Top Story, Men's Basketball

At No. 9 Virginia, Eagles Fall Short of Last-Minute Victory

Boston College men’s basketball’s Jerome Robinson put on a show in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday afternoon. Against Virginia, a team that held him to a mere nine points just a season ago, the junior scored a season-high 29, including 18 in the back half of play. But the other Jerome—UVA’s Ty Jerome that is—was just that much better.   

The sophomore, who entered the weekend averaging around eight points per contest, played the game of his life, drilling six 3-pointers and racking up a career-best 31 points—14 more than he had ever scored in a game during his two years as a Cavalier. UVA needed every one of his shots to go down, as it held on to stave the Eagles’ second-half comeback, winning, 59-58.

Initially, it appeared as if it was going to be Kyle Guy’s day, not Jerome’s. Less than 20 seconds into the game, the sophomore, who, coming into Saturday, averaged a team-leading 16.1 points per game, knocked down a 3-pointer. Then, on the tailend of No. 9 UVA’s (12-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) game-opening 13-7 run, he hit a spot-up jumper. But Guy ended up missing four of his next five shots. The Cavaliers sought help elsewhere—for a while that was the interior.

Jordan Chatman kept BC (10-4, 1-1) in the game in the early going with timely 3-point shots, but he was getting no help inside, in large part because of UVA’s impenetrable combination of forward Isaiah Wilkins and center Jack Salt. Over the course of the first 10 minutes of the game, the Cavaliers’ frontcourt blocked three shots. The two upperclassmen virtually created a wall in the paint, much to the dismay of Ky Bowman, who was routinely disrupted on his way up to the basket. In fact, the sophomore was held scoreless for the 28 minutes of play. As a whole, UVA’s pack-line defense forced nine turnovers in the first half, and limited the Eagles to just 20 percent 3-point shooting.

Robinson knew that the only way his team was going to have a chance was if he took the ball to the rack. Time and time again, the NBA prospect attacked the paint, occasionally drawing contact. The duo of Robinson and Chatman strung together a 9-0 run to catapult BC into the lead, midway through the first period. But the advantage was short lived.

Thanks to Jerome and Guy, UVA rattled off three-consecutive 3-pointers to take a seven-point lead. As expected, the pace of play slowed, and the Cavaliers entered the break, up, 30-25. Although the Eagles weren’t delivering from beyond the arc, their aggressive defense created eight takeaways and, for the most part, limited UVA’s relatively conservative offense. Considering that Robinson, Chatman, and Nik Popovic were the only BC players to score in the first frame, head coach Jim Christian had to be thankful that his team was within striking distance.

Much of the second half was a back-and-forth affair between Jerome and Robinson. The multi-faceted 6-foot-5 guards went toe-to-toe, scoring inside and out. After turning the ball over a combined 17 times in the first half, the two sides only committed a total of five turnovers in the second period. UVA clung to its lead for the majority of the half, but struggled to create any kind of separation. And eventually Robinson tied it all up with a step-back 3-pointer, prior to the five-minute mark.

Right on cue, Jerome answered with a couple triples of his own. The Eagles worked their way back to within one point of the Cavaliers behind a couple of Chatman free throws and a clutch Robinson 3-pointer with under a minute remaining in the game.

On the other end, Jerome fittingly grabbed a potential game-winning offensive rebound, before Robinson could get a palm on the ball. Instantly, he passed it out to Devon Hall—the ACC’s leading free throw shooter. Chatman immediately fouled the redshirt senior, sending him to the charity stripe.

But because Hall missed on the frontend of a one-and-one, BC got one more shot to upset its second ranked opponent of the season—well, actually, two more shots. Inbounding the ball from the baseline, Chatman lofted a pass toward the half-court line for Robinson. The only problem was, he put way too much juice on it. The ball bounced past the team’s leading scorer, and Wilkins chased it down, before slamming one home to end the game. Or so everyone in John Paul Jones Arena thought.

Due to a clock malfunction, the Eagles got another go-around at the inbound pass with, once again, 3.1 seconds left to play. Even after a three-minute discussion among the referees, Christian still couldn’t figure out a way to get Robinson the ball. Instead, it was Popovic who ended up with the last shot. Bordering the baseline, the 6-foot-10 big man took a couple dribbles toward the basket, pushed off Salt, and let a one-handed floater go. The ball bounced off the front of the rim, but it didn’t matter—Popovic was called for the offensive foul, all but sealing BC’s fate.

UVA ran the clock out, and Tony Bennett looked around the court just to make sure that the game was actually over, before beginning to celebrate his 200th victory as the Cavaliers’ head coach.

The Eagles have showcased the ability to knock off any team when they catch fire from the floor. But before Saturday, Bowman, Robinson, and Chatman had struggled to compete with ACC powerhouses when all three of them weren’t in sync. BC only shot 42.3 percent from the field against UVA—3.6 ticks below its season average—and Bowman did more harm than good, turning the ball over as many times as he had points (five). With that kind of effort, there’s no reason to think that the Eagles can’t take every team they play to the distance, no matter how ugly a game it is.

Featured Image by Zack Wajsgras / AP Photo

December 30, 2017