Top Story, Men's Basketball

Bench Play Improves, Eagles Run Away With Win Over Central Connecticut State

Since Boston College men’s basketball center Nik Popovic was battling flu-like symptoms, backup Johncarlos Reyes got the start—his first of the season—on Sunday afternoon against Central Connecticut State. Seconds into the game, the redshirt sophomore made his presence known. After swinging the ball around the perimeter, the Eagles worked the ball inside for Reyes. Using his 6-foot-10 frame, the Lawrenceville, Ga. native backed into the post and finished at the rim for BC’s first two points of the game. Then, on the other end of the floor, he took a charge to the turn the ball back over to the Eagles.

Less than a minute of play had transpired, and it was already clear that Reyes was going to play a bigger role in this one than he had in each of the previous three games. And so would his fellow reserves. After combining for a total of six points over the past week and a half, BC’s bench accumulated 23 against the Blue Devils, taking a little pressure off Ky Bowman, Jerome Robinson, and Jordan Chatman, and closing out a 84-65 victory.

Following Reyes’s game-opening bucket and a pair of free throws, Steffon Mitchell drilled a shot from beyond the arc. Then, moments later, Bowman tipped Mustafa Jones’s pass near half court. The ball bounced off the referee, but luckily for the former ACC Player of the Week, stayed in bounds. Bowman scooped it up and coasted to the rim for an emphatic dunk.

Even though BC (9-3, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) was only up four, the five-point swing was momentum shifting. But CCSU (5-6) wasn’t giving in anytime soon. In fact, the Blue Devils hung around for the remainder of the first half.

Eventually, Austin Nehls and Jones started to heat up from the floor. And it wasn’t long before Tyler Kohl—the Blue Devils’ leading scorer—got in on the fun too. Kohl, who finished with a team-high 17 points, showcased the ability to penetrate the lane and draw contact, making three trips to the line, including two in the first half alone. He also hit his fair share of perimeter shots, knocking down three 3-pointers on the day.

He wasn’t the only one who found his stroke from 3-point land. Actually, for a stretch of four minutes or so, it seemed like everyone was cashing in from beyond the arc. During that span, the teams combined for six triples, as they stayed neck-and-neck, entering the tail end of the period.

First, Chatman and Kohl traded 3-pointers. Then, Popovic—who ended up playing 23 minutes off the bench—netted one from the top of the key, marking his third-straight game with a 3-pointer. Right on cue, the ensuing possessions consisted of back-to-back long balls: Jones answered, and Robinson responded. A couple 3-point shots later, Nehls capped off the air raid, with his second trey of the game—one that kept CCSU within one possession of the Eagles.

All of a sudden, the fluidity of the game went right out of the window. Up until the final minute of the half, both teams stalled offensively. A mixture of turnovers and missed shots, coupled with a handful of personal fouls, slowed down the game. In what was really a free throw contest, BC extended its lead by one score.

A Vin Baker Jr. floater spurred a mini scoring spree to end the period. Sandwiched in between a pair of Jones baskets, Reyes tacked on another layup. And just before the horn sounded, Robinson stepped back and drilled a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Although the Eagles were winning by seven, they were hardly in command. CCSU was shooting 54.5 percent from the field, and a shade under 63 percent from distance. Not to mention that BC had already turned the ball over eight times. Scoreboard aside, head coach Jim Christian needed his guys to turn it around.

“I’m always worried about the response,” he told reporters following the game. “We don’t want to start that way. I don’t know why we did. But the response was fantastic.”

The Eagles came out of the break with a point to prove, stringing together a 17-4 run. On occasion, they looked unstoppable on the offensive end. Running up and down the floor, the lineup of Bowman, Robinson, Chatman, Mitchell, and Popovic repeatedly converted defensive stops into fastbreak scoring plays. Just like that, BC had a 20-point lead.

Debatably more impressive, was the Eagles’ second-half defense. They routinely drew out the shot clock, and contested just about every CCSU jumper. As a result, the Blue Devils’ numbers plummeted, and their scoring production came to a screeching halt.

Christian took advantage of the blowout, giving freshmen Baker Jr. and Luka Kraljevic time to grow on the court. Even junior walk-on Gordon Gehan saw some action. Kraljevic logged a season-high seven points, hitting from both inside and out, and leading the charge for the last few minutes of the game.

When all was said and done, BC eclipsed the 80-point mark for the seventh time this season, nabbing its ninth win of the year—just as many as the Eagles totaled all of last season.

While BC’s supporting cast shouldered more of the scoring burden than usual, the Eagles’ guards didn’t really feel the effects. Bowman, Robinson, and Chatman all played 34-plus minutes. With Avery Wilson out, and a lack a depth at the position, Christian says that this is the time for his guys to learn how to play with fouls and fatigue. And they’re doing all that while winning.

For the first time in two years, BC is on a four-game winning streak. 

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff

December 17, 2017