Top Story, Men's Basketball

Behind Balanced Attack, BC Outruns La Salle in HoF Tip-Off Tournament

Boston College men’s basketball and La Salle hit a dry spell toward the end of the first half of Sunday’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament Third Place Game. In fact, both teams—each of which were shooting below 38 percent from the floor at the time—failed to knock down a single field goal in the span of two minutes and 36 seconds.

Eventually, the Eagles put an end to the scoring drought—all thanks to Nik Popovic. With his team down one, the sophomore center backed down in the post. Catching his defender off guard, the 6-foot-11 big man spun and dropped a left-handed hook shot into the basket. Then, one possession later, Popovic cut toward the hoop, received a feed from Ky Bowman, and finished at the rim for an easy two points.

All of a sudden, BC was back in the lead, and the Eagles offense looked like itself again. BC closed out the half on a 10-0 run, and carried its momentum into the latter portion of play. Popovic looked better and better as the game progressed, and so did the Eagles. The Bosnia and Herzegovina native finished with a career-high 18 points, as well as seven rebounds, and head coach Jim Christian’s team rode a 52-point second half to a 82-61 win.

For the first five minutes of the game, it looked as if BC (4-1) was already on its way to a clear-cut victory. Ky Bowman spotted up from the top of the key to get things going. Moments later, Popovic and Teddy Hawkins drilled back-to-back jumpers. To cap off a nine-point outburst, it was Bowman again, this time sinking a mid-range shot, adjacent to the free throw line. But that’s just about when the Eagles started to unwind offensively.

Like Saturday’s loss to Texas Tech, not to mention all of last season, turnovers killed BC. Careless passes and poor ball handling resulted in nine first-half Eagles turnovers. Luckily for Christian and Co., the Explorers couldn’t capitalize. La Salle (3-2) was just as inefficient on offense, missing shot after shot. But it was only a matter of time before its two leading scorers, B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell, started to find a rhythm.

Midway through the first period, the two Explorers guards teamed up to orchestrate a 7-0 run—one that gave La Salle an early 17-13 advantage. But BC’s frontcourt, namely Hawkins and Popovic, was quick to silence the Explorers’ scoring spree. Johnson answered with a pair of shots at the charity stripe and a 3-pointer, but, for the most part, the game was anyone’s for the taking.

After a couple minutes of scoreless basketball, Popovic pounced on the opportunity, attacking the paint on consecutive possessions. Chatman followed, hitting just his second shot of the day. And at the buzzer, Bowman heaved up a prayer from halfcourt that hit off the glass and rattled in. At the break, the Eagles had an eight-point lead, and, from there on out, it was only going to increase.

Bowman’s miraculous shot foreshadowed what was to come in the second half: high-percentage shooting, contested or not. Popovic’s remarkable performance continued, as the sophomore showcased the ability to body up defenders down low, slip underneath the basket, and run in transition. It wasn’t long before he surpassed his career-best scoring total. But he wasn’t the only one lighting up the box score.

For the first time in a week and a half, Jerome Robinson looked like the NBA prospect that he is. The junior’s shooting numbers were night and day in the back half of play. He shot 7-of-11 from the field, including 2-of-3 from the perimeter. Robinson’s 21 second-half points are the most that he has scored all season. Whether he was driving to the hole or pulling up from outside, La Salle had no means of stopping the Raleigh, N.C. native.

All the Explorers could do was rely on Johnson and Powell. Johnson had a 20-point second half himself, and led all scorers with 27. Just when it looked as if BC was really going to pull away, the 24-year-old Syracuse transfer would knock down a 3-pointer, keeping La Salle’s chances somewhat alive. His partner-in-crime, Powell, wasn’t too shabby either. Although the Memphis transfer never really found his groove from deep, he helped Johnson fend off the Eagles’ offensive clinic, chipping in 16 points. Together, the two guards accounted for all but seven of the Explorers’ 39 second-half points.

Slowly, but surely, the Eagles pulled away, and for the fourth time this year, Christian subbed in  some of his freshmen in the game’s closing minutes.

All five of BC’s starters walked off the court, having scored 10 or more points for the second-consecutive game. While the Eagles have yet to get rid of the turnover bug, it looks as if they have finally found some depth.

Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff

November 19, 2017