Men's Basketball

Notebook: First-Half Blunders, Chatman’s Off Day Doom Eagles

Just four days removed from a heartbreaking loss in Charlottesville, Va., Boston College men’s basketball returned to Conte Forum, aiming to start the New Year on a high note against No. 25 Clemson. The Tigers leapt into the AP Poll after beating North Carolina State, capping an eight-game winning streak to end the calendar year. This, in turn, meant the Eagles would be facing off against their third ranked ACC opponent in as many games.

After beating No. 1 Duke and taking No. 9 Virginia to the wire, BC had the right to go into its game against Clemson with confidence, looking to prove it belonged in the conversation as one of the top teams in one of the most competitive conferences in all of college basketball. The Eagles had a legitimate chance to knock off a non-No. 1 ranked opponent, something they hadn’t done since the 2011-12 season. But their valiant second-half effort—one in which they outscored the Tigers, 47-36—wasn’t enough to make up for their 15-point halftime deficit, as BC fell, 74-70.

Three Up

1) Jerome Robinson Catching Fire

With just over 11 minutes to play in the first half, Jerome Robinson drove to the basket and threw up a tough layup in traffic with so much spin that it miraculously made a 45-degree cut off the backboard and into the hoop. It was Robinson’s only basket in an otherwise depressing first half for BC (10-5, 1-2 Atlantic Coast)—a period in which Clemson (13-1, 2-0) took a commanding lead. Yet, whatever adjustments head coach Jim Christian made at halftime worked in Robinson’s favor. In the second half, the junior immediately made his presence known, scoring or assisting on his team’s first 11 buckets, en route to 26 second-half points.

Robinson was lethal behind the arc, more specifically in front of his own bench. Every 3-point shot he launched in the second half was inches away from his teammates and coaches. Perhaps their positive energy in the back half of play served as the catalyst for Robinson’s career-high six 3-pointers.

2) Battle of the Mitchells

Just as the Eagles’ loss to Virginia was highlighted by the back-and-forth scoring between Ty Jerome and Jerome Robinson, Wednesday’s matchup pitted Clemson’s Shelton Mitchell against BC’s Steffon Mitchell. Although neither player made a huge impact in the box score, Steffon won the individual battle over his opponent of the same surname despite scoring three fewer points. He made a tremendous hustle play at the end of the first period that disrupted a Clemson 2-on-1: The freshman came up with a deflection in the paint and then dove to secure the loose-ball steal. Steffon recorded four blocks, including one on Shelton, who shot just 20 percent for the game. Averaging close to eight boards per game, Steffon Mitchell is quietly on pace to become the sixth freshman in program history to finish the season as the Eagles’ leading rebounder.

3) Kraljevic Finding His Game

One thing Christian has made clear this season is that he doesn’t care about bench points. Earlier in non-conference play, the BC coach was adamant that his team’s lack of depth was not a concern. In the first half of Wednesday’s game, it was apparent that failing to get freshman Luka Kraljevic—who entered the game having played just 90 career minutes—time throughout the early portion of the season, seriously hurt the Eagles. When he was first put in, Kraljevic struggled. On back-to-back possessions the backup center was bypassed by Gabe Devoe and Marcquise Reed for simple layups. Minutes later on a Clemson fastbreak, the 6-foot-10 big man fouled Elijah Thomas, who easily scored and then converted the and-one opportunity. All these plays occurred during a 16-0 run for the Tigers, and put BC in a deep hole going into halftime.

Fortunately for the Eagles, the freshman got his game going in the second half, recording six points, a steal, and a partial block (that ended up not making it on the stat sheet) over a two-minute period. Each of Kraljevic’s three field goals came from the exact same spot on the court, 20 feet away from the hoop on the baseline in front of the BC bench. The freshman later pulled off a veteran move by drawing an off-ball foul while his team was in the bonus, but choked on the front end of a one-and-one, just his sixth free throw attempt of the season. The miss was critical in halting the Eagles’ newfound momentum. One has to wonder if Kraljevic’s minimal in-game experience factored into his unsuccessful trip to the charity stripe.

Three Down

1) Jordan Chatman Goes M.I.A.

For the first time all season, Jordan Chatman failed to get on the board. Over the course of the previous five games, in which he averaged 21 points, the junior made a name for himself as one of the NCAA’s hottest 3-point shooters and the ACC’s best free throw shooter. It’s only logical to assume that his lack of production played a role in BC’s loss. Despite logging all 40 minutes, Chatman only took one 3-pointer and two total shot attempts. In games that Chatman has played this season and the Eagles have lost, he averages just 7.8 points per game, whereas in wins he scores an average of 15.9 points. Since the Eagles’ trio of guards was essentially reduced to a scoring tandem, the hard-fought comeback proved to be nearly impossible. Whether or not this was an intentional strategy for Christian, it is certainly a cause for concern going forward.

2) Trying to Do Too Much

On three occasions in the first half, BC guards tried to throw cross-court passes on the run, and each time, the ball ended up out of bounds. Robinson was guilty of this just once, while Ky Bowman did it twice. Each of these passes were no less than 10 feet from their intended target, and were part of a 10-turnover first half for the Eagles. BC struggled to match the fast-paced play of Clemson in the early stages of the game, and was punished on the scoreboard when trying to do so. In their much-improved second half, the Eagles turned the ball over just four times. Back-to-back games, ball security, or lack thereof, has disrupted BC’s first-half offense.

3) Getting to the Line

BC didn’t even attempt a free throw in the first half. On the other hand, Clemson made a home for itself at the charity stripe. By the game’s end, the Tigers attempted 20 shots from the line, making 18 of them for an impressive 90-percent mark. Five of the Eagles’ six foul shots were taken by Bowman—the only player to take advantage of the fact that BC was in the bonus for the majority of the second half. The Eagles came into the game shooting 50 more free throws than their competitors over the course of the season, but failed to consistently get to the line in one of its biggest games of the year. The balance between discipline and aggression will most likely be a point of emphasis for Christian and his coaching staff in the coming days before BC faces off against Wake Forest this weekend.

Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo

January 4, 2018