jumpers and strong drives to the basket. He used the threat of his perimeter shooting to pump fake and blow by defenders, often earning trips to the free throw line where he was a perfect 6-for-6 on the night. Chatman finished with 22 points, which would have been a career-high had he not exploded for 30 points two days prior.

“I’m not surprised at all,” head coach Jim Christian said. “Every shot he takes in practice, every drill we do, is a game shot. He shoots more than anybody on our team. If you do that, at some point, the game rewards you.”

Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson rounded out the Eagles’ balanced scoring attack, adding 18 and 17 points, respectively. Bowman was lethal from outside, nailing 4-of-5 attempts from downtown. Robinson, on the other hand, struggled from deep but maneuvered inside for difficult finishes and nifty fadeaways. The backcourt duo also combined for seven assists and six turnovers.

Ultimately, it was the timing of Collins’ uber-efficient run and BC’s scoring drought late in the game that spelled defeat for Christian’s squad. Collins finished with a monster stat line of 26 points, 16 rebounds, and three blocks for his ninth double-double of the season. But he also had help from his sharpshooters, Bryant Crawford and Austin Arians, who totaled seven 3-pointers between them and finished with 29 combined points. Their effort helped nearly double Wake’s 3-point shooting clip in the second half, up from 36 percent to a blistering 70 percent mark.

Plus, foul trouble for BC’s frontcourt did little to help the cause. Both Mo Jeffers and Nik Popovic picked up five fouls, allowing Collins to live at the charity stripe in the second half. Not to mention it forced 6-foot-6 Connar Tava to guard the 6-foot-10 Collins for the final minutes of the game, creating a very exploitable mismatch down low.

For his part, Tava put forth a solid effort, keeping Collins out of the paint as best he could. Nevertheless, Collins and the Deacons built up a six-point lead in the final minute of play. Ky Bowman made it a one-possession game with 11 seconds remaining, drilling his fourth triple of the evening, but the Eagles still needed the ball back without fouling. Christian’s full-court press was effective, forcing Wake to call timeout on the inbounds play.

On the Deacons’ second try, they passed the ball in and a swarm of BC defenders pressured the ball without fouling, ultimately forcing a jump ball. Unfortunately, neither the possession arrow nor the basketball gods were in the Eagles’ favor, giving Wake a third chance to inbound the ball. This time, the Deacons executed and iced the game with a pair of free throws.

At this point, it’s beginning to sound like a broken record. The bright spots are there. The guards are among the ACC’s most talented scorers. Hell, even the undersized frontcourt, at times, shows it has heart when competing against the Goliaths of the conference.

Regardless, a loss is a loss. And this one will sting even more because it felt like the Eagles let it slip away.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

January 31, 2017