Featured Column, Men's Basketball

Miracle or Not, Duke Upset is Program-Defining

As soon as Teddy Hawkins went down with a non-contact knee injury at Nebraska during the ACC/Big Ten challenge, it appeared as if Boston College men’s basketball was destined for another subpar season.

In just one month of play, the graduate transfer had already racked up four double-doubles—two more than last year’s grad transfer duo, Connar Tava and Mo Jeffers, totaled in 2016-17. That’s not to mention that Hawkins emerged as a premier scoring threat, someone who could not only put the ball on the floor, but create his own shot, inside and out. At times early this season, the frontcourt simply outplayed the likes of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson, BC’s vaunted guards. But, in the blink of an eye, that newfound inside presence was gone.

Hawkins was helped off the court, and BC’s offense went cold. After making over half their shots in the first half, the Eagles’ field goal percentage plummeted in the absence of their coveted stretch four. Slowly but surely, the Cornhuskers pulled away and BC’s best start in seven years was thrown to the wayside.

The Eagles had only lost two in a row, but it felt as if they hit rock bottom. In two games against Power Five competition, BC was shooting a mere 17.1 percent from 3-point land. Jordan Chatman, easily the Eagles’ best shooter, was converting just 31.1 percent of his long-distance attempts—10.6 ticks below his 2016-17 mark. And possibly even more concerning, Bowman and Robinson had only combined for 40 or more points once all year—an expectation of sorts, considering that they reached that mark seven times against ACC teams last year.

A few days later, the Eagles found themselves trailing Hartford by 10 points less than five minutes into the first half. And even though they escaped the 4,000-seat arena with a 12-point victory, there was hardly any optimism surrounding the team heading into ACC play.

With No. 1 Duke on tap, BC’s only hope was to shoot lights out from downtown—I mean picture perfect. And for the first time in the Bowman-Robinson-Chatman era, they lived up to the task.

All three guards scored 20-plus points, shooting a combined 26-of-48 from the floor. Robinson and Chatman alone accounted for 10 triples—two more than the Blue Devils recorded as a team. They never let up—if anything, the Eagles’ stars took it up a notch in the home stretch. In fact, the three scored BC’s final 25 points.

When all was said and done, Bowman, Robinson, and Chatman were responsible for 76 of the Eagles’ 89 points. If one of them had had an off day, BC would have lost by 10 points, maybe even 20.

Obviously, that kind of success isn’t sustainable. It’s unrealistic to think that Bowman can go full-on Russell Westbrook and record a near triple-double every game, or that Robinson and Chatman will drill a combined 71.4 percent of their 3-point shots. Practically no one in the country could replicate that kind of performance. So maybe this win will look like an outlier at the end of the season. But even if it does, it’ll still be just as meaningful to the players, coaches, and, most importantly, the program.

With a shade under 11 minutes to go in the game, ESPN tweeted, “Undefeated No. 1 Duke is neck-and-neck with Boston College,” and proceeded to plug the game via WatchESPN.

It was probably the first time that the Eagles had been mentioned in a positive light since they upset No. 1 Syracuse in 2014, when Olivier Hanlan was knocking down shots and Steve Donahue was head coach. There’s also a good chance that, outside of Conte Forum, those watching the early-season conference matchup knew nothing about the Eagles, besides the fact that they have “that one guy with red hair,” and reasonably so. For one thing, BC hasn’t had a winning season in seven years. But even worse, prior to Saturday, the Eagles hadn’t taken down a top-25 team in their last 23 tries, dating back to their win over the Orange. With the exception of losing, BC hadn’t done anything notable in years. Well, that, and not being able to close out games.

Last year, the Eagles blew five halftime leads, including three in their final six games of the regular season. At times, they hung with top-tier ACC schools, like Louisville, Notre Dame, and the eventual national champions, North Carolina. But when it came to the second half, BC collapsed, week-after-week. So when the Eagles dropped a season-high 48 first-half points against Duke on Saturday, taking a seven-point lead into the break, many were bracing themselves for what seemed like the inevitable.

But then, the unthinkable happened. In true David vs. Goliath fashion, Robinson hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final minutes of regulation to put BC ahead of the Blue Devils for good—the second of which was a contested shot right in the face of Grayson Allen.

Boston College men's basketball

The infamous Duke guard tried to answer on the other end with a jumper of his own, but the ball bounced off the rim, and Robinson hauled in the rebound, all but sealing the win. A few free throws later, the students stormed the court, overjoyed with excitement.

Fleet by fleet, Superfans flooded the hardwood, jumping up and down to the dismay of the remaining Blue Devils fans, who remained motionless in their seats. The BC faithful swarmed the entire Eagles team, as Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski walked to the locker room without an expression on his face. He was followed by Marvin Bagley III, Allen—black eye and all, and the rest of the Blue Devils, who struggled to weave in and out of the mob. For three or so minutes, Conte Forum was in a state of pandemonium.

The chaos was warranted. Although the Eagles had previously beaten three other No. 1 teams, they had never done so at home. Even more bizarre, the win marks the first time that BC has won an ACC game in Conte Forum while school has been in session since March 7, 2015—1,008 days to be exact.

The moment was one of the most iconic in the school history—just ask Christian. Following the game, a reporter asked Bowman, Robinson, and Chatman how the win compared to the program’s all-time achievements. Christian couldn’t help himself, and butted in.

“If you walk out into our hallway in our office, they have posters up of the greatest moments—all the big wins, the conference championships, beating No. 1 teams in the nation,” the fourth-year man said. “We’re putting one up for this one.”

But the upset extends past the confines of Conte Forum. After the game, Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds were cluttered with stats and highlights. Nationwide, fans throughout the country took note of Bowman, Robinson, Chatman, and BC as a whole. It’s only a matter of time before Bowman and Robinson crack some NBA Big Boards. At the moment, the two are nowhere to be found on Sports Illustrateds or CBS Sports’ prospect rankings. Without the upset though, who knows when they’d garner the national attention that they deserve.

The nail-biting victory finally gives students a reason to attend games. About a month ago, the Eagles ran away with a 20-point win over Sacred Heart. Even though BC was playing its best basketball in years, only 643 people came to watch, and that’s including friends and family. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the student sections fill up on a weekly basis. The Eagles won’t win every game, but they will always have a chance to pull off the upset, no matter what team comes to town.

Plain and simple, had the Eagles lost, Saturday would have been nothing more than a moral victory, which, in the long run, is insignificant in the recruiting game, as evidenced by this offseason. Simply having “one of the best backcourts in the country” wasn’t enough to persuade four- or five-star recruits to play in Chestnut Hill, Mass. But winning against Duke, let alone the No. 1 team in the nation, might just do the trick, regardless of what happens from here on out.

Photos by Sanket Bhagat / Heights Staff

Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo

December 12, 2017