Men's Basketball

Notebook: Popovic, Home Crowd Lift Eagles Over FSU

Boston College men’s basketball continued its push for national relevance with an impressive 81-75 win over previously-ranked Florida State. The Eagles (13-6, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) never trailed, playing tough defense as they held the Seminoles (13-5, 2-4) to 34 percent from the field—FSU’s worst shooting night of the season.

Nik Popovic turned in an impressive performance, Ky Bowman recorded a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds, and BC evened its conference record through six games. With wins over the likes of Duke and now FSU, paired with close losses to Virginia and Clemson, it’d be no surprise if the Eagles slowly worked their way into the receiving votes section of the AP Top 25.

Three Up

1) Nik Popovic

If somebody turned to you after the North Carolina game and said, “Nik Popovic will lead the Eagles to a win against a Florida State team that has an average player height of over 6-foot-6,” you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were out of their mind. Popovic was so overmatched against the Tar Heels that he played just 16 minutes.

On Monday night, though, he was undeniably the best frontcourt player on the floor—a complete turnaround. Not only did he pile up a career-high five blocks against Florida State’s talented big men, but he was also crucial in helping break the full-court press, dished out three assists, and shot 6-of-10 from the field for 14 points.

“He did a tremendous job on both sides of the ball,” Eagles head coach Jim Christian said. “If you look at where we were rebounding the ball and competing in North Carolina and where we were tonight, that was an amazing turnaround.”

2) Free Throw Shooting

FSU rallied down the stretch, bringing a 21-point deficit to within five points in the last minute. Lifted by 10-of-19 shooting from the field in the final eight minutes, the Seminoles were knocking on the door, but instead of faltering at the free throw line and potentially letting FSU back into it, BC came up clutch. The Eagles converted 13 of their 14 free throws down the stretch, keeping enough distance between the Seminoles to lock up the win.

That kind of night at the charity stripe bodes well for BC’s future, as narrow competitive games in both conference play and beyond often hinge on one team closing out the other. The Eagles entered sitting in the middle of the conference in free throw shooting (ninth, 71.5 percent), but proved that they have the shooters capable of holding a lead. Jordan Chatman and Steffon Mitchell both went 5-of-6 from the line, while the team shot 20-of-25 (80 percent).

3) Home Crowd

The last few years, there hasn’t been a whole lot of good men’s basketball to cheer for. The Eagles had single-digit wins each of the last two years and have had their share of disappointments. This season, though, BC is back—and has been lifted by the tremendous fan support.

“In this league, if you don’t protect your home court, you’re in trouble,” Christian said. “You’ve got to win at home and when the crowd gets the way it was, I really hope people keep coming out.”

Conte Forum has been very friendly to the Eagles this season, as they’ve posted an 11-1 mark, the lone blemish being a narrow loss to then-No. 25 Clemson. It was rocking on Monday night, drawing comparisons to the incredible atmosphere for the upset of then-No. 1 Duke back in December.

“We’ve been making it a tough place to play,” Robinson said. “With us winning, it just brings the atmosphere up and up.”

Three Down

1) Turnovers

The Eagles didn’t turn the ball over for the first 12 minutes of play, but they still finished with 12 turnovers, two more than the visiting Seminoles. FSU managed just four points off the turnovers, but it was still a frustrating part of the game for Christian and Co.

Up by 21 at the start of the second half, BC went on to cough the ball up seven times in the frame, letting the Seminoles stick around—something that could’ve proved costly. The giveaways were particularly egregious, as Bowman piled up six, missing teammates on cross-court pass attempts.

2) Fatigue

At one point, after a tough foul, Bowman bent over and looked worn out before walking to the bench at a media timeout. It was the first sign of wear and tear, and it’s no surprise—the sophomore guard is 19th in the country in the percentage of his teams minutes played. Bowman played 38 minutes on Monday night, laboring to break a full-court press in addition to dealing with FSU’s shifty and dangerous group of guards.

The Eagles had just two bench points, and it’s been clear throughout the season that the starting five will have to do all of the work. Problems will start to arise when Bowman or any of the other four falter down the stretch—the rest of the team can’t handle a subpar performance.

3) Foul Trouble

As mentioned above, BC has a tremendous lack of depth—so it makes up for it by being one of the smartest fouling team in the country. The Eagles have the fifth-best ratio of free throw attempts vs. field goal attempts in Division I basketball, an impressive mark that helps protect them from using the bench.

Against FSU, though, BC opened the second half by racking up six fouls in just five minutes. It let the Seminoles get in the bonus very quickly in the second half, leading to a 12-of-12 FSU effort from the free throw line. Popovic fouled out with over a minute to go, while Chatman, Bowman, and sub Luka Kraljevic all played with three fouls down the stretch. In future games, they’ll need to play much smarter—foul trouble spells doom for the shorthanded Eagles.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor

January 16, 2018