Men's Basketball

Notebook: Effort and Shooting Separate Eagles From Louisville

Not unexpectedly, No. 6 Louisville came into Conte Forum on Saturday and beat Boston College in a dominating fashion. The Cardinals (19-4, 7-3 Atlantic Coast) entered the matinee affair with the best 3-point defense in the ACC, and managed to use both a powerful (and very tall) front court coupled with timely baskets from beyond the arc to rout the Eagles (9-15, 2-9), 90-67.

Some meager production came for the Eagles from the usual suspects—Ky Bowman scored 18 and Jerome Robinson netted 13, but the rest of the Eagles’ offense was nowhere to be found. Jordan Chatman, who had previously drained 15 of his last 19 three-point attempts, only managed 10 points against the hard-working Cardinals. Of the Eagles’ two big men, Mo Jeffers did not score at all, and Nik Popovic managed only seven points.

On the other side of the ball, four different players scored double-digit points. Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel both scored 19, shooting 70 percent from the field. Egyptian 7-footer Anas Mahmoud and Australian big-man Mangok Mathiang also gave the Eagles fits in the paint, scoring eight and 16 points, respectively.

The Good

Creating Opportunities with Penetration: Playing against an aggressive and talented squad of athletes like those in Louisville’s lineup can create challenges for a shooting team like BC. The Eagles have become known for their ability to rain down pain from beyond the arc, something they had little opportunity to do against the Cardinals. Thus, they were forced to create opportunities by driving to the inside, penetrating the wall of hard-hustling athletes and get to the basket.

With about seven and a half minutes remaining in the first half, Robinson was roaming in his usual stomping ground. Hovering just inside the 3-point arc, the North Carolina native cut suddenly to the inside. Connar Tava fed him chest-high pass that Robinson simply had to convert into a basket. Easy points for the 6-foot-7 forward, and this type of penetration would later open up opportunities from beyond the arc that the Eagles were lacking at the start of the contest.

With about three and a half minutes left in the first half, BC was in desperate need of a jump start if they wanted to hold the deficit to less than 12. A drop pass to a driving Robinson left Ervins Meznieks wide open to receive an inside-out pass in the corner. Meznieks subsequently drained the high-arc bomb to bring the Eagles back within eight.

This kind of penetration from Eagles forwards was crucial to many of the points they were able to put up against Louisville, and provides a framework for how to score points on athletically talented teams.

Heart: “This team has played almost everybody tough,” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. “They are getting the most out of every ounce of their talent.” This team plays hard, and that is something to applaud. This is noticeable in the speed that it develops on its fast-breaks, or the looks of frustration on the faces of the players when a call doesn’t go their way. Popovic, upon fouling out, whipped his towel into his chair and sat down forcefully as an expression of his dissatisfaction with his own play. Undoubtedly this could be said about any athlete at the college level, but it should be said that this team has a passion that was not overshadowed despite the fact that it was outmatched in almost every facet of the game.

“Sometimes, when you’re doing everything the right way, and you’re overachieving as much as [BC head coach] Jim [Christian] is, you’ve got to get players as good as UNC, as good as Duke, Louisville, and other ACC teams, and that just takes some time,” Pitino said. This cannot be lost on the Eagles, who played with heart against the Cardinals.

“Our guys learned a valuable lesson today,” Christian said. “And that’s how hard you have to play to be a good team.”

The Bad

Communication: Although not necessarily a true indicator of a good basketball team, team chemistry and good communication are factors that show the type of work that a team puts in in practice. Particularly on inbound passes, Louisville gave the Eagles fits. With the exception of some Matt Ryan-esque heaves by Tava, BC’s inbound passing was filled with frustration against the Cardinal’s press.

Multiple times passes (both inbound and not) simply weren’t to anyone, leading to unnecessary turnovers. BC gave up 14 turnovers, which to Louisville isn’t terrible, but isn’t fantastic either. Better communication and chemistry as a team are a must against Pittsburgh and other future teams.

The perimeter defense was fairly solid, with BC guards adeptly negotiating Louisville screens, but on offense there was a lacking element to the Eagles’ play that caused the offense to look jumbled and haphazard. Occasional brilliance would emerge in the form of a beautifully orchestrated swing pass to an open man in the corner or in the now-signature Popovic left hook, but as a whole the passing and movement lacked cohesiveness.

The Ugly

Three-point Shooting: BC is ordinarily a good 3-point shooting team. Bowman, Robinson, and A.J. Turner all have the potential to be lethal in the backcourt, but showed practically none of that potential on Saturday. Combined, they were 3-of-11 from behind the arc, which is indicative of two things—one, the Eagles’ recent slide in 3-point shooting percentage. Since the Eagles’ first game against Syracuse, Turner and Robinson are a measly 22-90 from three. And two, Louisville’s ACC-leading 3-point defense—a defense that Christian says comes from their hustle and athleticism.

“The reason why any team is good at defending the three is because they play hard,” he said. “They’re a team that plays with alertness and quickness that makes you make another play.”

Against the Cardinals, the Eagles shot a poor 33.3 percent compared to Louisville’s 42.9 percent. Yes, Popovic hit a three in his second consecutive game, but everyone else, including Bowman and Robinson, tossed up bricks.

After draining his first, Meznieks missed three in a row from deep. Robinson went 0-of-5, which is poor for anyone, but is particularly disappointing for the sophomore guard. And although Pitino emphasized that he encourages Louisville players not to count their misses and take lots of shots, his shooters are draining a good percentage of their threes. Going forward, if the Eagles are looking to score enough points to win, draining the three-point opportunities that they have will be crucially important.

“If you don’t guard the 3-point line on [BC], you’re gonna have a bad time,” Pitino said.

Louisville did just that, but the Eagles still had 24 attempts from deep, which was almost half of all their field-goal attempts. If they had drained a comparable percentage to Louisville’s of their three-point shots, they could have scored as many as nine more points on three-point attempts alone. This, obviously, would not have been enough to win, but it’s a point of emphasis. BC also lost the rebound game against the towering Cardinals, meaning that missed 3-point shots not only led to a points deficit, but turnovers in the form of rebounds as well.

Louisville is a good team. They’re ranked No. 6 for a reason, and it showed against the Eagles. They have dominating paint play on both sides of the ball. Jeffers and Popovic had a grand total of four points in the paint, while the Cardinals as a whole put up 40, many of which came from their towering forwards. Mitchell and Adel were adept shooters, and BC did not adequately defend their attempts nor respond with buckets on offense. As a whole, the Eagles were outmatched, but there are things to take away from this game. BC can penetrate to the interior and either drain buckets or play inside-to-out. The Eagles play with heart and care about winning. They just need to put together a more cohesive effort and get everything right if they want to beat good teams. Shooting 45.5 percent from the field won’t cut it, nor will losing the rebound battle. This was not lost on Christian.

“Especially for the younger guys on our team, [Louisville’s effort] is the kind of effort level you have to play with if you want to be good,” he said. “That’s the takeaway from today’s game.”

Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff

February 5, 2017

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