Top Story, Men's Basketball

Eagles Squander Halftime Lead Against No. 25 Notre Dame

With under two minutes remaining, Jordan Chatman found himself wide open in the corner with a chance to make it a one-point game. Mo Jeffers had just stolen the ball and passed to Ky Bowman, who pushed the pace and dished it to the sharpshooter standing all by himself in front of the bench. But before the reserves could erupt in their signature 3-point celebration, Chatman’s shot clanked off iron, his third brick of the night. Head coach Jim Christian couldn’t help but smile—his team had done everything right except execute.

A minute later, Boston College men’s basketball saw another opportunity to steal its first win against No. 25 Notre Dame in 13 years, and its first victory against a Top 25 team in the Christian era. Down by two points, the Eagles needed a Notre Dame miss in order to have a shot at regaining the lead. And that’s what they got: The Fighting Irish couldn’t find any openings in the BC defense, settling for a deep, contested 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

But the Eagles, sneakily one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country, failed to box everyone out. V.J. Beachem broke free and grabbed the rebound with 25 seconds to play, essentially sealing the game for the Irish.

This time, there was no grin from Christian.

After a free-throw shooting clinic in the final seconds of regulation, Notre Dame (29-7, 9-5 Atlantic Coast) escaped Conte Forum with a 84-76 victory, battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit and extending BC’s (9-18, 2-12) losing streak to double digits.

Fittingly, the two biggest contributors for the Irish both had connections to the Heights. Bonzie Colson, who led Notre Dame with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, practically grew up in Conte Forum when his dad served as an assistant under former head coach Al Skinner. Colson frequented the sidelines during the golden age of BC basketball, looking up to players like Troy Bell, Jared Dudley, and Craig Smith as he developed his love of the sport. He even held birthday parties at Conte, inviting friends to watch a game with him before retreating into the practice gym for cake and presents.

“I give him credit,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “This is the third time we’ve brought him home, and he has always played well. Usually you bring guys home, and they’re gonna be a little spaced out. He spent so much time in this building growing up, his whole family is here. And he’s just so steady that way.”

Point guard Matt Farrell, too, had extra motivation for the Valentine’s Day edition of the Holy War. Farrell, a candidate for the ACC’s Most Improved Player, originally committed to the Eagles back in 2013. When then-coach Steve Donahue was fired, the New Jersey native reopened his commitment before eventually choosing the Irish.

As Notre Dame slowly clawed its way back in the second half, Farrell provided a critical boost of momentum that changed the entire game. With 13 minutes left, the junior drilled a pair of 3-pointers that tied the game at 59-59. He finished with 19 points while logging a game-high 37 minutes.

“He senses when we need it, and he’s been that kind of assassin for us all year,” Brey said.

After the game-tying trey, Farrell trotted down the court looking for someone to talk trash to, ultimately settling for a brief spat in the direction of ESPN’s cameras. Later, Farrell told reporters that he had been called a “traitor” for decommitting from BC, and that he cherished playing in this environment.

The disappointing finish for the Eagles erased their best first half of the season, in which they shot nearly 60 percent from the floor and posted 49 points. They looked electric, yet controlled, in transition, and pushed the tempo against their Catholic rival. Bowman nailed three early 3-pointers en route to an electric 29-point performance, one point away from his fourth 30-point game of the year. Among Division I freshmen, only Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith, Jr. have achieved such a feat, and they’re both projected to be lottery picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. Jerome Robinson chipped in nine points before halftime, and BC looked well on its way to improving its record to 1-20 against ranked opponents under Christian.

But for anyone who has watched the Eagles this season, their second-half struggles were hardly a surprise. In their last three games, they’ve been tied or leading at halftime, but couldn’t finish the job. Robinson couldn’t get anything to fall in the second half, missing all seven of his attempts. Chatman missed a trio of 3-pointers and A.J. Turner took only two shots. An offense that was clicking in the first half fell flat after halftime, and BC couldn’t do enough on defense to eke out a victory.

So what do the Eagles need to do differently to close out games like this?

“Make plays,” Christian said. “For us, because we’re struggling a little bit, we hesitate at that key moment. Big shot, big free throw, big blockout. You can’t do that if you want to be successful in this league. When you’ve got opportunities in the ACC, you’ve got to make a play. It’s a short answer to a complicated question, but it’s the truth.”

Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff

February 14, 2017

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