Men's Basketball

Robinson’s Record-Setting Performance Outweighed by Porous Defense in South Bend

With only three seconds left in the first half on Tuesday night, Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs received an inbound pass and made a beeline for the 3-point line. Just before he reached the top of the arc, the sophomore took a couple steps to his left and heaved up an off-balanced 3-pointer over Boston College men’s basketball’s Jordan Chatman. The shot—Gibbs’s fifth triple of the period—rattled in, capping off a 8-0 run that allowed the Irish to take a nine-point lead into intermission. Just 20 minutes in, the sophomore, who had never broken the 30-point barrier, was on pace to score 40-plus points.

But in the end, Gibbs wouldn’t come close to reaching that mark—the milestone was reserved for BC’s Jerome Robinson.  

The junior, who had just tied his career high of 32 points last Wednesday against Virginia Tech, shot 15-of-23 from the field, including 7-of-12 from downtown, racking up a jaw-dropping 46 points—the most any ACC player has recorded this season and three shy of the Eagles’ program record. Scoring in every which way, the Raleigh, N.C. native turned an 18-point, second-half deficit into a two-point game. The only problem was, BC couldn’t buy a stop. Notre Dame drilled its final six shots to run away with a 96-85 victory, snapping a month-long losing streak.

The Irish (14-10, 4-7 Atlantic Coast) sure didn’t look like a team that failed to eclipse the 80-point mark in their last eight games. Thanks to Rex Pflueger, Notre Dame hit the ground running. The junior scored or assisted on the Irish’s first three possessions, creating the blueprint for the night: drive to the lane, establish a presence inside, and then, after getting the Eagles (14-10, 4-7) to bite, kick the ball out to the perimeter. The strategy was relatively simple and even more predictable. Still, it worked to near perfection.

The Irish converted five of their first six field goal attempts, scoring 11 points in the opening four minutes of play. BC was there every step of the way in early going, matching Notre Dame’s video game-like shooting percentage. Then, a few possessions after the first media timeout, Gibbs went off—the sophomore drained four consecutive 3-pointers, single-handedly orchestrating a 12-3 Irish run. Five free throws later, Notre Dame extended its lead to 12.

Robinson did his best to keep BC in the game, netting a trio of 3-pointers in the back half of the frame. Things didn’t get any easier when Nik Popovic left for the locker room with an abdominal strain, a couple of minutes after getting a piece of Matt Farrell on a jumper. From then on, Luka Kraljevic and Johncarlos Reyes split time at the five.

It took Ky Bowman close to 19 and a half minutes to score his first basket—one that brought BC all the way back within three. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the sophomore’s 3-pointer only prompted a 8-0 Irish run before the break. Farrell sunk a floater and a triple and proceeded to take a charge on the defensive end of the floor, setting up Gibbs, who finished with a team-high 28 points, for the buzzer-beating shot.

Notre Dame went with a bigger lineup in the second half, playing both Martinas Geben (6-foot-10) and John Mooney (6-foot-9). Without Popovic down low, BC looked out of sorts. In fact, the Eagles didn’t score for the first two and a half minutes of the period. Another two minutes would pass before they got on the board for a second time. Meanwhile, the Irish continued to build their lead, riding the 3-point shot.

It was only a matter of time before BC—a team that has erased four double-digit, second-half deficits this season—closed the gap. Robinson got things going, slamming one home on a 2-on-1 and then canning a 3-pointer while being fouled on the next possession. The junior made the ensuing free throw, and a minute and a half later, his partner-in-crime Bowman banked a triple off the glass to draw within 10 of Notre Dame.

Robinson and the Eagles weren’t stopping there. The 6-foot-5 combo guard scored BC’s next 11 points, setting a new a career high in the process. The two-and-a-half minute stretch consisted of a few layups, a jumper here and there, and a highlight-reel alley oop—a half court set that Bowman and Robinson have practically mastered by now. A pair of Chatman free throws all but erased the Irish’s lead, making it a 70-68 game with under seven minutes to play.

But every time BC tried to make a move, Notre Dame, namely Farrell, responded. Robinson, who was even taking his game into the post, could only do so much. After all, up until the waning seconds of the game, not a single one of his teammates reached double figures. Soon enough, the Irish overpowered BC’s one-man show. Led by Mooney, who scored seven points in the last two minutes of regulation, Notre Dame bumped its lead back up to 15 with 28 seconds left to go. A pair of garbage-time 3-pointers made the score look a bit more respectable, but the game had already been decided.

According to College Basketball Reference, Robinson’s 46 points are tied for the third-most by a player in a losing effort since 2010-11. What’s even more concerning for head coach Jim Christian and Co. is that, for the second-straight ACC road game, the Eagles made an offensively challenged opponent look like one of the conference’s most prolific units—a result that’s rooted in more than just bad luck.   

Featured Image by Robert Franklin / AP Photo

February 6, 2018