Top Story, Men's Basketball

Eagles Grind out Victory Against Wake Forest

Boston College men’s basketball shot a mere 37.3 percent from the field—eight ticks below its season average—on Saturday afternoon against Wake Forest, marking, by far, its worst shooting performance of the year. But it didn’t matter.

Throughout the contest, and particularly in the second half, the Eagles played lockdown defense. Nik Popovic, Johncarlos Reyes, and Luka Kraljevic practically took Wake Forest’s frontcourt out of the game, limiting Doral Moore and Terrence Thompson to a combined seven points. BC was all around the ball, blocking nine shots and forcing 15 turnovers. Up until the final minute of the the second half, the Demon Deacons were only converting 31.7 percent of their shot attempts and had recorded just six total field goals in the latter portion of play.

By capitalizing on takeaways, earning a season-high 35 free throw attempts, turning the ball over just seven times, and netting timely jumpshots, the Eagles distanced themselves in the final frame to snap a two-game losing streak with a 77-71 victory—their first over Wake Forest since the 2014-15 season.

When all was said and done, Jerome Robinson broke the 20-point barrier for the third-straight game, leading BC (11-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast) with 25 points. But he wasn’t always in the driver’s seat—and neither were his fellow guards, Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman. Of all people, it was Steffon Mitchell, a freshman that entered the game averaging 5.7 points per game, who was fueling the Eagles’ offense.

He logged eight of BC’s first 10 points, scoring from everywhere on the court. First he drilled a 15-foot jumper from the right block. Moments later, Mitchell sunk a wide-open 3-pointer. Then, he recorded three more points—this time the old-fashioned way: Mitchell attacked the paint, finished, despite contact, and tacked on the ensuing free throw to round out the scoring play. The stretch was just a sign of what was to come—the Shakopee, Minn. native’s most impressive outing since he recorded a career-high 21 points in BC’s rout of South Carolina State back in November. By the game’s end, the freshman totaled 17 points, five rebounds, and four blocks.

But Wake Forest (8-7, 1-2) had a secret weapon of its own. Chaundee Brown—a freshman averaging close to seven points per game—started to heat up, especially from beyond the arc. The Eagles were giving the 6-foot-5 guard plenty of room to shoot, and he made them pay. Brown drilled four of his first six shots, including three of his first four from downtown, scoring 11 points in the first eight minutes of the game and guiding the Demon Deacons to an early lead.

It was only a matter of time before Robinson and Bowman got going. The backcourt duo teamed up to score 17 of BC’s final 23 points of the half, penetrating the interior and draining a few much-needed jumpers. All but one of the other six points came at the hands of Jordan Chatman, who, despite being the Eagles’ third-leading scorer, was held without a point for over 56 minutes of game time, spanning from Wednesday’s loss to No. 25 Clemson to just about the three-minute mark in Saturday’s first half.

With under two minutes remaining in the opening period, BC made a move, taking a 35-30 lead. The five-point advantage was short-lived though, as the Demon Deacons responded with a 5-0 run to tie the game up before the break. At the end of one, it was anyone’s game.

Over the course of the next 20 minutes, Wake Forest essentially gave it away.

The beginning of the second half modeled that of the end of the first. A Popovic layup and a Robinson 3-pointer propelled BC back to a five-point lead. Yet, in due time, the Demon Deacons strung together a jumper and a pair of free throws to keep the game close. The back-and-forth affair went on for a couple more minutes before, all of a sudden, Wake Forest went ice cold from the floor. In fact, the Demon Deacons didn’t make a single field goal for over six and half minutes.

Without any kind of scoring opposition, the game was BC’s to take. And while the Eagles didn’t pull away like they probably should have, they did just enough to create separation, not to mention a highlight-reel play for the season.

Following a pair of Brandon Childress free throws, Robinson hit a floater to put BC back up three. Seconds later, Bowman forced a steal in Demon Deacon territory, Robinson scooped up the loose the ball and connected with his streaking point guard down court. Bowman dribbled behind his back, elevated, and finished at the rim with a reverse dunk, facing the Conte Forum crowd.

Eventually, Thompson made a layup to end Wake Forest’s drought, only to reset the clock on what was another five minutes of play without a field goal for the Demon Deacons. Slowly but surely, BC furthered its lead—not by netting shots, but by getting to the charity stripe. Robinson, who shot 10-of-10 from the line on the evening, set the example, embracing contact in the key time and time again. His teammates, Bowman specifically, followed suit. Soon enough, it was a 10-point game with a shade over three minutes remaining.

But, in a blink of an eye, Wake Forest, namely Bryant Crawford, flipped the switch. The junior scored 12-straight Demon Deacon points, trading baskets with Robinson. At one point, he knocked down three-consecutive 3-pointers, effectively extending the game. He wasn’t the only one that caught fire. Brown capped off his second 20-point game of the season with a pair of triples in the final 31 seconds of regulation.

All the while, the Eagles were thwarting any sort of comeback at the stripe. Down the stretch, BC—a team that ranked 261st in the country in free throw shooting last season—hit 11-of-14 from the line, securing its second ACC win of the season, and its first since it upset then-No. 1 Duke on Dec. 9.

Both BC and Wake Forest struggled mightily from the field on Saturday. The game came down to the little things: drawing fouls, protecting the ball, and creating turnovers—things that head coach Jim Christian’s team wasn’t doing last year, let alone last week.  

Featured Image by Barry Chin / AP Photo

January 6, 2018